Queer guys have a fairly well-deserved reputation for generally being pre-occupied with sex.
While bathhouses, saunas, sex-on-premises venues, and sex parties are still the go-to option for many guys looking for a sexual release, the rapid growth of online and location-based dating apps have, for some guys, elevated the search for sex to a 24–7 occupation.
For some people, a constant need for sex can become a compulsion, an all-consuming obsession that health professionals describe as a ‘sex addiction’.
Having emerged in the US in the mid-1970s, the concept of ‘sex addiction’ as a treatable behaviour disorder is a relatively new phenomenon is psychiatric terms. Sex addiction has only been recently recognised by the World Health Organisation and the American Psychiatric Association as a treatable condition.
Like many other addictions, it’s when the behaviours that the addiction is driving start to take precedence over work, friendships, relationships, or health that it becomes apparent that you have a problem.
I spoke with Nicholas Rose, a counsellor who specialises in working with queer men and same-sex couples, about how to identify the signs of a potential sex addiction.
‘It generally comes down to feelings of control and balance…’ explained Rose. ‘If you’re feeling that your need for sex is impacting the other key areas of your life, you will start to feel a lack of control. With my clients, I use an easy self-assessment test that quickly gives an indication of how aware they are of the impact of their behaviour, and questions some of the assumptions and opinions that might be driving any compulsive behaviour.’
I sat down to take the test. Here are the questions:
- How much sex do you have?
- How much sex do you think other people have?
- Write a list of things in your life that are important to you and rank them in order of priority. Where does sex fit on this list?
- What is sex is for you?
- How does that compare to what sex is for others?
- How happy (on a scale of 1–10) are you about the sex that you have?
- How happy (on a scale of 1–10) do you think your sexual partners are about the sex that you have together?
- Thinking about the core pillars of your life (health; home life; relationships; occupation; spirituality), does your sexual behaviour support or is it detrimental to any of these key pillars?
What’s useful about a self-assessment test such as that used by Rose, is that it can also put into context unfounded concerns. But why does a vigorous sex life develop into compulsive and addictive behaviour for some queer men?
‘There are a range of possible factors…’ believes Rose. ‘In my work with clients who are struggling with a sex addiction, there generally seems to be some sort of underlying problem or issue that is manifesting in the addictive behaviour. But the key thing is that the behaviour is recognised as destructive, and that they choose to take action to address this.’
One factor that could be exacerbating the problems for sex addiction among queer men is the emergence of the use of ‘chems’ – drugs such as GBH or Crystal Meth – to enhance sex. Specialist health services such as London Friend’s Antidote – who specialise in treating drug and alcohol issues in the LGBTQ community – have been reporting for a number of years that increasing numbers of gay men are presenting with physical addiction to chems. It’s easy to understand how a mild sexual compulsion could easily spiral out of control when also fuelled by a drug addiction.
The normalisation of constantly searching for casual sex can also play a role, and further expose someone who’s at a vulnerable point in their life to the potential of developing a damaging addiction.
‘If there is evidence that everyone else is doing it, then we are less likely to be aware or concerned about our own behaviour …’ explains Rose. ‘Sartre describes this as acting in bad faith, adopting false values, and suppressing their innate authenticity due to the pressures of societal forces.’
So, if you, or someone you know, is possibly suffering from a sex addiction, what are the steps that can be taken to get the behaviour back under control? Rose advises the following:
- Ensure that you are safe, both physically and sexually.
- Develop a plan of what behaviours you want to change, and the steps that you need to take to do this.
- Identify the barriers to making the changes you need - what might trigger you not to change and how do you work through that?‘
One important step in getting your behaviour back under control could be to avoid going to your local sauna on a Friday night…’ suggests Rose. ‘What are the triggers that may make you want to go to the sauna, what other activities could you engage in instead of going to the sauna – you need to find a way to replace the behaviour associated with the addiction.
With the growing acceptance of sex addiction as a damaging condition that can be treated, there are an increasing range of support services available – but the first step is for the addict to recognise that they have a problem and seek help.
The question isn’t whether or not you’re having too much sex, it’s how that sex is making you feel.