Understanding Your Addiction
Sexual addiction, also known as sexual compulsivity, hypersexuality and hypersexual disorder, is a preoccupation with sexual fantasy and activity that lasts six months or longer and leads to problems for the addict. Sex addiction is not an official diagnosis in the American Psychiatric Association (APA)’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), but other professional organizations, including the American Society for Addiction Medicine, do acknowledge and accept behavioral addictions, of which sex addiction is one. Generally speaking, three main factors are taken into account when diagnosing sexual addiction:
- Preoccupation to the point of obsession with sexual fantasies and behavior. Sex addicts spend hours, sometimes even days, fantasizing about sex, planning for sex, pursuing sex and engaging in sex. Their decision-making revolves around sex, including their choices in clothing, where they exercise, the car they drive and maybe even the career path they choose.
- Loss of control over sexual fantasies and behaviors. Sex addicts often try to quit or cut back on their behavior or fantasies, without success. They promise themselves and others that they will change, but without outside intervention (typically some form of therapy and/or 12-step support), they nearly always fail in these efforts — usually repeatedly.
- Negative consequences directly related to sexual behavior. Sex addicts eventually experience many of the same adverse consequences that alcoholics, drug addicts, compulsive gamblers, compulsive spenders and other addicts deal with.
In short, sexual addiction is an ongoing, out-of-control pattern of compulsive sexual fantasies and behaviors that causes serious problems in the addict’s life.
If you’re concerned that you or someone you love may have a problem with sexual addiction, it may be time to talk to a certified sex addiction treatment specialist who can evaluate symptoms and make a diagnosis and/or to check out 12-step sexual addiction recovery groups. Whether you’ve just noticed a problem or you’ve seen it get worse over a long period of time, it’s important to know that there are a variety of treatment options and resources available that can help.
Triggers are catalysts that create a need/desire to act out sexually. Most often, triggers are some sort of “pain agent.” Pain agents include both emotional and physical discomfort, either short- or long-term. Depression, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, stress, shame, anger and any other form of emotional or psychological (or even physical) discomfort can easily trigger an addict’s desire to escape, avoid and dissociate. Positive agents can also serve as triggers. So if a sex addict gets fired from his or her job, he or she will want to act out sexually; and if that same addict gets a great new job, he or she will want act out sexually. If triggers are not dealt with in a healthy way (dissipated via a healthy, non-addictive coping mechanism like talking to supportive friends, family members or a therapist), then the addictive cycle inevitably progresses.
Triggers: What to Look For
Generally speaking, triggers for porn addiction fall into two main categories – internal and external.
- Internal triggers for porn addiction typically involve emotional (or sometimes physical) discomfort. In other words, depression, shame, anxiety, anger, fear, guilt, remorse, boredom and/or any other uncomfortable emotion can trigger a desire to look at porn.
- External triggers for porn addiction typically involve people, places, things and/or events. For instance, if/when a sex addict sees a sexy coworker or a lingerie catalog (or anything else that reminds the addict of sex), he or she might also feel a desire to look at porn.
Sometimes triggers for porn addiction are both internal and external at the same time. In other words, a porn addict might have a tough day at work (an external trigger) that causes feelings of shame (an internal trigger), with both triggers creating a desire to look at porn. And this double whammy can easily be exacerbated by other triggers, such as noticing a sexy billboard on the way home.
A few of the more common internal triggers for porn addiction are:
- Sadness, grief and/or depression
- Feeling unloved and/or unwanted
- Feeling unappreciated
A few of the more common external triggers for porn addiction are:
- Travel (especially solo travel)
- Ended relationships
- Unstructured time alone
- Negative experiences (of any type)
- Positive experiences (of any type)
- Unexpected life changes (of any type)
- Substance use or abuse
- Unexpected exposure to sexual stimuli (driving past a strip club, seeing a sexy magazine at the newsstand, encountering an attractive person, etc.)
- Financial problems
- Family issues
So triggers are tricky little things. And, unfortunately, they are pretty much unavoidable. This is true for all addicts, not just porn addicts. Alcoholics can be triggered when they drive past the local bar. Drug addicts can be triggered when they watch TV crime dramas where drugs are part of the plot. Gambling addicts can be triggered when they see a deck of cards or a set of dice. And addicts of all types – including porn addicts – can be triggered simply because they must deal with the roller-coaster of life and the emotions it induces. In short, triggers are everywhere, and there is not much that porn addicts can do about that fact beyond learning to recognize when they’ve been triggered and ways to intervene when that occurs.