Are Sex Addicts Getting Younger?

May 23, 2022

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Claudia Black Young Adult Center

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By Anna McKenzie

Are sex addicts getting younger? “Sex addiction” is a complicated label, and usually it’s shorthand for a combination of life-disrupting sexual behaviors. The main characteristic of these behaviors is that they are compulsive, cause severe distress, and become a focal point in a person’s life regardless of negative consequences.

Cultural norms have shifted in terms of the portrayal of intimate relationships on TV, movies, and the Internet. The Internet and social media platforms have increased the likelihood that users can gain access to sexually explicit content or become exposed incidentally. Parental controls and “safe” settings are not always optimally used or perfectly effective. Social media algorithms designed to capture attention can end up leading users, even children, down rabbit holes that expose them to extreme and explicit content.

The Internet and social media platforms have increased the likelihood that users can gain access to sexually explicit content or become exposed incidentally.

What are the consequences of inappropriate exposure to sexual imagery and videos at a young age? Without being emotionally or mentally mature enough to process the implications of sexual content, children and young teens can misunderstand the role of sex, the nature of intimate relationships, their self-worth or the worth of others, and the value of healthy boundaries. 

Even sexually mature adults may easily falter in their understanding of what healthy relationships look like. This can be due to a number of factors, such as inaccurate portrayals of relationships in the media, increased access to pornography, “hookup culture,” and broken or abusive family relationships.

Adverse Effects of Dating Apps and Hookup Culture

dating app

Dating apps have digitized parts of the dating process, making some aspects of dating more convenient and others more complicated. While plenty of people have met their significant other or had decent dating experiences using apps, there are some negatives that come with their use. 

For instance, an abundance of options allows people to sort through users as though viewing a catalog. The process can have a very impersonal feel that can make it easier to objectify people. Being remote allows you to swipe past someone anonymously or simply drop a communication thread, whereas in-person interaction creates the responsibility to behave in civil, socially acceptable ways. Another notable downside to dating apps is that members can pretend to be people who they are not. It can be easier to hide who you are or certain aspects of your personality online versus in person. This “digital distance” makes it easier to dissociate from your own identity and more easily disconnect from others. 

“Hookup culture,” which can be defined as the idea of casual or uncommitted sexual encounters being more permissible — even promoted — by modern society, also has its negatives. Seeing other people as opportunities for sexual encounters, instead of seeing them as people to be valued for who they are, can lead to intimacy issues and difficulty forming healthy bonds. Numerous studies, including one from the American Psychological Association (APA), point to mixed reviews for hookup culture. Study participants reported regret after hookups, mental health highs and lows, and unwanted sexual experiences.

What Age Does Sex Addiction Start?

Does the combination of increased exposure to sexual content, incidental exposure at younger ages, digital distance, and hookup culture all mean that sex addicts are getting younger? It certainly means that it’s easier to get trapped in unhealthy patterns of relating to other people. Compulsive sexual behaviors and intimacy issues are one fateful consequence of that. The biochemical effects of sex can bind individuals to these broken patterns, creating a drug-like addiction to sexual acts that persists in spite of adverse consequences. 

Is there a common age when sex addiction issues begin to surface? It can begin at whatever age sexual issues become a focal point and are disruptive and harmful to oneself and others. Addiction is characterized by a lack of control; hypersexuality and what you might label sex addiction is no different. It is as likely as ever for people to become addicted to sex at a young age. But sexual issues respect no age, stage, race, or economical level; any person can become vulnerable to these conditions. Sadly, a history of sexual abuse or trauma may make a person even more susceptible to intimacy disorders. 

Sadly, a history of sexual abuse or trauma may make a person even more susceptible to intimacy disorders.

How Is Sex Addiction Treated?

Sexual baggage can be profound among those who have a hypersexual condition or suffer from compulsive sexual behaviors. Some are deeply embarrassed and deal with shame on a regular basis; others are unapologetic and detached. At the root of these issues is an unhealthy view of one’s self and others that must be realigned and repaired in order for problematic sexual issues to resolve. 

Here at Claudia Black Young Adult Center, we treat the whole person, addressing what’s misaligned in the mind, body, and spirit. Our goal is to help each young adult recover his or her true identity, discover what healthy relationships look like, and process the shame and unhelpful attitudes that can accompany these conditions. 

We believe that you can heal and learn how to have healthy relationships that are fulfilling. It starts with a more complete understanding of yourself and where your relational patterns became broken. For some, this includes a history of trauma due to early sexual exposure or abuse. We treat trauma with compassionate, evidence-based therapies rooted in extensive research and clinical expertise. From there, we engage the whole person in the process of recovery, addressing any co-occurring substance use or mental health conditions at the same time. If you or someone you love needs help breaking free from addiction, reach out today to let us help.