What is ‘Sex Addiction’?
A ‘compulsive preoccupation’ with any activity that can make the person ‘dysfunctional’ in the very primary areas of life such as studies/work, relationships, health, hygiene etc. could be classified as addiction.
Sexual addiction, therefore, implies an unrelenting inability in a person to control one’s sexual urges/behaviour/preoccupation despite having a complete knowledge of its adverse consequences.
Some people have a heightened libido. As long as it does not make them ‘dysfunctional’ in any aspect of their life, it cannot be called as sex addiction. But if they have conflicts in their daily life or can’t function without it, then it is a case of sex addiction.
Pornography: The most common form of sex addiction
Pornography, like any other sex addiction, becomes the user’s fix. The user becomes so enraptured; s/he ends up destroying good relationships.
At first it is almost impossible for someone caught up in a pornography addiction to believe that he or she can find real sexual enjoyment and better sexual pleasure with a person instead of a fantasy. However, with effective counselling, a genuine relationship does become the preferred sexual interest of the pornography-addicted person.
One of the great rewards of overcoming a sex addiction is the ability to be fully committed to another person in a loving way, having nothing to hide and enjoying great sex.
Like any sort of addiction, there is a four-step progression among many who consume pornography.
Pornography progresses through the following four stages:
- Addiction: Pornography provides a powerful sexual stimulant or aphrodisiac effect, followed by sexual release, most often through masturbation.
- Escalation: Over time, addicts require more explicit and deviant material to meet their sexual needs.
- Desensitisation: What was first perceived as gross, shocking and disturbing, in time becomes common and acceptable.
- Acting out sexually: There is an increasing tendency to act out behaviours viewed in pornography.
Where does it all begin?
Some therapists say that any form of sexual addiction is simply an excuse to justify lack of control (low frustration tolerance) and unwillingness to conform to acceptable norms. Other psychologists and psychiatrists maintain that it is a ‘compulsive behaviour’ that has its roots in early childhood and can afflict both males and females.
No, it is NOT harmless!
Many people think that pornography is just harmless fun and that it has no ill effects. However, it is virtually impossible not to be affected by pornography.
Research has shown that pornography and its messages are involved in shaping attitudes and encouraging behaviour that can harm individuals and their families. Pornography is often viewed in secret, which creates deception within marriages that can lead to even divorce in some cases. In addition, pornography promotes the allure of adultery, prostitution and unreal expectations that can result in dangerous promiscuous behaviour.
Effects on personal relationships
Sexual excitement is a natural reaction to certain conditions. When those conditions are absent or inhibited, so is your natural sexual response. Sex is a great barometer for telling you how well your relationship is working, and when it needs more attention.
Some books say that if you are not turned on by your partner, you should fantasise about someone else while having sex, or watch blue films. These things may work to improve your sex life on a temporary and superficial level.
Many people have come to rely on using pornography to become sexually stimulated. This is often because they have spent so much energy numbing themselves emotionally that they cannot really ‘feel’ unless they have a huge amount of stimulation.
In our work with couples, we have found innumerable sexual problems and resentments stemming from the use of pornography. The wife cannot open up to her husband in bed because she knows that he has a collection of erotic videos, which he sees frequently. It makes her feel like she is not enough for him.
Let us add that outside inputs are necessary when there is a lack of ‘love’ between partners, when sex is merely a physical activity. This lack of love cannot be blamed on only one partner. Love happens between two sensitive human beings. Both the partners need to deeply examine their relationship, either on their own individually, or with the help of a good counsellor.
We can therefore safely conclude that getting obsessed and addicted to any sexual activity can in no way truly enhance the quality of sexual relating. In fact, it has the distinct possibility of causing deep hurt in the partner, and grave harm to the relationship as a whole.
The author is a senior consultant in sexual medicine and a counsellor from Mumbai