“Addictions are not about feeling good, they are about feeling less. Addicts turn to addictive substances and behaviors not because they want to have a good time, but to self-medicate and self-regulate their emotions. Their primary goal is to escape from life and not to feel stress, anxiety, depression, fear and other forms of discomfort.”
― Rob Weiss, Prodependence
Many people suffer with a variety of struggles that bind them down and prevent them from living the life they truly desire. “Untethered Therapy”evolved from the belief that healing is a choice and the only person who has the power to truly heal you is you. We also believe all people have infinite worth and are capable and worthy of true healing; while acknowledging that many suffer from ailments or injuries that are the result of others’ choices or unfortunate circumstances. Even though these challenges may seem insurmountable at times, we believe it is possible to turn victims into victors and find true empowerment and freedom in your life once again. Jean Paul Satre said “Freedom is what you do with what has been done to you.” At Untethered Therapy, we strive to provide a caring, compassionate space both online and face to face, in which we connect you with the necessary tools and supports you will need to cut through the tethers of addiction, mental health struggles, trauma, grief, loss, betrayal, physical limitations etc. in order to “Set yourself free.”
“It is impossible to understand addiction without asking what relief the addict finds, or hopes to find, in the drug or the addictive behaviour.”
Much like other chemical and behavioral addictions, the function of the sexual behaviors (secondary benefit of escapism and emotional regulation) is the primary driver of the behavior. The increased reliance on sexual stimuli to manage emotions sets people up to develop compulsive and even addictive relationships with sex and/or fantasy; this can result in escalating personal, academic, professional, physical, legal, and relational consequences. Oftentimes sexually compulsive behaviors develop in childhood and continue into adulthood, thereby reflecting a pattern of behaviors that has little correlation with their love and attraction for their current partner.
The access to explicit sexual stimuli makes it so easy for children to acquire pornographic materials that the average age of first exposure to internet pornography is 11 years old. This powerful combination of under-developed brain meets pornography creates a supernormal-stimulus that can set youth up for developing problematic relationships with internet pornography. Although it is healthy for adolescents and teenagers to be sexually curious, the arousing feelings that arise as a result of viewing hard core/explicit pornogragraphic materials can hook some youth. The supernormal stimulus of pornography may cause once enjoyable activities to pale in comparison and lead to a decreased interest in those behaviors, increased time online, and isolation. The challenging developmental tasks of identity formation and social acceptance can increase anxiety and insecurities leaving youth more vulnerable to developing sometimes unhealthy coping strategies and addictions. Some youth develop a dependence on cybersex as an emotional regulation tool for escaping boredom, loneliness, rejection, stress, anxiety, depression etc. If these behaviors become entrenched in youth, it can plant the seeds for sexual and relational difficulties later in life.
Am I a Sex Addict?
Do your sexual urges or behaviors cause you to feel out of control? The PATHOS questionnaire is a quick tool that can indicate whether your sex life has become unmanageable. If you answer yes to 3 or more of the following questions, you may be struggling with sexual addiction. If so, you may want to take the free Sex Addiction Screening Test (SAST-R) or reach out to our competent therapists for futher evaluation and support.
PATHOS Questionnaire Items
- [Preoccupied] Do you often find yourself preoccupied with sexual thoughts?
- [Ashamed] Do you hide some of your sexual behavior from others?
- [Treatment] Have you ever sought help for sexual behavior you did not like?
- [Hurt others] Has anyone been hurt emotionally because of your sexual behavior?
- [Out of control] Do you feel controlled by your sexual desire?
- [Sad] When you have sex, do you feel depressed afterwards?
Can sex really be addictive?
The brain registers all pleasures in the same way, whether they originate with a psychoactive drug, a monetary reward, a sexual encounter, or a satisfying meal. Dr. Morten Kringelbach, a senior research fellow, who studies the neurobiology of pleasure at the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University explains: “Pleasure is fundamental to us…. It’s no accident, that food and sex are our primary sources of pleasure. They are critical for our survival, so having dedicated pleasure networks in the brain that tend to make us seek them out makes absolute sense…”
Repeated exposure to an addictive substance or behavior causes nerve cells in the area of the brain involved in planning and executing tasks to communicate in a way that couples liking (desire) something with wanting (cravings), in turn driving us to go after it (compulsions).
In nature, rewards usually come only with time and effort. Addictive drugs and behaviors provide a shortcut, flooding the brain with dopamine and other neurotransmitters. The impact of modern day pornography has been compared to a supernormal stimulus which registers in the brain as an exaggerated, especially “valuable” version of something we find irresistible (ex: high-calorie food, sexual arousal), easily accessible and has limited supply (not found in nater), comes with a lot of variety (novelty) leading to chronic over-consumption.
In September 2020, the World Health Organization released the International Classification of Diseases, ICD-11 revision with the addition of 6C7 Compulsive sexual behaviour disorder as defined below:
Compulsive sexual behaviour disorder is characterised by a persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive sexual behaviour. Symptoms may include repetitive sexual activities becoming a central focus of the person’s life to the point of neglecting health and personal care or other interests, activities and responsibilities; numerous unsuccessful efforts to significantly reduce repetitive sexual behaviour; and continued repetitive sexual behaviour despite adverse consequences or deriving little or no satisfaction from it. The pattern of failure to control intense, sexual impulses or urges and resulting repetitive sexual behaviour is manifested over an extended period of time (e.g., 6 months or more), and causes marked distress or significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. Distress that is entirely related to moral judgments and disapproval about sexual impulses, urges, or behaviours is not sufficient to meet this requirement.
Repeated exposure to an addictive substance or behavior causes nerve cells in the area of the brain involved in planning and executing tasks to communicate in a way that couples liking (desire) with wanting (cravings), in turn driving us to go after it (compulsions).
Sex addiction and Sexual dysfunction
Many studies have reported a correlation between pornography consumption and increased sexual dysfunction: Porn-induced Erectile Dysfunction (PIED), Delayed ejacuation (DE) lower libido, and anorgasmia ranging from 17 to 56% of male porn addicts (Park et al., 2016, Rosenberg et al., 2012,)
The supernormal stimuli of modern pornography can result in desentization to natural stimuli resulting in unprecedented levels of sexual dysfunction in young men. Up to 23% of young men under age 35 experienced sexual dysfunction compared to 45% of these same men who also demonstrated high sexual addiction scores. Notably 12% of the men under age 24 already experienced elevated sex addiction scores. The researchers reported a negative trend line between the time spent watching porn and ED, ejaculation problems, lower libido, and poorer quality of sex life in partnered sex.
- A man is able to achieve erections and orgasms with pornography, but he struggles with one or both when he’s with a real-world partner.
- A man is able to have sex and achieve orgasm with real-world partners, but reaching orgasm takes a long time and his partners complain that he seems disengaged.
- A man is able to maintain an erection with real-world partners, but he can only achieve orgasm by replaying porn clips in his mind.
- A man increasingly prefers pornography to real-world sex, finding it more intense and more engaging.
Consequences of Sex Addiction
Compulsive sexual behavior can have many negative consequences that affect both you and others. You may:
- Struggle with feelings of guilt, shame and low self-esteem
- Develop other mental health conditions, such as depression, suicide, severe distress and anxiety
- Neglect or lie to your partner and family, harming or destroying meaningful relationships
- Lose your focus or engage in sexual activity or search internet pornography at work, risking your job
- Accumulate financial debts buying pornography and sexual services
- Contract HIV, hepatitis or another sexually transmitted infection or pass a sexually transmitted infection to someone else
- Engage in unhealthy substance use, such as using recreational drugs or drinking excessive alcohol
- Be arrested for sexual offenses