When something negative happens in life, we either indulge in our favourite foods, catch a movie or generally prefer to do things we like. Some others may turn to sex to cope with stressful situations. It is true that people’s motivations and coping mechanisms are complex and can vary from person to person. But let’s face it, using sex as a coping mechanism may be anything but healthy. It should not be used to deal with unhappiness, grief or stress. An expert shares how to stop using sex as a coping mechanism.
Health Shots reached out to Mehezabin Dordi, Clinical Psychologist, Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, Mumbai, to know more about it.
All of us have different ways to deal with situations in life. According to the expert, coping mechanisms are compulsions or habits that are formed over time. They serve to help a person manage particular feelings or situations. Engaging in sexual activities can provide a temporary escape or distraction from emotional pain, stress, anxiety or depression. It might serve as a way to numb or temporarily alleviate negative emotions. It is also not always about negative emotions. Engaging in promiscuous behaviour can be a means to boost self-esteem or seek external validation for some individuals. Some people might link their self-worth to sexual experiences or the attention they receive from others. It can also be a means for self-soothing and stress relief. Engaging in sexual activities can release endorphins and provide a temporary sense of pleasure and relaxation, says the expert. It can serve as a way to relieve stress and temporarily escape from life’s challenges.
Behind the use of sex as a coping mechanism, there could possibly be underlying mental health issues such as –
People who have experienced past trauma, such as sexual abuse or assault, might develop coping strategies that involve using sex as a way to cope with or regain control over their experiences, says the expert.
Sex addiction, hyper sexuality or compulsive sexual behaviours can be associated with underlying mental health issues such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, impulse control disorders or other addictive behaviours.
Some people might use sex as a way to navigate relationship problems or fill emotional voids. They might seek validation, intimacy or a sense of control through sexual encounters.
People and their experiences can vary greatly, but there are some signs that might indicate an unhealthy relationship with sex:
Engaging in sex or sexual activities becomes a compulsive or addictive behaviour, where the person feels a lack of control over their sexual urges or behaviours. They might engage in risky or unsafe sexual practices despite negative consequences, says Dordi.
The person consistently relies on sex as the main way to cope with stress, emotional pain or other life challenges. They might turn to sex as a means of escape or distraction rather than developing healthier coping strategies.
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The person gets so preoccupied with sex that it begins to interfere with their daily functioning and relationships. They might neglect responsibilities, experience difficulties at work or school or face strained relationships due to their excessive focus on sex.
Instead of seeking emotional connection and intimacy through sex, the person mostly uses sex as a way to avoid emotional vulnerability or true intimacy. They might engage in numerous sexual encounters, but struggle to form deep emotional connections with their partners.
Despite the temporary relief or pleasure sex might bring, the person experiences negative emotional consequences, such as guilt, shame or regret, says Dordi.
If you recognise these patterns and feel distressed, reach out to a doctor.
Working with a therapist or counsellor on this can be of great help. But here are some other ways to deal with this problem.
Take some time to reflect on your patterns of behaviour and identify the reasons why you turn to sex as a coping mechanism. Explore your emotions, triggers and the negative consequences that arise from this behaviour.
If there are underlying mental health issues, such as trauma, depression, anxiety, or relationship difficulties, you have to address them.
Explore and challenge any negative beliefs or attitudes you might have about sex, relationships or your own self-worth.
Identify and practice healthier coping mechanisms to replace sex as the main means of dealing with stress or emotional pain. This can include engaging in hobbies, exercise, mindfulness or meditation, journaling or seeking support from friends and family.
Be with family, friends or support groups as connecting with others who might have similar experiences can help. It can provide validation, understanding and encouragement throughout the process of change.
Don’t forget to focus on self-care activities to promote overall well-being and self-esteem. So, get enough sleep, maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, practice relaxation techniques and engage in activities that bring joy and fulfilment.