What is sexual addiction? - Core Counselling
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30 Aug What is sexual addiction?

[Preface: As I write about sexual addition, I would like to begin by saying that sexuality is innate to humanity. Sexuality is subjectively experienced and is expressed differently by every person. It is also important to acknowledge that an understanding of sexuality depends on an individual’s familial, social, and cultural beliefs. For sexuality to be considered problematic, I believe that it is up to an individual to self-assess and determine appropriately.]

Patrick Carnes, who coined the term “sex addicted behaviour,” has been influential in identifying problematic sexual behaviours and activities. While the American Psychological Association (APA) has established several criteria to diagnose sexual-related disorders, Carnes has identified the need for better definitions. His descriptions of problematic “sex addicted behaviour” includes the following symptoms:

  • out-of-control behaviour
  • severe consequences due to sexual behaviour(s)
  • inability to stop the behaviour(s) despite adverse consequences
  • a desire (but often unable) to limit sexual behaviour(s)
  • sexual obsessions and/or fantasies
  • increasing amounts of sexual experiences because current levels of activity are no longer sufficient
  • severe mood changes around sexual activity
  • inordinate amounts of time spent in obtaining sex, being sexual, or recovering from sexual experiences
  • neglect of important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of sexual behaviours.

In elaborating on these defined definitions of problematic sex addicted behaviour, Carnes has categorized such behviours into three levels, ranging from socially acceptable to criminal.

Sexually dependent acts considered as level one, or socially appropriate/acceptable, activities include: masturbation, pornography, and prostitution. The second level includes sexual acts such as: spousal abuse, voyeurism, and stalking. The third level of sexual behaviours are confirmed crimal offenses, which include violent sexual assaults, rape, or pedophilia.

For individuals who participate in such activities, it is important to remember that these behaviours serve a purpose. While it is easy for others to criticize, judge, or label those who engage often in sexualized behaviours, it’s necessary to acknowledge the benefits that can be experienced from such acts. Sexual behaviours can often provide relief, an emotional release, or act as a form of self-soothing for individuals who participate in them.

Society generally stigmatizes the topic of sexuality or sex-related discussions, leading to a perpetuation of secrecy, guilt, and immense shame around the topic. Within the safety of a counselling relationship, individuals can experience the ultimate freedom in expressing, admitting, and exploring their sexual desires and behaviours – without the potential for negative responses, labels, rejection, or avoidance.

I have worked with countless clients, male and female, who have identified that their sexual behaviours have contributed to relational disconnect and dissatisfaction in their lives. In a safe, non-judgmental environment, I have joined them in exploring and expressing their unmet needs, desires, and hopes. I believe that discussions about sexuality and sexual-behaviours deserve to be responded to with the unconditional acceptance and patience, something we all deserve.