Sex Addiction in Teens: Where to go for Help
Sex addiction (hypersexuality, compulsive sexual behavior, etc.) is a term used to describe frequent and excessive urges, desires, thoughts, or behaviors that focus on sexual acts or other factors related to sex. Someone with a sex addiction cannot control their thoughts and behaviors. In time, they lead to emotional harm, challenges, and damage to relationships, employment, finances, and other aspects of one’s life.
Defining Sex Addiction
Someone with a sex addiction is often intensely focused on urges, sexual fantasies, or activities related to sex. The term “sex addiction” is one often used by society. In medical or mental health settings, you may hear this condition referred to as problematic sexual behavior, hypersexuality (hypersexuality disorder), sexual compulsivity, sexual impulsivity, or compulsive sexual behavior,
Sex addiction often involves activities and behaviors related to sex, such as engaging in phone sex, cybersex, viewing pornography, and masturbation. Although many of these activities are “normal” aspects of a healthy sex life, someone is said to have a sex addiction when their thoughts and activities consume or take over their day-to-day lives.
Although the subject is sometimes viewed as taboo and often not widely associated with teen addiction, sex addiction is similar to other types of addiction. The “craving” for sex or involvement in activities related to sex mimics those someone with a substance use disorder experiences when they crave alcohol or drugs. Despite known and potential negative consequences, someone with a sex addiction must find a way to satisfy cravings or urges.
Statistics on Sex Addiction
There is a minimal body of research into teen addiction to sex. Also, developing a clear picture of the prevalence of sex addiction is further complicated by the fact that an addiction to sex (by any name) is not a recognized mental health condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders. As a result, data regarding diagnosis and treatment are limited at best.
Current statistics suggest sex addiction affects between 3 and 10% of the American population (regardless of age). It is also believed to be more common among men than women. Some reports suggest that for every 5 males, 1 woman is affected by hypersexuality symptoms. On average, symptoms of sex addiction begin around age eighteen. However, like many statistics related to this condition, the lack of data for youth and teens is likely due to under-reporting or limited treatment rather than the condition not being present in youth and teens.
In addition, the available data on addiction to sex indicates that more than 50% of individuals who live with symptoms due to an addiction to sex also have a co-occurring or previous mental health condition, including:
- Anxiety disorders
- Mood disorders
- Impulse control disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Personality disorders
- Other behavioral addictions (gambling, gaming, shopping, etc.)
- A history of self-harm or suicide attempts
Are There Signs of Teen Sex Addiction?
It may be challenging to recognize an addiction to sex in your teen because many of the signs and symptoms involve thoughts that are often not clearly apparent to outsiders, or they involve actions that occur “behind closed doors” and out of the view of others. Also, because having an addiction to sex is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, there are no established diagnostic criteria for mental health professionals to reference when assessing someone’s symptoms.
A lack of specific criteria for establishing a diagnosis does not rule out the presence of certain traits that are often present in someone with sex addiction. Examples include:
An obsession with sex
Someone with a sex addiction will spend an abnormal or excessive amount of time fantasizing about sex. This may involve thinking about their urges, dreaming up ways to satisfy cravings, or engaging in sexual activity either alone or with another person.
Frequently using services related to sex
Hypersexuality may sometimes mean it is difficult or impossible to feel sexually satisfied through traditional means. This may lead a teen with sex addiction to seek out other ways to satisfy cravings. One such method is using sexual services. Common examples include paying for sex, phone sex, interactions with multiple partners (together or separately), hook-ups through internet chat rooms, and other similar behaviors.
Masturbation is not an unhealthy practice; however, someone with a sex addiction engages in excessive masturbation, often multiple times per day.
Frequent use of pornography
Common sources of pornography include adult magazines, free internet websites, videos, television streaming services, and live webcams. Pornography is also frequently linked to masturbation.
Spending time “planning” sexual activities
A teen with a sex addiction may spend an inordinate amount of time planning when, where, and how their next sexual “high” will occur. Much like a substance use disorder, the level of planning that goes into sex addiction often interferes with relationships and has a negative impact on your teen’s medical and emotional health.
