Sex addiction, a real mental and physical issue for many

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sex addiction is a real issue for many couples

Hypersexual disorder – sex addiction – is not just about having sex frequently. (Shutterstock)

Sexual or sex addiction has been debated by experts for many years, mostly because there has been a lack of methodology when it comes to identifying and diagnosing true forms of the condition.

According to a study headed up by Rory Reid, an assistant professor and research psychologist at UCLA, however, sex addiction may be real, and there may finally be specific guidelines on how to identify it.

“The criteria for hypersexual disorder that have been proposed, and now tested, will allow researchers and clinicians to study, treat and develop prevention strategies for individuals at risk for developing hypersexual behavior,” said Reid in a statement.

Identifying sex addiction

Identifying characteristics of sex addiction disorder is an important step in creating a definition for the condition, state researchers, who point out it entails more than just the desire to have sex frequently.

The inability to break away from sexual activity may be one of the defining characteristics of sex addiction, and study researchers say what they are trying to avoid with the research is turning common behaviors—like watching pornography or having frequent sex—into classifications of a disorder.

“They [individuals with hypersexual disorder] might consider the consequences momentarily, but somehow feel their need for sex is more important, and choose sex even in situations where such choices might cause significant problems or harm,” explained Reid to My Health News Daily.

Sex addiction study

For the research, the team interviewed 207 individuals who had been referred to a mental health clinic. Of those involved in the research, 152 had been referred for a sexual behavior problem, 35 had other psychiatric issues, and 20 individuals were referred for substance abuse. The research team was not told why individuals were referred to the facility.

sex addiction

Frequency of phone sex was one question asked of study participants (Shutterstock photo)

Researchers then decided to look for hypersexual disorder under the definition of “recurrent and intense sexual fantasies, sexual urges, and sexual behavior” which had lasted at least 6 months. The criteria for diagnosis also required patients to be under distress because of sexual urges or that patients were unable to maintain a certain aspect of normal life, such as a job, because of sexual urges.

Individuals in the study were then asked questions pertaining to frequency of sexual behaviors such as strip club attendance, telephone sex, cybersex, sex with other consenting adults, masturbation, and pornography viewing.

Using the established criteria, Reid’s team identified 134 of the patients with sexual behavior issues established as hypersexual disorder. Eighteen of the original 152 patients with sexual disorders were found to have a different mental health issue or no issue at all. The majority of other patients in the study not originally there for a sexual behavior issue were diagnosed with their original condition or a condition other than sexual addiction.

In addition to being able to positively identify hypersexual disorder, researchers found study participants who were diagnosed with sex  addiction disorder also indicated masturbation and pornography viewing was considered problematic, so much that some individuals had lost their jobs because of the behaviors.

Those with a sex addiction disorder were more likely than others to indicate they would perform disruptive sexual behaviors despite knowing the consequences, something Reid points out does not help avoid relationship issues.

“It’s not that a lot of people don’t take sexual risks from time to time or use sex on occasion to cope with stress or just escape, but for these patients, it’s a constant pattern that escalates until their desire for sex is controlling every aspect of their lives and they feel powerless in their efforts to change,” Reid said in the statement.

The new research may help provide an accurate enough definition for hypersexual disorder to be added to the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a comprehensive compilation of official psychiatric conditions, though researchers feel more investigation into the process is needed.

Characteristics of sex addiction

According to the study findings, the criteria for sex addiction must include a number of symptoms (not just some):
  • Recurring pattern of sexual fantasies
  • Urges and behaviors lasting a period of six months or longer
  • Urges or recurring behavior must not be caused by other issues, such as substance abuse, medical condition or bipolar disorder
  • Pattern of sexual activity in response to unpleasant mood states (sex to calm down or hype up mood)
  • Pattern of repeatedly using sex as a way of coping with stress
  • Failure to reduce or stop sexual behavior even when known as problematic
“As with many other mental health disorders, there must also be evidence of personal distress caused by the sexual behaviors that interfere with relationships, work or other important aspects of life,” explained Reid.

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