Sexual Addiction on the College Campus
Guidance for Students, Parents and Professionals
College students today must make many sexual decisions that young adults of just one to two decades ago did not face. In part, this difference is due to evolving cultural norms around sex and rapid changes in technology. While leaving home and going off to school is often a time of significant transition, the exhilarating sense of freedom that may be experienced can also be accompanied by multiple stressors. Many of these pressures are related to sex and relationships, while factors such as ubiquitous internet access can open a world of temptation that many young adults find hard to resist.
Amy grew up very involved in her church, where her father was a pastor. She was secretary on the student council in her small-town high school. Her good grades paved the way for her to get a scholarship to the top university in her state. Amy took a full load of classes and soon began to feel the stress of competing with the other students. She found it difficult to make friends in this large college and, in her loneliness, turned to social media for companionship. Over time, she found sites for having sexual conversations with strangers and even posted sexual videos of herself. By the end of the first semester, Amy had begun hooking up with people she met online for brief sexual encounters. One night, after meeting a complete stranger for anonymous sex, Amy realized how dangerous these behaviors were becoming. Although she promised herself repeatedly that “tonight will be the last night,” she found she just couldn’t stop.
Amy is not alone in her struggle. Counselors and other helping professionals are seeing many others like Amy whose sexual behaviors have gotten out of control. These behaviors may take many forms on college campuses, such as Internet pornography, online sexual activities (e.g., webcams, hook-up sites, chat rooms), casual or anonymous sexual encounters, sexualized communications (e.g., sexual texting), among others.
There are also many challenges in addressing these problems, including a lack of agreement on what these issues should be called and how exactly to define them. A wide range of terminology has been used, such as compulsive sexual behavior, impulsive sexual behaviors, problematic sexual behaviors, hypersexuality, and sexual addiction. Although some people argue that these labels are intended to simply pathologize sexual activities, researchers and other professionals in this field portray their work as an attempt to describe an emerging phenomenon. Despite this lack of consensus on terms and descriptions, a recent review1 found several more consistently agreed upon characteristics including:
• Repeated failures to resist engaging in specific sexual behaviors
• Repeated desires or attempts to stop or control behaviors
• Significant time spent involved in the behaviors
• Being preoccupied with the behaviors
• Engaging in behaviors when expected to be involved in other responsibilities
• Continued engagement in behaviors despite negative consequences related to those behaviors.