What is Sexual Addiction

What is sex addiction
 
By Daniel Caldwell, CMHC

The term addict can sound pretty scary and that’s because it is. Addiction is a very scary thing and unfortunately it is more common than many of us want to acknowledge. Sexual addiction in particular is becoming more prevalent than any other addiction we know of because pornography is so easily accessible. One can easily access pornographic media on computers, phones, tablets, and televisions. What used to only be accessible in adult bookstores in sketchy parts of town is now in the pocket of most 12 years olds.

So what’s the big deal? It’s normal to have sexual interest and desires, right? Right! It is normal, natural and good to have interest in sex. So what makes porn a problem? In Psychology there is a phenomenon called the Coolidge effect. The Coolidge effect is a phenomenon observed in mammals in which the animal shows increased sexual interest when exposed to a new or novel mate. [1] When left with the same mate the animal’s desire for and frequency of sex it decreases even if the female is pursuing. Why this happens is that each time a new mate is introduced the brain releases a dose of dopamine, which is a “feel good” chemical in the brain. While humans tend to be more monogamous than other mammals this effect still exists.

[2] High-speed internet pornography can trigger the Coolidge effect like nothing else we have ever seen in the history of mankind. No other time on this earth has an individual been able to see as many attractive people in such a short amount of time. Literally we can see hundreds if not thousands of “novel mates” in just 10 minutes. What this does is provides the brain with continual squirts of dopamine; which is what makes it so compelling to go back, it feels good! Soon the viewer becomes dependent on the dopamine in order to feel and function normally. The individual becomes addicted. Nowhere in the real world can someone achieve sexually what we can now achieve on the internet. The problem continues as at some point the novelty of the images are not enough to achieve the same dose of dopamine so people begin seeking more hardcore pornography, and after time may begin chatting, and sometimes this leads to interactions with actual real “novel mates” which once again becomes an easy endeavor due to the internet.

There are some who would try and prove that sexual addiction is not a real thing, that it is just those who have a high libido and that mental health professionals are wrong to call it an addiction [3] but those who are caught in the middle of compulsive sexual behavior can attest to the development of the cravings in their lives and the unmanageability of their desires. Ultimately, regardless of what we call it, if it is an actual addiction or not, many people have a very hard time with managing their sexual compulsions and need help.

It’s great to know what is going on in the brain but the question you might be asking yourself is “What does sexual addiction look like?” Sex addiction can most easily be defined as an inability to control sexual behavior. But what is sexual behavior? That can be a very complex question. As sex is a very complex part of our lives, in a nutshell, sexual behavior includes anything that arouses sexual feelings within an individual. If you have an inability to control those behaviors or to go without it, you are likely addicted. Some of these behaviors include but are not limited to, pornography use, masturbation, sex with others (which can include a spouse), sexual chatting and video chatting online, the use of “hookup” apps on your phone, and the use of any other items that might be used to create sexual fantasy and excitement within an individual.

Now sex is a normal and natural part of life and can be a very emotionally, relationally, spiritually, and physically healthy; however, it can also be destructive in all those areas. When sexual behavior reaches a point where the individual feels he has no choice but to act on sexual urges it can become a devastating situation. If you relate to the unmanageability of your behaviors or if you feel you might have a compulsive sexual problem, seek help. Any addiction or compulsive behavior can’t be dealt with alone. You will need support and will need to learn tools to help you work through this issue.

[1] Reber, A. S. & Reber, E., The Penguin dictionary of psychology (3rd ed.), London: Penguin,
ISBN 0-14-051451-1

[2] Wilson, G. ,Porn, Novelty and the Coolidge Effect. (2011, August 8). Retrieved April 7, 2015, from http://yourbrainonporn.com/porn-novelty-and-the-coolidge-effect

[3] Steele, V. R., Staley, C., Fong, T. & Prause, N., Sexual Deisre, not Hypersexuality, is related to Neurophysiological responses elicited by sexual images. (2013, July 16) Retrieved April 7, 2015, from http://www.socioaffectiveneuroscipsychol.net/index.php/snp/article/view/20770


Danny Danny is a Clinical Mental Health Counselor
specializing in individual and family work.

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