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4 Reasons Why People with Sexual Compulsion Can Also Struggle with Suicidality

Studies show that 18.2% of individuals with compulsive sexual behavior have experienced suicide ideation. But why do these struggles often go together?


This guest piece was written by Holley Jeppson, a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor, and Clinical Director and Director of Coaching for Fortify. 5-minute read.

This article contains affiliate links. Fight the New Drug may receive financial support from purchases made using affiliate links.

There is hope. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255, or you can call or text 988.

Why Suicidality and Sexual Compulsion Often Go Together

By Holley Jeppson, LMHC

As a therapist, I have worked with countless individuals seeking to overcome compulsive porn consumption. Many of these people are also grappling with suicidality, a struggle that often manifests in tandem with sexual compulsivity.

Studies show that 18.2% of individuals with compulsive sexual behavior have experienced suicide ideation. Over 9% have attempted suicide. Those rates are much higher than are found in the general population: people struggling with sexual compulsion experience 2x the rate of suicide ideation, and more than 3x the rate of suicide attempts.

Related: Quitting Porn Helped in My Fight Against Depression

These numbers are sobering, but they don’t surprise me. When people come to me for help, they’ve usually been fighting with everything they have. Unfortunately, they’re often fighting with the wrong tools.

Too many people don’t have the resources and education they need, and it is easy to fall into depression that way.

The good news is, it is possible to find freedom from both unwanted sexual behaviors and feelings of despondency and hopelessness that can lead to tragic consequences.


Four reasons for self-harm

Sexual compulsivity creates a uniquely dark despair and sense of powerlessness. Based on my research and professional experience, there are four primary reasons for these higher rates of self-harm.

1. Shame

There are many reasons why people struggle with shame in regards to sexual behaviors. Some cultural or religious pressures can lead individuals to think that all sexuality is “bad.” Young people in particular often get into this kind of thinking because kids and teens are more likely to think in concrete black and whites: “Bad kids get into this kind of trouble, therefore I am a bad kid.”

Related: Porn Tanked My Mental Health, Here’s How I Got Help (VIDEO)

So if somebody fell into their sexual compulsion when they were young, this kind of thinking can linger around for a long time. Without anybody to help a young person to understand the biological background and of the natural processes of sexual behaviors, young people they may feel confused and ashamed, and that’s the narrative they might bring into their adult years.

It’s important to distinguish between guilt and shame. In some cases, guilt (“I have done something harmful”) can be a motivating factor. Shame (“I am a bad person”), however, is paralyzing and hopeless—and that hopelessness can lead to suicidality.

In the words of Dr. Brené Brown, guilt is saying “I made a mistake,” while shame says, “I am a mistake.”

Related: What Past Issues Are You Trying to Escape From When You Watch Porn?

Shame also often leads to secret-keeping. I have worked with “successful” people who look like they have everything together on the outside, but inside, they are deep in shame and hopelessness. That disconnect leaves them feeling like imposters.

Hiding the problem can lead to a darker depression—which leads us to the second factor.

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2. Loneliness and isolation

A lack of connection is a major risk factor for suicidality.

People who struggle with sexual compulsivity are often the loneliest people I work with. Sexually compulsive activities like porn consumption are often sought out due to a lack of intimacy or an inability to find true connection in reality. Pornography feels a little bit like intimacy at first glance, but ends up being an empty experience. It is effortless, and it requires no vulnerability.

Related: Watching Porn Might Be Making You More Lonely

Real relationships take putting yourself out there and letting yourself be seen in all of your imperfections. And yes, sometimes it requires withstanding rejection without allowing it to shatter your self-worth. True intimacy takes work and it has a lot more substance. Sexual compulsivity will always be easier to get but quicker to drop you.

If real love is like a nourishing meal, porn is like junk food with no vitamins or nutrition. It’s hollow, and it doesn’t fulfill our human need for connection and love.

3. Damaged relationships

Sadly, compulsive sexual behaviors often hurt relationships. The partner of the person using porn or other unwanted sexual outlets often feels like they aren’t enough, and can feel betrayed whether or not physical infidelity took place.

The resulting betrayal trauma can drive a wedge of mistrust between the person struggling and the sources of real intimacy in their life.

Related: Can Watching Porn Negatively Impact Mental Health?

In my experience, people often end their lives because they have lost their family to their compulsion or because they are afraid they are going to. Sometimes relationships do end, and that can be immensely painful. However, the end of a relationship doesn’t mean the end of all happiness or connection.

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4. Addressing sexual compulsion is incredibly difficult

A sexual compulsion is not like a substance that can be cut from our lives.

Sure, you can filter things out on the internet, but you can’t avoid being exposed to things that spark sexual feelings. The urges don’t just go away, they have to be channeled. Similar to a food addiction, which is tied to a physical need, sex compulsion is wrapped up in a biological function.

Related: Why You Can Stop Feeling Like A Bad Person for Struggling With Porn

The physical nature of sexuality means that things like hormonal spikes can influence urges. This is true for both males (who have a daily hormone cycle) and females (who have a monthly one). If someone has tied that natural function to a specific activity such as pornography use, sexting, etc, it is incredibly challenging to break that habit. One moment of human weakness and relapse can make it feel like all the diligent work is wasted.

It feels easier to give up than keep fighting, and it’s easy to lose perspective. But keep this in mind: you don’t actually have to start all over each time you have a slip up. That’s a myth. You’re going to be okay as long as you can get up in the morning and keep going.

A mistake is not a wasted one unless you fail to learn from it. Take setbacks as learning experiences. If you bounce back, and keep trying, you haven’t really lost.

Building a life you want to keep living

My core advice for people struggling with sexual compulsivity and for those struggling with any kind of suicidal thoughts is the same: it’s all about building a fulfilling life.

The things that help you change an unwanted compulsive behavior are the same things that humans need to do anyway to feel well, like taking care of our physical and mental health and remembering the big four: eat, sleep, move, and breathe.

Related: Why Are Child Abuse Survivors at Higher Risk for Suicide Attempts?

Recovery is about more than just stopping a behavior. Success in porn compulsion recovery looks like creating a life so good that you don’t feel like you need porn to feel happy and fulfilled, which is something we talk about a lot in the Fortify app, which you’re welcome to check out here. It’s easier said than done—but it’s worth it.

There is hope. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255, or you can call or text 988.

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About the Author

Holley Jeppson is a Clinical Mental Health Counselor and has worked supporting people facing depression, addiction, and betrayal trauma for 25+ years. Holley has worked on several teams developing online science-based coaching, education, and training programs used worldwide to help individuals overcome mental health and behavioral challenges. She is currently the Clinical Director and Director of Coaching for Fortify and Impact Suite Holley’s passion is people—especially watching people grow and overcome challenges.

Fight the New Drug collaborates with a variety of qualified organizations and individuals with varying personal beliefs, affiliations, and political persuasions. As FTND is a non-religious and non-legislative organization, the personal beliefs, affiliations, and persuasions of any of our team members or of those we collaborate with do not reflect or impact the mission of Fight the New Drug.

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