Sex Addiction

Sex Addiction

Author: Claire Cheshire  Editor: Alexander Bentley  Reviewed: Michael Por
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Key Takeaways

  • Sex addiction is known as Compulsive Sexual Disorder

  • Sexual addiction is not recognized as a mental health diagnosis

  • Addiction to sex is just as possible as addiction to alcohol, drugs, or gambling.

  • 30 million Americans suffer from sex addiction

  • Therapy and Counseling can help individuals

  • Abstinence is not a treatment option

Understanding Sex Addiction


Nearly 30 million Americans suffer from sex addiction and many more multiples of this Worldwide. But what is it? What does Sex Addiction mean? And is it really as serious an addiction as some people think it is? Sex addiction is a much-debated topic among the mental health community.


The traditional model of addiction, which required an addictive substance, has changed and process, or behavioral, addictions like gambling are now recognized. However, there has never been agreement on whether activities like sex, a biological imperative, can be addictive.


The lack of inclusion in any diagnostic manual means that it’s not possible to formally diagnose sex addiction. However, using newer models of addiction it might be expected that symptoms would include changes in behavior, including obsession about sex, hiding behavior from others, taking risks to satisfy the addiction and feelings of guilt or shame.

Sex Addiction Definition


Sex addiction is a constant desire to be stimulated sexually. It is the compulsive behavior where the individual becomes excessively preoccupied with sexual thoughts and behaviors that can have adverse effects. It is also referred to as Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder or hypersexuality11.E. Kowalewska, M. Gola, S. W. Kraus and M. Lew-Starowicz, Spotlight on Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder: A Systematic Review of Research on Women – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved September 22, 2022, from


Sexual impulses, thoughts, and actions are normal, however, with sex addiction, the focus is on those behaviors and thoughts in excess that can negatively affect life. For some, the problem may be akin to an addiction, where an individual has become dependent on the hit provided by sex. For others, it might be the result of an unhealthy relationship with sex, and linked to another disorder, for example a previous trauma or a condition that affects their sense of self-worth and esteem.


Sex Addiction Vs Porn Addiction


Addiction to porn is, like, sex addiction a topic of debate; if sex is not addictive, how can porn be addictive? However, it’s likely that exactly the same processes that can cause addiction and apply to sex will apply to porn. Masturbation is physiologically identical to sex, creating the same effects in the body, so used for this purpose porn carries exactly the same addictive risks as sex. However, porn can also carry other risks, particularly with its easy access over the internet.


Many people use porn, either individually or as couples, and the use of porn is not a problem in itself. Problems may be present if that relationship with porn ceases to be healthy. This might exhibit in the usual signs of addictive behavior. It might also present in other ways. An individual with a problematic relationship with porn might find themselves reliant on it to achieve arousal. They might even find themselves preferring porn to sex with their partner. Others might find themselves using porn excessively.

Is Sex Addiction a Neurological Condition?


The idea of sex addiction is a dichotomy because millions of people suffer from it, but also it is not officially recognized as a mental health disorder in DSM 5, making it difficult to diagnose and treat. However, current research has pointed to sexual addiction developing like a chemical addiction. Also, much like a chemical addiction such as drugs or alcohol, sex addiction can have negative physical and mental repercussions, such as emotional distress, development of anxiety or depression, sexual dysfunction, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).


Current understanding of addiction is finding that it is driven by the brain’s response to a substance or behavior, and the rewriting of its own pleasure pathways. This would suggest that sex addiction is just as possible as addiction to alcohol, drugs, or gambling.


Sex addiction is not just limited to excessive or compulsive sex acts. It can also take the form of addiction to pornography, prostitution, public sex (exhibitionism and voyeurism), unrestricted sexual fantasy, or compulsive masturbation. It can also cause the need for increased risk, danger, or other factors to achieve a similar level of arousal.


What does life feel like for a sex addict?


Life for a sex addict can be relatively normal from the outside perspective, but on the inside, it can be a very different story. Lies and deceit can often fuel the sex addict because it can be shameful or embarrassing, or it can offer a sense of thrill and risk that the addict may be searching for.


