Issues surrounding sexuality and addiction are some of the most awkward and socially taboo things being explored in the media and among groups of people today. While the reality of sex addiction in general has been slowly accepted by an increasing number of people in both the mental health profession and the culture at large, the implications of this knowledge for the LGBT community is still difficult to discuss in public without eliciting outrage, denial, or despair.
One extreme is people who assume that nearly every gay person is a sex addict. On the other extreme is the LGBT world, still smarting from years of persecution, mischaracterization, and prejudice. In the interest of providing effective treatment, however, it is a subject worth exploring.
What Is Sex Addiction?
Any sexual behavior that is undertaken compulsively, causes pain to the addict or his or her loved ones, and continues despite negative personal, relational, or physical consequences, could be described as a sex addiction.
The following symptoms are typical for people suffering from sex addiction:
- Frequent use of pornography
- Compulsive masturbation
- Engaging the services of a prostitute
- Constantly thinking about sex
- Requiring increasingly intense sexual experiences in order to feel satisfied
While the vast majority of sex addicts are men, there are women who suffer from this disorder as well. The reasons behind sex addiction are complicated and still coming together in the mental health field. Some individuals seem to be born with a genetic predisposition toward addiction that can lead them to substance abuse or compulsive behaviors. For some people, however, sex addiction seems to have come about as a repercussion of personal or sexual abuse experienced by the addict at some point in the past.
For these people, sex provides short-lasting relief of emotional pain.
During and immediately following orgasm, the brain releases certain naturally occurring chemicals that stimulate the pleasure center of the brain, giving the user a feeling of satisfaction and relaxation and causing relational bonding.
The brain can become addicted to these chemicals in the same way it would become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, the relief is very short lived and is often followed by feelings of frustration and shame.
Is Sex Addiction Different for LGBT People?
Many LGBT individuals experience the following stressors throughout their lives:
- Rejection by parents, extended family, and friends
These experiences create emotional pain that may then be “medicated” through compulsive sexual behavior.
Effectively Treating Sex Addiction
Sex addiction is treated in much the same way as alcohol or drug addiction. First, the individual needs to “detox” by stopping the compulsive behavior. This often involves constant accountability. Next the individual receives comprehensive diagnosis of all co-occurring psychological disorders and undergoes thorough personal counseling in order to help develop an awareness of these issues and mindfulness about how to change them.
Through education, peer support, and time the individual is able to reprogram the neural pathways in his or her brain that have been wired to drive the compulsive sexual behavior.
Ongoing support groups and accountability partners help individuals maintain sexual “sobriety.”