Preoccupied by thoughts about sex? Viewing sexual materials at work or in public places? Constantly searching for the next sexual encounter, or being unable to stop compulsively masturbating?
All of these can be signs and symptoms of hypersexuality, a term that is sometimes interchanged with sexual addiction. Hypersexuality is in discussion for inclusion in the forthcoming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but sexual addiction is not yet included.
Regardless of which name the disorder is referred to, sex addiction and hypersexuality bring complex, life-destructive consequences and symptoms for hundreds of thousands of adults in the U.S. who are living with the condition, believed to affect as many as three to five percent of the population.
Additional symptoms of hypersexuality include:
- Failed attempts to stop the obsessive sexual actions and thoughts
- Hiding and denying the behaviors or avoiding social situations to view sexual materials
- Health problems from stress and lack of sleep
- Job loss or struggles
- Financial problems
Like many other addictions or obsessive behaviors, sex addiction may start out seeming benign. However, as a person continues to pursue sexual behaviors, sexual relationships and sexual materials, they develop stronger cravings until they can no longer control their actions.
Research indicates sex addiction causes changes in the brain’s reward centers that mimics drug addiction, making quitting the behaviors a success only when professional help from trained sex addiction experts is received.
Contrary to popular beliefs, sex addiction or hypersexuality isn’t truly about the pleasure of the activity, as explained by Robert Weiss, founder of The Sexual Recovery Institute. Experts believe the behavior is linked to the ways the sexual activities provide an escape or a release from negative emotions and stressors, and this becomes the activity the person craves.
Hypersexuality and sexual addiction are becoming less stigmatized, but hundreds of thousands of people may still be living with the complicated condition in secret. More treatments, professional centers and other research-based resources are available today than ever, once the individual takes that first step toward a life free from sexual addiction.