Research and studies suggest that sexual addiction is a psychological issue. Many people who suffer from a sex addiction have a history of mental health issues or disorders that can be linked to their behaviour. Some use sexual acts to achieve a release or a high which helps them to deal with day to day stresses and anxieties. While a specific definition has not been penned, sexual addiction is largely accepted as an inability to control or manage one’s sexual behavior. Science shows that sexual acts or watching pornography have an effect on the brain and can influence people’s behaviour. Like most other addictions sexual addiction seems to be influenced by a combination of physiology, psychology and behaviour patterns.
Understanding Sexual Addiction
A sexual addiction can be extremely debilitating and can exist in various forms. Sexual addiction accounts for addictions to pornography, masturbation and sexual intercourse. In some severe cases the sexual addiction can include all of these behaviours. It is also not uncommon to suffer from masturbation addiction and pornography addiction simultaneously. Masturbation as with all things in moderation is a perfectly healthy sexual expression and is not dangerous or damaging from time to time. As with any practice or behaviour it becomes a concern when it starts to have a negative impact on an individual’s life, affecting their health, personal relationships, or causing distress or isolation. For people with a severe addiction to masturbation or pornography, they can lose hours and even days of their lives, due to the obsession and uncontrollable need to self pleasure. Masturbation can often go unreported and many may trivialize its seriousness. It is important to note that it is a serious, legitimate addiction which results in a loss of control, a preoccupation or obsession with the behaviour and a need to practice it despite negative life consequences.
An addiction to masturbation can often signal a larger issue with sexual addiction and an addiction to sex in general. In some cases masturbation is one aspect of an over active sex life, which possibly also results in having several sexual partners. Masturbation may be used as a means to a sexual end in the case where a partner is not available. Also many individuals who masturbate excessively also view an unhealthy amount of pornography. This is not surprising as the two often go together as a pair with more and more people using pornography as a stimulant as part of their masturbation ritual.
There is a difference in doing too much of something and actually being addicted, some people can masturbate regularly, to a point that some would consider it unhealthy but may not actually be addicted. There are different levels of addiction but also different levels of desire, some people may healthy masturbate a few times per week whereas another individual may need to masturbate several times per day. The level of the problem is objective and really does depend specifically on the individual and the consequences, generally we know when there is a problem.
If you are masturbating so often that it dictates your schedule, becomes physically painful or causes you mental distress then it is most likely an addiction issue. Serious addiction is evident in cases where people masturbate at inappropriate times, possibly at work or at a family function. The need and desire to take part in this behaviour is so strong despite the possibility of damaging their reputation, relationships or overall health. Other warning signs would be if the behaviour is having a negative effect on your relationships, causing you to choose the behaviour over people in your life. If the high from what you are doing is increasingly short lived, the need to do it becoming more frequent and the negative consequences more obvious or increasing, then it is time to examine the possibility that you are an addict.
All addictions come with a level of rationalization and a need to make excuses so as to normalize behaviour. You may feel that while your behavior isn’t actually hurting anyone else then there is no need for you to stop. If it’s hurting you, then it is hurting someone and you really need to take steps to address the behaviour. Some people experience serious genital injury due to the frequency of masturbation, while others can become depressed or suffer from other mental health disorders due to the shame, isolation and guilt they experience. If you feel your sexual behaviour has gotten out of control and worry you may have a sexual addiction taking the Sex Addiction Screening Test might help to clarify this.
Tackling the Addiction
Once you have acknowledged the issue and recognized your addiction, you are in a better position to take action and try to tackle it. There are a range of alternatives available to you and the approach you choose is a personal choice and must be based on your specific circumstances and need. Just wanting to stop isn’t enough and sadly some people become disheartened when the desire to stop and the ability to stop don’t match. This can feed into the already strong sense of guilt and shame; this self-loathing is not helpful and really will only fuel the addiction. You need to accept the addiction and allow some self love and understanding in order to begin the recovery process. The huge step of recognizing you have a problem is one hurdle, but you should be prepared that overcoming it will be a journey and will take time, learning , personal growth and support .
Initially you could work out an approach independently, trying abstinence, or lessening the number of times you masturbate in a certain time frame. Sometimes modifying your behaviour or making changes to your usual patterns can be effective but in severe cases it may not always prove successful. This does not mean that you are doomed and will not be able to stop, it just means you will need some more structured and specific help and support from a professional. In this situation it may require you to seek out a Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting for support, allowing you to speak with others experiencing similar issues. Speaking about the problem and naming it is a hugely important step as it breaks the secrecy and shame that comes with addiction. You could also look for a sex therapist or specialist in your area, they can work with you on a specified approach or program to meet your needs, working towards satisfying your sexual desires in a healthy and controlled way.
Like all addictions there is no one size fits all and what works for one individual may not work for another. If these options do not help with your addiction, there is also rehabilitation treatment programs. You can choose to enter these programs on an outpatient basis or may feel that a residential program would be more beneficial. An outpatient program will allow you to avail of a program while continuing to live your day to day life; where as a residential program will give you the opportunity to focus exclusively and completely on your recovery.
Sex is a natural and healthy part of human life, this is why stopping completely can be very challenging. The goal is to work out a balance that is safe and puts you in control of the sexual urges and impulses you have. A challenge with addressing a sexual addiction is that a high sex drive may be a biological issue and could actually require medication to to assist with abstinence initially and achieving a more healthy practice in the long term. Seeking support from a professional and being informed about your addiction will assist you in deciding on the best approach for you.