Sexual addiction is any unmanageable, unwanted pattern of sexual behavior. It may include internet pornography, prostitution, promiscuity, destructive relationships, avoidance of intimate relationships or sexuality, and other patterns. Sexual addiction is pervasive in our culture of easy access to highly-charged sexually-explicit materials. Even highly-skilled people find they are unable to control their exposure to sexual content, despite their best efforts. Most find it’s very difficult to change this pattern alone. The shame the behaviors can cause can prevent people from reaching out for help.
“Process addictions” such as sexual addiction are highly addictive because of the powerful effect they can have on the nervous system, including brain chemistry. Research in recent years has measured the changes in neurochemistry directly caused by exposure to sexual materials and other addictive processes, including gambling, shopping, and others. Once the brain is “trained” to regularly receive the jolt of neurochemicals provoked by the material, it can be surprisingly difficult to change the pattern. The brain is literally craving a repeat of the behavior, despite our best intentions to change.
Treatment of sexual addiction and other process addictions is very effective. The sufferer learns tools to change their vulnerability to the neurochemical craving. The beliefs and emotions connected to the behaviors are reprogrammed. A behavior program reduces exposure to the material. The client is guided to create an appropriate support network to sustain the behavior changes long-term. The supports may include family, partner, and 12-step group. I have tremendous respect for anyone with the courage to seek help for these troublesome behaviors.