It’s an intense, growing addiction that has thousands of people in the St. Louis area and across the nation sometimes living in secrecy and shame. They are suffering from sex addiction.

Frank Theus, a St. Louis-based licensed counselor and certified sex addiction therapist, said he sees an average of 80 to 90 clients every month suffering from sex and pornography addiction. Theus said he helps his clients realize when they have an addiction.

“Behaviors that have become increasingly compulsive, intrusive, such that the quality of life is being impacted in a negative way for the individual, especially in their vital core relationships,” he said.

Theus said many of his clients became exposed to sexually graphic material at an early age.

“It keeps getting younger," he said. "It used to be 11 to 13 years of age that youth were exposed to sexually graphic material. But, in part due to increased use of social media, the average age of exposure is now 8 to 9 years old.

"With any internet device, experts are now saying you’re about three clicks away from sexually explicit material.”

Theus said the signs of addiction can include secret keeping, mood swings and isolation. Escalating behaviors can be harmful in nature. There is a growing body of scientific research regarding neurological and physiological response to sexually explicit content.

“You are releasing a flood of neurochemicals in the brain, primarily dopamine," Theus said. "There’s a whole cocktail of neurochemicals that go wow. That’s a euphoric experience.”

Theus recommended individual therapy with a therapist trained in sex addiction and trauma. There are also support groups that have 12-step programs to help anyone struggling with this addiction.

First Light is a St. Louis Christian-faith based organization that helps men struggling with porn addiction. It is a non-profit peer support group similar to a 12-step model. Locally, people struggling with the addiction seek help with groups including Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous and Sexual Compulsives Anonymous. You can click on the following links for more sources. 

Author, blogger and public speaker Jessica Harris shared her story of porn addiction with 5 On Your Side. She said she is inspired to help people recognize the signs of addiction and heal from it.

“It is my passion to help change the conversation and to help build communities where women find hope and healing," she said. "We cannot be silent.”

Harris said she first saw pornography online when she was 13. She said she started to watch it for hours, sometimes to the point where she was exhausted in the morning. Harris said it was an escape for her.

“I had a pornography addiction, it consumed my life," she said. "I tried to stop, I could not.”

Harris went to counseling and overcame her addiction in college. Now, Harris travels the world and speaks before church leaders, concerned parents and others who want to learn more about the topic of sex addiction.

She is traveling to New Zealand to speak publicly on the subject.

You can click here to learn more about Harris.