Joe's a 45-year-old father of three, who agreed to marry after he and his wife struggled with their on-again-off-again relationship for five years prior to marrying. Like most red-blooded American males, Joe began using pornography to masturbate when he was a teenager. He started out looking at print pornography, masturbating to images of fairly wholesome young women. By the end of college he was renting videos, which became boring over time so he upped the ante by going to peep shows. Eventually, Joe crossed a personal boundary and paid for sex by getting a sexual massage.

One thing led to another and by the time he was married, he'd already been hiring escorts once a month. Joe got caught. His wife found a video of him having sex with one of the prostitutes, leaving her devastated. She now understood his ambivalence about getting married.

Is Joe a sex addict or is he destroying his life for no good reason?

There are many names for destructive sexual behaviors. Here are some of the more common terms: sexual addiction, sexual compulsive, hypersexual behavior, sexual impulsivity, and excessive sexuality. All of these terms have similar features in common and point to problematic sex. For decades there's been plenty of evidence in the mental health field of sexual excess that's lead people to have psychic pain in their lives. Sex itself is not the problem but the abuse of sex seems to create "messes" or unmanageability in people's lives, like Joe's. Many report that sex provides a "high" that they want more of. This happens because the dopamine circuits in the reward center of the brain are stimulated when humans look at sexual images or seek sex. Once our brains are activated, our genitals get aroused - it's that simple.

The difference between those who can stop the cycle of wanting more and those who can't, makes the difference between those who gets "hooked" and those who don't. Sex addicts become dependent on this sexual high, always wanting more. Eventually, like Joe, they substitute unhealthy relationships for healthy ones in search of the intensity that sex gives them. They opt for temporary pleasure rather than the deeper qualities of intimate relationships because they can't help themselves. Over time, the sex addict escapes emotional discomfort by acting out through excessive behavior patterns.

Sexual compulsivity implies that there's a behavioral problem and the person is suffering because they can't stop the behavior. The sexual compulsive obsesses over sex and is driven to seek sex. These behaviors are often associated with Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and the assumption is that the compulsive is avoiding psychic pain through repetitive activities.

Individuals will use sex depending on their emotional state. For example, if a person is chronically anxious or depressed they will seek forms of escapism and use sex to avoid uncomfortable feeling states. Others may be more impulsive and seek sex to make themselves feel good without much forethought about consequences, leaving their poor judgment to take over. Sometimes people with ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, behave in these ways. Finally, others may acquire patterns of hypersexual behaviors through conditioning. If someone looks at Internet pornography, he may get hooked on it over time because the pleasurable feelings that accompany orgasm get reinforced.

No matter what we call the problem, the fact remains that people can destroy their relationships and lives when sex gets out of control. If someone you know or love is out of control with their sexual behaviors, remind them that help is a phone call away.

 

 

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