A woman sat in my therapy office today and cried. She balled her tissue into her hand and wailed, "I think my husband is a sex addict!"
As a therapist, I have heard those words many times, week after week, from more and more clients. There seems to be an acute spike in the level of compulsive sexual behaviors through the internet. Also, more people are recognizing the problems faced by both men and women that are dealing with sexual addiction. It may be due to the rash of news stories that have labeled sports figures and movie actors with the diagnosis of "sex addict" that have made more people aware of the symptoms. It may also be because the internet allows for direct access to more sexual material then ever before, and for free.
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I asked her, "Why do you think he's addicted, and to what?"
She answered slowly.
"Well, he watches porn on the computer all the time. I know he masturbates to it a couple of times a day. He doesn't come to bed until long after I am asleep. We never have sex anymore. And I think he does it at work too."
It is hard to diagnose someone with a true sex addiction - particularly if they are not sitting in my office where I can ask them directly about their behavior. But some questions I would ask if her husband were in the chair where she sat would be things like, "How often are you looking at porn on your computer? Have you ever thought about stopping but can't? Would you prefer not to do it but find that you are drawn to it more every day? Do you have physical problems as a result, including sores on your penis from masturbating, or on your hands? Do you lose time from work or time from your family in order to masturbate to porn? Do you find yourself looking at images that you never thought would turn you on? Do you find yourself needing more and more extreme imagery to get off?"
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These are some of the questions that indicate whether or not someone has a dependency on pornography. The desire to stop and the inability to change behavior is one indicator that someone has become dependent on the "substance" of pornography. Brain chemicals are released when looking at pornographic images on the screen, and when masturbating. Upon ejaculation more chemicals and hormones are released that create a feel-good relaxed sensation in the body which creates a relief from anxiety and can become an experience that viewers can become dependent upon after repetitive use.
People can use porn to avoid intimate sexual relationships with their partners, draining off the erotic energy in what they would otherwise give to their partner. This can be an exit from the relationship or a way to avoid conflict.
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