SEX – Now That We Have Your Attention Let’s Talk About Addiction

What is sex addiction & why should it be acknowledged as a mental health issue?

Updated20 Nov 2017, 09:07 AM IST
Let's Talk Sex
4 min read

Rape convinct, Gurmeet Ram Rahim recently complained of ‘uneasiness and restlessness’ at Rohtak jail. The doctors who examined him claimed that his symptoms are a ‘physical manifestation of withdrawal symptoms of sex addiction’.

Addicted to sex?

While many experts believe that it is a serious health issue and not just an excuse to cover up infidelities, many medical practitioners also argue against it.

Previously, celebrities like David Duchovny, Michael Douglas, Tiger Woods have spoken about their failed attempts in dealing with sex addiction.

We try to decode the debate around sex addiction, what goes inside the mind of a sex addict and how can it be treated.

Is Sex Addiction Real?

It’s complicated!

Those who believe sex addiction is not real point out that it is not included in the fifth (and latest) edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a sort of bible for mental health experts.

Therapists arguing against it feel that the root of sex addiction actually lies in other bigger psychological issues like depression or childhood abuse. So the main focus should on treating bigger mental health issues. They also feel that sex drive differs from person to person, so anyone with a higher sex drive cannot be labelled as a ‘sex addict’.

Experts we spoke with say the problem is a little different here in India.

Dr Sandeep Vohra, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychologist at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, Delhi feels that Indians first need to talk openly about sex. Issues like sex addiction can only be acknowledged, discussed, diagnosed and treated if the taboo around sex is eliminated.

Speaking to The Quint, he said:

Taboo leads to misconceptions and low awareness levels among majority of the population. While addictions are usually difficult to treat, it becomes all the more challenging when the patients face alienation from the society.
Dr Sandeep Vohra, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychologist 

So, what really happens when one gets addicted to sex?

What Is Sex Addiction?

The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a “primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.”

And for someone addicted to sex, it’s no different.

Speaking to The Quint, Dr Shailesh Jha, Associate Consultant Psychiatry, Apollo Hospitals, Sarita Vihar says:

A sex addict usually has an abnormally intense sex drive accompanied with persistent sexual thoughts. There is a compulsive sexual behavior and an inability to manage such a drive in given conditions.
Dr Shailesh Jha, Associate Consultant Psychiatry
For sex addicts, this intense desire dominates all their thoughts. It hampers their daily activities severely as such urges can quickly become uncontrollable.

Earlier, sex addiction was also known as nymphomania for females and satyriasis for men.

Signs & Symptoms

Dr Jha says sex addicts compulsively indulge in:

  • Frequent masturbation
  • Risky sexual behaviour (including having multiple sexual partners)
  • Persistent use of pornography
  • Cyber sex
  • Exhibitionism, voyeurism

A sex addict will find it difficult to function in social situations, and will have a sense of detachment, guilt and shame.

Such an addict is unable to resist sexual impulses despite knowing that it may lead to financial, social and medical consequences. An addict is constantly on the hunt for a sexual experience. 

Causes

But why do some people become sex addicts? That’s where diagnosis becomes difficult.

There is no single etiology, but there are various theories about it. There could be biological causes like a hyperandrogenic state, psychological causes like aggression, fixation or social causes like culture, gender discrimination. 
Dr Shailesh Jha, Associate Consultant Psychiatry

Several studies claim that people coming from dysfunctional families or those who have been sexually abused themselves might turn into sex addicts later in life.

So, is there a treatment available?

Treatment

Treatment for sex addiction varies from case to case, depending on the severity of the issue.

Many a times, patients with bi-polar mania also exhibit some symptoms of sex addiction. And many addictions run parallel in such cases. So it is very important to rule out all other forms of addictions before diagnosing and treating a person with sex addiction.
Dr Sandeep Vohra, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychologist 

There are groups like Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) that hold regular meetings to help addicts share their experience and help them recover from their addiction.

Most doctors prefer psychological interventions like Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) while dealing with sex addicts.

Detailed conversations and continuous counselling sessions are extremely helpful in such cases.

The degree of compliance from family and friends also plays an important role in the rehabilitation and treatment of an addict.
Dr Sandeep Vohra, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychologist 

Sex addicts are also scanned for sexual transmitted diseases (STDs), HIV, physical injuries and secondary psychiatric conditions before the treatment. In certain cases, medication might also be prescribed.

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Published: 15 Sep 2017, 08:49 AM IST
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