If you have a regular partner or are in a committed relationship, being a sex addict can put a serious strain and have an emotional impact on both parties. Sex addiction can hurt familial relationships, work or financial issues, and can have physical consequences, such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs).


Other activities such as having chronic sexual relationships with recurring partners or strangers can be part of the sex addict life. That can often include meeting with strangers for the sole purpose of having sex or continually having multiple partners to engage in a variety of sex acts with22.V. González-Bueso, Frontiers | Compulsive Sexual Behavior Online and Non-online in Adult Male Patients and Healthy Controls: Comparison in Sociodemographic, Clinical, and Personality Variables, Frontiers.; Retrieved September 22, 2022, from


Characteristics of Sex Addiction


Compulsive sexual fantasies


Sexual fantasies can be relatively normal until they become excessive and the focus of all thoughts. Thinking about sex, sex acts, and various fantasies is a normal occurrence, until it becomes difficult or impossible to control.


Compulsions interfere in everyday life


Have you ever been so consumed by a thought or a favorite thing that you couldn’t function without it or were convinced you couldn’t live without it? When those sexual thoughts and compulsions start entering your mind during inappropriate times, such as during work, or family time, it can have an affect on not just the addict, but also the family or coworkers.


Chronic sexual relationships, including with strangers (anonymously)


Dating apps such as Tinder and Grindr have made hooking up much easier, especially for someone with sex addiction. Swiping left or right on someone’s picture, exchanging messages or phone numbers and arranging to meet up has been somewhat normalized in this new “hookup culture” and that normalization can help those suffering from sex addiction hide from their reality.




Lies and deceit can ruin relationships, friendships and family, especially if an addict is lying to cover up sexual misconduct and uncouth behavior. There can be thrills an addict gets from lying to achieve their sexual satisfaction.


Willingly involved in danger or endangering others for the sake of sex


Engaging in dangerous behavior for the sake of sexual satisfaction can be very risky. Everything from exhibitionism (public sex, or public sex acts) to more fetishist predatory behavior to breaking local laws can be considered acts of sexual addiction and need to be addressed in therapy or treatment.




Sex addiction can often be an escape from reality, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and sex addiction can often cause escapism.


Indicators that determine if you need to seek help for your sexual addiction:


• Addiction to pornography

• Excessive masturbation

• Unsafe sex practices, such as having unprotected sex with multiple partners and/or strangers

• Risky or dangerous behavior to obtain sexual gratification, including breaking local laws

• Pursuing or engaging sex workers, or paying for sex


Common behaviors of sex addicts include


• Shameful or guilty feelings after sex, or feeling regretful about sex acts or addiction.

• Giving in or unable to contain sexual urges.

• Feeling overwhelmed by sexual appetite.

• Thoughts of sex dominate everyday thoughts.

• Neglecting responsibilities, work, family, and friends for the pursuit of sexual gratification.

• Need for greater frequency or variety of sexual acts and partners.

• Destructive romantic relationships and compulsive avoidance of sexual activity or sexual intimacy.

Sex Addiction Self Test


According to Philippa Gold, from Remedy Wellbeing, the Worlds Leading Sexologist, “Sex therapy is a specialized type of psychotherapy — a general term for treating mental health problems by talking with a mental health professional. Through sex therapy, you can address concerns about sexual function, sexual feelings and intimacy, either in individual therapy or couples or family therapy”.



If you can answer “yes” to any of the following questions you may be a Sex Addict


  1. You keep secrets about your sexual behavior or romantic fantasies from those important to you? Do you lead a double life?
  2. Have your desires driven you to have sex in places or with people you would not normally choose?
  3. Do you need greater variety, increased frequency, or more extreme sexual activities to achieve the same level of excitement or relief?
  4. Does your use of pornography occupy large amounts of time and/or jeopardize your significant relationships or employment?
  5. Your relationships become distorted with sexual preoccupation? Does each new relationship have the same destructive pattern which prompted you to leave the last one?
  6. Feeling like you frequently want to get away from a partner after having sex? Do you feel remorse, shame, or guilt after a sexual encounter?
  7. Have your sexual practices caused you legal problems? Could your sexual practices cause you legal problems?
  8. Does your pursuit of sex or sexual fantasy conflict with your moral standards or interfere with your personal spiritual journey?
  9. Do your sexual activities involve coercion, violence, or the threat of disease?
  10. Has your sexual behavior or pursuit of sexual relationships ever left you feeling hopeless, alienated from others, or suicidal?
  11. Does your preoccupation with sexual fantasies cause problems in any area of your life — even when you do not act out your fantasies?
  12. Do you compulsively avoid sexual activity due to fear of sex or intimacy? Does your sexual avoidance consume you mentally?

