Sex Addiction (Definition and Diagnosis)

Sex addiction is one of the more misunderstood diseases in modern medical history. It’s even more misconstrued due to the fact that it’s not classified as a mental disorder, at least not at present. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders (DSM), in 1987, it listed sex addiction as: “distress about a pattern of repeated sexual conquests or other forms of non-paraphilic sexual addiction, involving a succession of people who exist only as things to be used.” In subsequent versions of the DSM, the reference to ‘sexual addiction” was removed. In 2000, it listed sex addiction as a miscellaneous diagnosis called Sexual Disorders Not Otherwise Specified, and other examples include: compulsive fixation on an unattainable partner, compulsive masturbation, compulsive love relationships, and compulsive sexuality in a relationship.

These other examples tend to lean things toward ‘relationship addiction’, which is certainly related. According to many who attend 12-step ‘Sex Anonymous’ meetings often define their disorder as more of a relationship or romance addiction. However, in 2011, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), the leading medical consensus of physicians dedicated to treating and preventing addiction, redefined addiction as a chronic brain disorder which for the first time extended the definition of addiction from substances to incorporate addictive behaviors and reward-seeking, such as gambling and sex.

Any way you slice it, what’s commonly called ‘sex addiction’ is a serious problem, affecting nearly 12 million people in the United States alone. Sexual addiction is a severe problem in which one participates in continuing and intensifying patterns of sexual behavior despite increasing destructive consequences to one's self or others. Like other addictions, these behaviors remain despite sincere and persistent struggles to stop. Some might not think sex can be addictive because there are no chemicals involved. However, the body manufactures many hormones and neurotransmitters during sex that produce the same chemical "high" as drugs or alcohol. Sex addicts, like other addicts, frequently have a background of abuse (sexual, physical, emotional) and/or neglect, and family histories littered with numerous other addictions.

Aside from other addictive disorders that shadow sex addiction, there are numerous mental and emotional illnesses that are often related. Both males and females with this personality disorder often have a strong desire and compulsion to get involved in illicit sex, affairs, and relationships with married or otherwise pre-attached individuals. Subsequently individuals with borderline personality disorder often encounter love and sexuality in perverse and violent behaviors which they cannot incorporate with the tender, intimate side of relationships.

Due to the denial and embarrassment associated with sexual behaviors, it is only lately that the reality of sexual addiction has been acknowledged by those caught in its grip or by treatment specialists. Since this enigma was first addressed in 1983, some have contended that sexual addiction does not exist or is inflated. Nevertheless, recognition of compulsive sexuality is growing, and more help is obtainable today than ever before.

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