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social sciences

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Sexual Addiction  
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Both PEA levels and sexual arousal are dramatically enhanced by the presence of danger. The higher the fear and risk involved, the more PEA is released. This helps explain the experience of exhibitionists, who like having sex outdoors or in a motel room with the curtains open. Part of the thrill is the danger of being caught. Unfortunately, undercover police officers, disguised as fellow cruisers, arrest men who loiter in rest areas and public bathrooms. The result? Handcuffs, humiliation, and a night in jail. Fines and attorneys' fees in the thousands of dollars often follow.

Withdrawal Symptoms

One treatment suggestion for the sex addict in early recovery is to refrain from all sexual behaviors, even masturbation. The idea is to let him or her create some distance from sexual behavior and obtain a more objective perspective. Many therapists, including Patrick Carnes, advise a three- to six-month period of celibacy.

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But as with any other addiction, someone who stops excessive sexual behaviors can experience withdrawal symptoms, because his or her body is used to relying on the natural neurochemicals released during the acting-out behavior. Some of the physical symptoms that clients in the early stages of recovery frequently report include headaches, nausea, chills, sweats, and itchy skin, possibly because the body is no longer numbed by high doses of neurochemicals.

During celibacy, psychological changes may include fatigue (because the addict no longer raids his or her internal pharmacy for "hits" to get going, he or she may feel more tired than usual), as well as anxiety and depression. If sexual addiction has been a way to manage anxiety, it may surface once the activity stops. Addicts practicing celibacy sometimes complain of tension, nervousness, even rapid heartbeat. Since many addicts use sexual behavior as a way to cope with stress, they may also suffer periods of insomnia, irritability, "the blues," feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, and changes in appetite.

Some clients also report both high and low sexual arousal. While some are flooded with sexual thoughts and urges, more in fact than they experienced while they were sexually acting out, others say that their libido shuts down entirely and they worry about becoming asexual.

These symptoms usually last 14 to 15 days. In some cases, however, they can last as long as 10 weeks.

Not everyone can achieve celibacy and, indeed, not everyone needs to observe a period of celibacy to achieve a quality recovery from sexual addiction. Most important is to at least work to stop sexual practices that put one at risk, and many addicts experience some withdrawal symptoms just from halting their most dangerous behaviors.

Treatment Options

Perhaps the best treatment option is for the addict to work on his or her strengths rather than to emphasize weakness and failure. Recovery from sexual addiction is a process unlike recovery from chemical addiction where one stops using immediately. For sex addicts, stopping certain sexual acting-out behaviors while continuing others is still progress. Success should be emphasized even if it is only partial.

This flexible approach is particularly important for gay men and lesbians. So many of us have been forced into "canned" heterosexual models that we resist the idea that there is only one route to any solution. In response to the ultimatum, "My way or the highway," we often choose the open road.

For some, the goal is to quit logging on to porn websites. By refraining from pornography, the sex addict may be able to date and explore being sexual in safe ways with flesh-and-blood partners.

Attending Sex Addict Anonymous meetings that are primarily attended by heterosexuals may be counterproductive for gay men and lesbians because it offers a kind of escape hatch. They are able to hide among heterosexuals who can not really help them and who will not recognize when they are on the way to relapse because they do not know the intricacies of being gay or lesbian. The opposite can be equally true. Heterosexuals may inappropriately warn gay men or lesbians that they are in slippery territory because they are doing something that, for gay men and lesbians, is perfectly legitimate.

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