Are you a sex or porn addict?

Addiction to sex and/or pornography can be as strong as any other drug, explains addiction expert Paula Hall.

Sex addiction is still hard for many people to understand and is even controversial amongst some professionals. But research from the University of Cambridge now confirms that pornography can be addictive in the same way as drugs and alcohol.

When the brains of people with pornography addiction were compared to casual porn users, the study found that the same reward centres were stimulated when viewing pornographic images as when drug addicts see their drug of choice. 

An estimated 1 in 25 people struggles with sexually compulsive behaviours of some kind. For many it’s online pornography, for some it’s webcams, visiting sex workers, cruising and/or fetish behaviours. The type of behaviour is not what defines it as an addiction but rather the dependency on it - even though it’s causing significant problems in someone’s life.

According to a survey of 350 sex addicts published in my book, Understanding & Treating Sex Addiction, 46% of respondents had lost a relationship due to their compulsive behaviours, 62% felt they were wasting their time and 41% their money. A further 26% were experiencing sexual difficulties such as erection problems and a lowered desire for partner sex and 49% felt it caused mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Very worryingly nearly 20% had experienced a serious desire to commit suicide because their behaviour had got so out of control. 

What causes sex addiction?

Historically sex addiction was seen as a disorder of intimacy and attachment or a response to trauma but the profile of those with addiction is changing. The increased availability of pornography and other sexual stimuli via the internet and smart phone has significantly increased accessibility and the opportunity to become ‘hooked’. Easy access to high speed, ever changing and infinitely novel pornography is often referred to as a supernormal stimuli and there are suggestions that compulsive use of the internet and pornography can change the structure of the brain.  

The most common way to understand sex addiction now is through what’s known as a bio-psycho-social model. This model allows us to understand that sex addiction is both a physical and a psychological problem that has significant cultural and societal influences.  And it is this complex mix that can make it such a difficult problem to overcome. Especially since many people don’t even know they’re addicted until the problem is firmly established.

How do I know if I'm a sex addict?

Deciding whether you really are addicted to porn and/or sex may require a professional assessment, but if you find you answer ‘yes’ to most of the questions below, then chances are you have a problem.

  • Does your sexual behaviour have a negative impact on other areas of your life such as relationships, work, finances, health, professional status? 
  • Does your sexual behaviour contradict your personal values and get in the way of other things you want to achieve in our life?
  • Have you tried to limit your sexual behaviour or stop it all together, but failed? 
  • Do you feel dependent on your sexual behaviour and struggle to feel fulfilled with any alternative?
  • Have you noticed that you need more and more stimuli or risk in order to achieve the same level of arousal and excitement? 
  • Do you find yourself struggling to concentrate on other areas of your life because of thoughts and feelings about your sexual behaviour?
  • Do you currently, or have you in the past, struggled with any other addictions,  compulsive behaviours or eating disorders? Such as drug, alcohol addiction, compulsive gambling, gaming, work or exercise, collecting?

Ultimately only the individual themselves can decide if it’s a problem – and more importantly, only you can decide if you want to change.

Where do I find help?

Overcoming sex or porn addiction often takes time and professional help - largely because many people don’t realise how bad their problem is until it’s already taken hold.  But there are some things you can start doing right now to help improve your situation. 

There are still limited professional resources in the UK for overcoming sex and porn addiction but as numbers of people affected with the condition rises, so do the services available.  A good first step is to try an online self help guide such as the Kick Start Recovery Programme available at www.sexaddictionhelp.co.uk.  This is a completely free and confidential resource that provides a self assessment tool to help you decide if you are addicted as well as tools to understand the problem more and tips and techniques to stop and stay stopped.  You can find information about regional therapists and Hall Recovery Courses at my website and lists of other trained professionals at www.atsac.co.uk

Self help tips
  1. Face It – it may sound obvious but you can’t overcome a problem until you face the fact that you have one.  Have an honest conversation with yourself about the actual and potential consequences of your current behaviour.  How much is it costing you in terms of time, money, quality of your relationship with loved ones, ability to commit to other important things in your life? Also what is the cost to your self esteem?  
  2. Understand it – once you’ve acknowledged that you have a problem the next thing to do is to understand it.  Read and research the problem so you know what’s going on and how it might apply to you and your individual situation.  Begin to notice the times when you’re most likely to act out and the times when it’s easier.  Is there a pattern? 
  3. Fight it – when you have more understanding of what it is you’re up against, the next step is to fight it. First and foremost you need to stop your behaviour immediately. Not cut back, but stop. You should also do whatever you can to limit your access, for example putting porn blocking software on your computer such as Netnanny or/and accountability software such as Covenant Eyes. You’ll also find it helpful to develop a regime of distracting activities to engage in when you’re tempted, such as listening to a podcast, going for a run, or having a cold shower; as well as finding longer term strategies for coping better with stress and enjoying life.   

Paula Hall is one of the UK’s leading experts in sex addiction and author of Understanding & Treating Sex Addiction.  She founded the Hall Recovery Course and chairs the UK’s professional association ATSAC (Association for the Treatment of Sex Addiction & Compulsivity). 

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MAIN IMAGE: .8 Apple-esque by John Larsson licensed under CC BY 2.0

Date published 11/08/15
Date of last review 11/08/15
Date of next review 11/08/17

References

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