Understanding and Treating the Signs and Symptoms of Sex Addictions

Understanding What Sex Addiction Is

Sex Addiction

Achieving and maintaining sexual health may seem like an easy task to accomplish, but actually, the opposite is true. With all of the possible negative situations and stimuli, a person can experience, unhealthy thoughts, feelings, and behaviors revolving around sex are common.

Issues with intimacy, communication, and sexual functioning can each disturb the balance and harmony in someone’s life. Sexual addictions can emerge and take over your sexual health.

Some will become addicted to pornography and other sexually explicit content while others will be addicted to masturbation or the act of sex. For these people, sex addiction creates a significantly negative impact which influences all aspects of a person’s physical, spiritual, and mental health.

What Is Sexual Health?

Before one can understand the risks and negative aspects of unwanted sexual conditions, it is valuable to understand the goal – sexual health. The World Health Organization (WHO) devised a definition of sexual health based on:

  • Being in a state of physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being related to sex and sexuality, which is more than just the absence of an unwanted condition
  • A positive and respectful approach to sex, sexuality, and sexual relationships
  • Being open to the idea of having mutually pleasurable and safe sexual experiences without fear or violence
  • Respect, fulfillment, and safety for all persons involved

A sexually healthy person or relationship will possess various factors that set it apart from the pathological one including similar views on:

  • Consent
  • Exploitation
  • Protection against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Honest and openness with the other or others in the relationship
  • Values and the goals of the relationship
  • Pleasure, uncomfortable, and unwanted aspects of relationships

Just like your physical health or mental health, it is important to see your sexual health as something that is fluid and flexible on a regular basis. Just because you have sexual health on a Monday does not mean you will have good sexual health on a Wednesday.

As time, your interests, and your partners desires change, your sexual health changes. People may experience long periods of good sexual health or long periods of poor sexual health, but there will always be fluctuations.

Barriers to Identifying Sexual Health

Identifying healthy sexual relationships is a complex process because the subject comes loaded with preconceived stances based on morality, values, and conservatism. With these principles, people may view nontraditional relationships or sexual behaviors as unhealthy, such as:

  • Gay sex
  • Polyamory
  • Gender or sexual fluidity
  • Multiple sexual partners

Of course, many of these views will be nothing more than subjective opinions or long-held beliefs from a bygone era. These differences lead to a multitude of relationships and behaviors being labeled as unhealthy and only a narrow window being dubbed appropriately.

The psychological and medical communities have done little to aid the process of finding sexual health. The American Psychiatric Association (APA), the group that publishes the diagnostic criteria for each mental illness, has been inconsistent over the years with their views on sexual behaviors and if they qualify as mental illness.

In the past, homosexuality was considered a mental illness that should be diagnosed and treated.

Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder

Currently, there is no diagnosis to identify a person as being a sex addict. The APA text covers information about addictions, but these mostly apply to the use of habit-forming substances like drugs and alcohol.

WHO maintains a separate text called the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), which is currently in its 10th version. One of the proposed changes set to take place in the 11th version (ICD-11) is the addition of a new condition called compulsive sexual behavior disorder.

This forthcoming condition will be marked by a persistent inability to control the intense, repetitive sexual impulses that result in sexual behaviors. Compulsive sexual behavior disorder will have signs and symptoms that match substance use disorders and addictions including:

  • Neglecting various activities like work, health, and personal care to engage in sexual behaviors
  • Unsuccessful attempts to limit or end the sexual behaviors
  • Continuing to engage in sexual behavior despite experiencing a number of unwanted effects
  • Decreased satisfaction from the sexual behaviors

With these symptoms of compulsive sexual behavior disorder, the behaviors must continue for an extended period – around six months or more. The symptoms must also cause significant distress to the individual or impairment in their ability to function adequately at work, home, school, or social facets of life.

There is an important distinction here – the person’s distress cannot only be due to their moral judgments regarding sexual behaviors. What does this mean?

This division means a person must be distressed by their compulsive sexual behavior, not on the grounds of values or religious beliefs. So, a person who compulsively engages in gay sex cannot carry a diagnosis of compulsive sexual behavior disorder if the distress only comes from fear of being ostracized by their religious family.

It may seem like a minor difference, but it could actually impact the diagnosis of many people exhibiting sexual behaviors. The compulsive sexual behavior disorder shows how the diagnosis of sexual conditions is still not well-understood in the medical and mental communities.

Next page: Is sexual addiction real? What does sex addiction look like? And more.

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