We’re continuing our ‘What is sex addiction?’ blog series looking at how to understand sex addiction and porn addiction by looking at the common questions. In our last blog, we explored the common question – ‘Am I an addict, or am I just overreacting?’ and today, we’re going deeper into – ‘Am I an addict, or do I just have a high sex drive?’
What Is Sex Addiction? – Identifying Sex And Porn Addiction
It is common for people to confuse a high sex drive with compulsive sexual behaviour disorder (CSBD), whether that’s multiple sexual partners, visiting sex workers or using pornography, but in reality, the function is very different. Although there has been no published research on the subject, my clinical experience shows that whilst some sex addicts have high sex drives, many do not. Some would say they have a very low sex drive, and many partners will have endured years of a low or even no sex drive relationship before discovering their partner was an addict.
The critical thing to understand when asking, ‘What is sex addiction?’ is that sex addiction and porn addiction are about compulsion and dependency, not sex itself. If you think about it, it’s logical – alcoholics don’t struggle with excessive thirst and chronic over-eaters aren’t hungrier than others. People who develop compulsive or addictive behaviours become dependent on how a ‘drug’ of choice, be that alcohol, food, gambling or sex, as it makes them feel something. Their behaviour is driven by a need for comfort, not the desire to satiate an appetite.
Delving Deeper Into Addiction
What do we mean by satiating an appetite? For example, chronic over-eaters will often say they’re hungry when that can’t be true, and the same is true of people with sex addiction or porn addiction. This is due to classical conditioning, not libido. Classical conditioning was famously demonstrated by an experiment that has become known as Pavlov’s Dogs. Dr Pavlov rang a bell every time he fed his dogs. Over time, he noticed that his dogs would salivate when they heard a bell, regardless of whether they were hungry. In other words, they associated hearing the bell with food and had become ‘conditioned’ to respond appropriately.
This theory applies to many walks of life and is critical in developing habits, both good and bad. It can help our understanding when asking ‘What is sex addiction?’. For example, if you develop a habit of watching porn whenever you’re alone in the house, before going out on a Friday night, or when you’re hungover, over time, you will become ‘conditioned’ to want porn in these situations. You may think the desire is governed by your libido, but the arousal is in your brain, not your genitals.
In my experience, most people with addiction, and indeed most people who overeat, have no idea what their appetite is. They have become so used to eating before they’re hungry they’ve forgotten what hunger feels like. And their hunger (sorry, gone into another food metaphor here), or rather their appetite, is triggered by seeing yummy food – it’s not hunger because their belly is empty, it’s appetite because it’s been stimulated externally. The same happens with sex and porn addiction. If you spend hours and hours watching porn, surfing sex sites or dating apps, or scanning your physical environment for attractive people, you will be stoking your appetite, but that’s not the same as your innate sex drive.
The bottom line when discussing ‘What is sex addiction?’ is that it doesn’t matter if you have a high sex drive or not. If your behaviour is causing significant problems in your life, but despite that, you can’t stop, then it’s time to get help. If you’re curious about whether or not your behaviour is compulsive, you may find it helpful to use our self-assessment tool – ‘Am I A Sex Addict?’
What Is Sex Addiction? – The Next Steps
The quickest way to learn more is to talk to one of our therapists. Follow this link and pick a date and time that’s most convenient for you and one of our experienced Clinical Associates will help you decide the best next steps.
If you want to get a taste of the power of group work, sign up for our Kick Start Workshop. This 3-hour session, delivered by Paula Hall and limited to a maximum of 12 attendees, is a great way to start your recovery journey. This workshop will help you to recognise whether you have an addiction and help you to understand the basis of why we experience these addictions.
Following this, the six-phase cycle of addiction will be introduced, along with some basic management strategies. The stages of recovery will be explained and we will work with you to begin developing a recovery plan.
Should you have any initial general enquiries, please contact us today.