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What Causes Sex Addiction?
Sexual addiction or hypersexual disorder can be a very isolating, destructive condition if left untreated. Society often demonizes sex addiction and those with the condition, isolating sex addicts who need and deserve help.
Understanding the causes of sex addiction can be immensely helpful to sex addicts, their partners, and their loved ones.
Top 4 Causes of Sex Addiction
As with many addictive disorders, the exact cause of sex addiction is up for debate.
Research shows that many sex addicts entering mental health disorder treatment develop their addiction for various reasons.
While not an exhaustive list, these four causes are the most common causes of sexual addiction.
1. Brain Chemistry
Sexual activity is well known for releasing many feel-good chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. These chemicals, also called neurotransmitters, can improve mood, cause feelings of love, and relieve pain.
As sex addicts compulsively have sex or masturbate, their brain is flooded with these chemicals repeatedly.
Over time, the brain may depend on these chemicals for basic functions. When not having sex or masturbating, addicts may feel withdrawal symptoms caused by the brain’s dependence.
2. Coping With Stress or Co-Occurring Mental Illness
Sex and masturbation benefit the mind and body through pain-relieving and stress-relieving chemicals being released each time.
Some addicts may use sex or masturbation to relieve those negative feelings, unknowingly forming an addiction.
While using sexual activity for stress relief isn’t inherently bad, it can increase the risk of addiction for individuals with risk factors.
Certain mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and impulse control disorders are at higher risk for sex addiction.
3. Changes in Brain Pathways
Brain pathways are always changing as we learn and grow. However, some pathway changes can make certain behaviors worse or difficult to control.
In the case of sex addiction, some addicts develop the condition by desensitizing themselves to sexual activity and requiring more to be satisfied.
Over time, an addict may engage in so much compulsive sexual behavior that they have to go further and further to get the same “high.”
For example, requiring more extreme hypersexual behavior like sadomasochism, voyeurism, or exhibitionism for the same effect.
Some sex addicts use sexual experiences to cope with trauma, sexual or not.
While this may seem counterintuitive, it’s very common for victims of sexual abuse to begin fixating on their experience and wish to repeat it.
As they seek out the experience over and over, individuals may begin to develop an addiction. Even though the sexual acts may retraumatize them, addicts are overcome by sexual urges and dependence on releasing feel-good chemicals.
Risk Factors for Developing Sex Addiction
Anyone can develop sex addiction, regardless of background or risk factors. However, some people are more at risk than others of developing sex addiction or hypersexual disorder.
Common risk factors for developing sexual addiction or hypersexual disorder include:
- Problems with substance abuse
- Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, mood disorders, Impulse control disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and personality disorders
- Family conflicts or family members with addiction problems
- A history of physical or sexual abuse
- History of suicide attempts
How to Recognize Sex Addiction
Sex and masturbation are normal parts of basic physical wellness, so it may be difficult to spot sex addiction.
In addition, our society has many taboos around sex, and many people may laugh off the idea of becoming addicted to sex.
Because the condition is often the butt of a joke, taking warning signs seriously is important if you notice them in yourself or a loved one.
Common symptoms of sex addiction include:
- Obsessive sexual thoughts and sexual urges
- Signs of porn addiction
- Frequent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Having sex or masturbating for large amounts of time
- Feeling intense shame or guilt about sexual desire or sexual impulses
- Engaging in paraphilia (abnormal sexual behavior) like exhibitionism, sadomasochism, voyeurism, or pedophilia
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not having sex or masturbating
- Inability to stop sexual behavior despite harmful consequences to relationships, physical and mental health, emotions, or finances.
Getting Help for Addiction to Sex
Dealing with sex addiction can be incredibly isolating and cause feelings of shame and embarrassment. However, if you or a loved one has a sex addiction, you’re not alone. Many mental health professionals are ready and willing to provide effective sex addiction treatment.
Talk to your doctor about your addictive behavior to determine what treatment options best suit your needs. If you aren’t sure where to start, you can try using SAMHSA’s online treatment locator or 1-877-726-4727 (HELP) to see what sex addiction treatment options are in your area.