10 Criteria for Sex Addiction


If you have three out of the 10, you may have a problem. If you have much more than that then you should definitely consider reaching out for some help and assistance. Professional, discreet and friendly help is available.


1. Loss of control


Loss of control is when you feel you have almost just have to sexually act out, and if you don’t, you feel like you’re going to explode. This is when urges feel uncontrollable and you feel powerless to virtually control the urges.


When despite being fully armed with the facts and knowledge that this time could be the very last time, or that a certain encounter could place you in grave danger. And despite committing to never acting out again – that you go forward and act out regardless. This is what is actually meant by loss of control. It’s loss of self-control.


2. Total Compulsion


When it becomes so overwhelming that you just feel almost paralyzed. That’s compulsive behavior and loss of control.


3. Can Never Seem to Stop


How many times have you told yourself, “wow, maybe my sex is getting way out of control”. Maybe you told your partner you weren’t going to act outside the relationship, and yet can’t seem to stop. If you’ve tried to stop it you can’t. It may be an addiction.


4. Loss of Time


When you have sex addiction you lose all sense of time. How many times have you gone on your laptop thing you know, I’m just gonna look at a little form maybe 10 or 15 minutes? And next thing you know you look at the clock and three hours have gone by, that’s when you get so engrossed in something where nothing else matters. That’s the loss of time from sex addiction.


5. Preoccupation


Have you ever started planning a three day weekend in Vegas? Where you started looking at were all the shows going to be? Where all the good adult clubs and hookers hang out? Are you looking at profiles for hookers weeks before that holiday weekend? That’s preoccupation right there.


6. Inability to fulfill obligations


It could be work, it could be school, it could be family.Have you missed important engagements to act out? Your kids birthday, your husband or wife’s birthday? Even normal engagements like dinner with friends? When that happens time and time again you may have a sex addiction.


7. Preoccupation


How often have you missed work, or maybe a recital for your kids, because you were so preoccupied and compulsive about your sexual behavior. How many parties have you ghosted, you know, you walk through, say hi to everybody and you head out the back door, so you can go act out.


8. Escalation


Like with drug or alcohol, sexual behavior escalates. Take for example, porn addiction. Porn addiction may start off pretty basic and then all of a sudden it starts kicking up. So you may change genres, by that if you’re straight, you may be looking at gay porn.


You may start looking at groups or Animals to raise the intensity. And unfortunately, the granddaddy of those all at the top for porn addiction is the porn which results in incarceration. Escalation may start off with a guy in his bedroom with a laptop, but to escalate it he may do it in front of the window because somebody may catch it. It starts this adrenaline flow going up and it raises the intensity. So if you find yourself gradually raising the intensity, that’s escalation.


9. Losses


Have you experienced the loss of a relationship, the loss of your health. Have you become HIV positive or become infected with other STDs from your sexual behavior? How much money have you been spending on sexual acting out? Maybe with prostitutes or even porn subscriptions or going to strip club? Those are the type of losses that maybe really impact your daily life. And if you’ve occurred some of those, some of those losses. You might be a sex addict.


10. Withdrawal


Withdrawal is something that is associated with all types of addiction. Most of the time we think one of the worst withdrawals is saved from heroin. In fact, a lot of heroin addicts continue to use, not so much of the high and the numbing sensation, but they want to avoid coming down in the withdrawals because it’s so incredibly painful. So what does a withdrawal look like for a sex addict?


You become irritable, restless, you can’t sleep, can’t concentrate. Those are all symptoms of withdrawal coming down from sex addiction. And if you have those. If you’ve been experiencing some of those. You may be a sex addict.

Sex Addiction Treatment


Will My Insurance Cover Treatment for Sexual Disorder?


