Sexual addiction is difficult for many people to definitively categorize because it is often unclear what constitutes an addiction to sex or sexual behavior. But like addiction to drugs, alcohol or any other chemical substance, sex addiction has a detrimental impact on the addict as well as on the people closest to him. That impact grows progressively worse the longer the addiction goes without being treated, and like all other addictions the addict often needs to increase the frequency and intensity of their behavior in order to derive the same results. Many people who have a sexual addiction manage to keep it confined to relatively mild behavior such as masturbation or excessive use of pornography. But for others the behavior can become much more sinister and involve exhibitionism, rape, and even child molestation.
SEX ADDICT DOES NOT EQUAL SEX OFFENDER
It is easy to think of sex addicts and sex offenders as being synonymous. But one does not necessarily constitute the other. Sex offenders are rarely only engaged in their behavior solely for sexual gratification. Their deviance is more about a need to feel powerful and controlling or to exact revenge on innocent victims for something that was done to them by someone else. But those with a sexual addiction often engage in their activities in order to fill a need in life, such as a lack of a sense of purpose, or a lack of a sense of self-determination. Moreover, those with a sexual addiction are not necessarily prone to committing criminal acts in order to feed their addictions, though some might. For this reason it would be a grave mistake to conflate the two as if they were the same. While it may be true that certain individuals fall into both categories, it is by no means certain that an individual who falls into one category must necessarily fall into the other.
SEXUAL ADDICTION DEFINED
According to the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health, sexual addiction is defined as “persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behavior acted out despite increasing negative consequences to self and others.” That is to say that someone who is addicted to a particular sexual act or form of behavior will continue to engage in that behavior despite full awareness of the detrimental effect it is having on their health, their finances, and their relationships.
THE EXTERNAL FACTORS
Western culture is awash in sexually suggestive imagery and messaging, both overt and subliminal. While far from the only mitigating factor, this has certainly proven to be one of the leading perpetual contributors to deviant sexual behavior and addiction. An increasing number of Westerners have developed sexual addictions to the extent that they have sought help, many of them with their spouse or significant other.
Sexual addiction is unlike any other compulsive behavior in that it involves a normal human impulse that is necessary for perpetuating life. Drugs and alcohol are different because they involve chemical substances and gambling, although also categorized and a behavioral addiction, is also different because it does not involve an inherent human drive. Like eating and sleeping, sex is a normal human desire. But societal and genetic factors often contribute to a person taking this normal desire to abnormal lengths, and that is where addiction begins to rear its ugly head.