Sex Addiction

Sex addiction involves having compulsive thoughts and desires about sexual acts. The addiction negatively impacts the person and his or her family, but therapy can help overcome addiction.

Sex Addiction Overview

Reviewed: May 22, 2014

Addiction is a chronic brain disease that causes a person to compulsively use a substance or engage in an activity despite the harm it causes to the person’s life, relationships, responsibilities, or health. Addictions can involve drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, food, and internet use, among other behaviors. An addiction can be physical – when the body actually adapts to the presence of a substance - or psychological - when the behavior is associated with stress or emotional states and not biological changes to the brain or body.

Sex addiction is a progressive intimacy disorder characterized by compulsive sexual thoughts and acts. Like all addictions, it negatively impacts the person with the addiction and his or her family members. Over time, the addict usually needs to intensify the addictive behavior to achieve the same results.

People with sex addiction engage in persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behavior despite increasing negative consequences such as potential health risks, financial problems, shattered relationships, or even arrest.

A person with sex addiction may watch pornography, think about sex for long periods of the day to the point in which it interferes with other priorities, collect sexual magazines, or engage in risk-taking sexual behavior such as promiscuity or having sex in public places.

Sex addiction can be treated, but there is no cure. It is a long-term condition that people must learn to manage. Most treatment plans for sex addiction involve behavioral changes, cognitive therapy, and rehabilitation programs. Sometimes, medications can help control the symptoms of the addiction.

Sex Addiction Symptoms

Early on, the signs of sex addiction may not be easy to notice, but, as time goes on, the signs will typically become more prevalent. Sex addiction tends to progress rapidly and move from small discreet actions to major, noticeable behaviors. A person with sex addiction may exhibit the following signs:

  • compulsive masturbation or stimulation
  • extra-marital affairs or multiple affairs in a non-married relationship
  • multiple one night stands
  • excessive and consistent use or pornography
  • practicing unprotected, unsafe sex
  • cybersex either over the phone or online
  • prostitution or purchasing the services of a prostitute
  • dating excessively for the ability to have multiple sexual partners
  • voyeurism or watching others have sex
  • rape
  • molestation
  • sexually harassing others

See your doctor or health care provider if you think you have an addiction.

Sex Addiction Causes

There are no specific causes of sex addiction. There is no way to accurately predict who will become dependent on the use of any substance or activity.

Any substance or activity that is pleasurable can become an addiction by impacting the reward, motivation, and memory pathways of the brain.

Sex Addiction Diagnosis

Most addictions are diagnosed on the basis of your symptoms and behaviors. There are no specific tests to diagnose addiction. A mental health professional and a medical professional will be able to accurately diagnose your addiction.

Living With Sex Addiction

Living with addiction is difficult and can be debilitating. Daily activities and relationships are negatively affected. However, help is available for the person suffering from addiction and the families. Many support services and organization can help live with and manage addiction. Living with and overcoming addiction is easier with encouragement, comfort, and guidance.

Sex addicts often live with intense feelings of guilt and shame and have a tremendous desire to stop the negative behaviors. Several steps can help people reduce or stop the sexual desires associated with the addiction.

Get support. Support from family and friends is very important to recovery from sex addiction.

Avoid triggers. Learn to avoid the places or situations that lead you to engage in negative sexual behaviors.

Accept your problem. The first step to recovery from any addiction is to admit that you have a problem. Sex addiction is a problem and as soon as you admit that you have a problem controlling your sexual behaviors you will be able to begin seeking help.

Sex Addiction Treatments

Sex addiction is treatable, though there is no cure. The goal of treatment for sex addiction is to balance your life with healthy sexual relationships. Unlike treatment for drug or alcohol addictions, the goal of sexual addiction treatment is not lifelong abstinence, but rather a termination of the compulsive, unhealthy sexual behaviors. It is difficult for a person with sex addiction to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy sex, and treatment usually begins with a 60- to 90-day period of self-imposed abstinence. This enables you, along with the treatment team, to understand the emotional cues and circumstances that trigger sexual thought and compulsive sexual behavior.

Behavioral therapy and counseling help to identify, avoid, and cope with situations that make you want to engage in sexual activities. Treatment for sex addiction should be individualized and continually assessed to ensure that it meets the changing needs of the person with addiction. In some cases, antidepressants may be useful in treating sexual addiction. These medications treat depressive symptoms common among sex addicts and reduce sexual obsessions.

Sex Addiction Other Treatments

Sex Addiction Prognosis