Sex addiction is not universally recognized as a mental health diagnosis, but there are treatments that can help you recover, depending on the underlying cause of the addiction. There are no drug treatments and the diagnosis is not covered under insurance, which can make getting treatment seem more out of reach than other mental health disorders.


Will My Compulsive Sex Addiction Get Worse?


Sex addiction can get worse over time, and untreated sex addiction can have continual negative effects on life including severe anxiety and depression. If you feel you are no longer in control of your sexual impulses, you are concerned or distressed by your behavior, you try to hide sexual activity or impulses from others, or your addiction is beginning to hurt your relationships with family, friends, or partners, you should consider seeking treatment or counseling.


Treatment Available for Sex Addiction


  • behavioral therapy
  • group therapy
  • support groups
  • couples or marriage counseling
  • online therapy


Although, some addicts believe, and have been successful, without outside intervention, it is up to you and a professional to decide which avenue would best suit your addiction and address the underlying cause. Recovery from sex addiction can, however, be a lengthy process. The period of abstinence, during which the brain can start the process of rewiring its reward pathways, can be long, especially if the addiction was severe or long-lasting.


Desiring to no longer be consumed by sex addiction, or thoughts of a sexual nature can be the first step to looking for treatment. Seeking help or treatment for repetitive negative sexual behaviors can be a positive experience with the right treatment and professionals.


Considerations when seeking out treatment for sexual addiction:


Reasons and motivations for seeking treatment


Are you looking to change for yourself or others? And consider what negative effects having a sex addiction has had on you personally. Every person does not suffer the same side effects or consequences of sex addiction, and it is important to determine your own motivations.


Program percentage dedicated to sexual compulsiveness


Finding a program dealing with addiction is an important facet to dealing with sexual compulsiveness, as it is an addiction. Also consider seeking out programs with professionals who deal specifically with hypersexuality or sex addiction. They will have more appropriate resources to fit your needs.


Education about sexual impulsivity & addiction


Educating yourself on your addiction is just as important as receiving treatment. If you don’t understand or have difficulty finding your underlying cause, it will be harder to treat and find recovery long term.


Inpatient vs Outpatient Facilities


Deciding between inpatient and outpatient facilities will depend on the few factors above and how much you and your counselor.


Sexual Abstinence Cannot Work


Because there is no formal diagnosis for sex addiction there is not a formally recognized treatment. However, treatments will follow a model similar to any addiction treatment. One key difference between treatment for sex addiction and most other addictions is that lifelong abstinence is not the goal33.S. Jenkins, Compulsive Sexual Behaviors – ScienceDirect, Compulsive Sexual Behaviors – ScienceDirect.; Retrieved September 22, 2022, from


Instead, the treatment and recovery process will aim for the patent to develop a healthy relationship with sex. What this relationship looks like will be discussed and agreed with the patient, and will form the goal of the recovery process. It is possible that medications might be used. It is unlikely that these would be prescribed to reduce a patient’s libido. Although such medications do exist, the aim of treatment is to move the patient to healthy sexual desire, not to chemically remove all desire.


Sex Addiction Recovery


Sex addiction, like any addiction, can have devastating consequences, but the prospects for recovery are good. The chances of recovery are maximized when supported by professionals and, especially, when any co-occurring disorders are diagnosed and treated alongside the sex addiction.

If you or someone close to you is suffering from sex addiction, it’s only natural to wonder whether a cure for sexual addiction exists. Compulsive Sexual Disorder can be effectively treated and managed for life. If compulsive sexual behavior isn’t treated, the individual might experience intense guilt and eventually develop low self-esteem.



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  • 1
    1.E. Kowalewska, M. Gola, S. W. Kraus and M. Lew-Starowicz, Spotlight on Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder: A Systematic Review of Research on Women – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved September 22, 2022, from
  • 2
    2.V. González-Bueso, Frontiers | Compulsive Sexual Behavior Online and Non-online in Adult Male Patients and Healthy Controls: Comparison in Sociodemographic, Clinical, and Personality Variables, Frontiers.; Retrieved September 22, 2022, from
  • 3
    3.S. Jenkins, Compulsive Sexual Behaviors – ScienceDirect, Compulsive Sexual Behaviors – ScienceDirect.; Retrieved September 22, 2022, from
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