Reckless or dangerous sexual activity
In some instances, the activities and behaviors of a teen sex addiction evolve into something more concerning. For example, the addition of dangerous sexual activities, aggressive behaviors, or substance abuse. They may also participate in behaviors that go against what is considered socially appropriate or violate personal values.
Paraphilia is the term for sexual behaviors that involve “getting high” off another’s injury, psychological distress, or death. Examples of paraphilia include sadomasochism, pedophilia, voyeurism, and exhibitionism.
What Causes Teen Sex Addiction?
As with many mental health conditions, research has yet to identify one single cause of sex addiction in teens (or adults). It is possible one of, or a combination of, several of the below theories may contribute.
- An imbalance of mood-controlling chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters), such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, may lead to elevated sexual urges and behaviors.
- Changes to the structure or function of the brain that lead to the development of new nerve pathways that promote addictive behaviors.
- Drug or alcohol abuse (particularly alcohol, amphetamines, or cocaine).
- Other medical conditions that affect the brain include traumatic injuries to the frontal lobe, prefrontal cortex, or amygdala and mental health diagnoses such as epilepsy, bipolar disorder, and dementia.
- A negative side effect of prescription medication may also contribute to elevated sexual urges.
Where to Go For Help with Teen Sex Addiction
Hypersexuality in teens or teen sex addiction is treated using similar approaches used to address other behavioral addictions. The most effective treatments often involve a combination of therapy, support groups, and medications.
Psychotherapy or talk therapy uses several therapeutic interventions to help your teen better identify and understand the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that trigger hypersexual thoughts and behaviors. Depending on your teen’s treatment needs, therapy will involve both individual and group sessions for your teen and therapy that involves other family members because, by the very nature of addiction, the actions of the addict do affect others in the household. There are several highly effective therapy models used to treat teen sex addiction at a program like ours at Hillcrest.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a therapy model that focuses on identifying and examining negative thoughts and behaviors. Once harmful thoughts are better understood, they can be replaced with healthier, safer coping and trigger management skills that do not involve sex or sexual behaviors.
This therapy model helps someone with a sex addiction explore their addiction in terms of their values and personal goals. Motivational interviewing, or MI, helps someone with hypersexuality connect their behaviors with their ambitions.
Acceptance and commitment therapy
This type of psychotherapy uses mindfulness and acceptance tools to help individuals learn how to accept distress or discomfort without turning to coping mechanisms that involve sex. This allows them to change their relationship with their thoughts rather than striving to alter the ideas themselves.
There are no medications designed explicitly to address sex addiction symptoms. However, certain mental health medications impact the hormones in the brain that control behaviors and urges. Your teen’s medical or mental health provider may recommend medications that are best suited for their treatment needs. These are based on their needs and the presence of any other co-occurring medical or mental health condition. Examples of common mental health medications that may help address sex addiction symptoms include
Antidepressant drugs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs) are generally considered the first-line medication for sex addiction treatment.
Mood stabilizing drugs may help if your teen has a co-occurring condition such as bipolar disorder with manic or impulsive characteristics, of which hypersexuality is an example. Examples of mood-stabilizing medications include Depakote, Lithium, and Tegretol.
Anti-anxiety medications may help if one’s sexual behaviors are related to anxiety.
These are hormone medications that target male sexual hormones. They may help to reduce obsessive thoughts and may be effective in extreme instances of sexual aggression or when behaviors are dangerous or potentially harmful to others.
Naltrexone is commonly used to address alcohol and opioid addictions. It has also been shown to be effective in addressing gambling addiction. Therefore, some providers believe it may help with sex addictions as well.
Antipsychotic medications may be considered as part of a treatment plan when agitation and other aggressive thoughts are a primary feature. Antipsychotics may help to reduce sexual desires and arousal.
Support groups are typically modeled after the structure of traditional 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. There are several examples specific to sexual addictions. Information regarding meetings and other details can be found online.
There are many behavioral addictions that affect the lives of thousands of people each day. Some, like sex addiction, are not commonly associated with teens; however, teens also experience hypersexuality and addiction to sex challenges. If you are concerned about your teen’s behaviors and thoughts regarding sex, reach out to us for help. A member of our admissions team can walk you through what treatment at Hillcrest looks like and provide details about how we can help your teen. Contact us today to learn more.