Sex addiction is a controversial diagnosis. It not officially recognized as a disorder by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). However, sex addiction is both discussed and studied as if it were a diagnosable condition. Often grouped with sex addiction, love addiction also does not have an official diagnostic criterion.
What Is Sex Addiction?
Without a DSM-criteria for sex addiction, defining sex addiction can be difficult. Instead of focusing on a sex addiction definition, it may be more helpful to consider the similarities between sex addiction and substance addiction.
People with sex addiction seek sex in the same compulsive way that a person with a substance use disorder seeks their drug of choice. The uncontrollable urges and cravings to engage in sexual activities are reportedly like the cravings to use drugs. Another similarity to drug addiction is the tension relief and psychological high experienced when a person has a sexual release.
Signs and Symptoms of Sex Addiction
Having one of the below symptoms does not necessarily mean a person has a sex addiction. However, multiple sex addiction symptoms occurring together often means that sex addiction is present.
Symptoms of sex addiction include the following:
- Feelings of guilt, shame or remorse after sex
- Putting oneself or others in high risk or physically hazardous situations due to sexual behavior
- Feeling unable to control or stop sexual urges
- Preoccupation with sex
- Lying about sexual acts
- Engaging in sexual acts secretly
- Having multiple sexual partners, including strangers
- Obsessing over sexual fantasies
- Experiencing consequences in other areas of one’s life due to sexual behaviors
Sex is a normal and healthy part of adult relationships. Thus, merely enjoying, seeking, thinking about or engaging in sex is not necessarily indicative of addiction. Unlike healthy sexual practices, sex addiction can result in impairment in other areas of one’s life.
Causes of Sex Addiction
The causes of sex addiction are not entirely understood. However, it is possible that the same drivers of sex addiction also contribute to the development of substance use disorders. For example, some people may be more vulnerable to compulsively seeking experiences that lead to a high, such as drug use or sex, because of genetic or environmental factors. Sex addiction appears to be more common in individuals with a family history of addictive disorders.
Risks and Consequences of Sex Addiction
Health risks of sex addiction may be the most commonly considered sex addiction consequences. However, there is a multitude of adverse outcomes related to sex addiction, including:
- Health risks, including increased risk of STIs, STDs and unwanted pregnancy
- Relationships struggles, like a high risk for infidelity, loss of trust and intimacy, and increased conflict
- Legal consequences from illicit sexual activities, such as sex with prostitutes, indecent exposure in public and nonconsensual contacts
- Occupational risks due to an increased possibility of sexual activities at work, including masturbation and viewing pornography
- Development of other addictions, like substance use disorders, to numb feelings of guilt and shame or to reduce the fear of engaging in certain sexual acts
Sex Addiction Statistics
The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health estimates that as many as 3 to 5 percent of people in the United States may meet the criteria for sex addiction. While most self-identified sex addicts are men, trends show that more women are beginning to seek treatment.
Sex Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders
Sex and drug addiction frequently occur together. Substance use sometimes begins as an attempt to cope with feelings of shame associated with sex addiction. For other people, habitual use of substances such as alcohol may start due to the environments in which a person is likely to seek casual sex, including bars and nightclubs.
Guilt and shame frequently occur with sex addiction. Some people may develop a mood disorder such as depression due to compulsively engaging in sexual activities. Depression may be more likely for individuals who are participating in acts against their moral beliefs, such as marital infidelity. As negative feelings intensify and become chronic, depression and sex addiction are both likely to become more severe. A person may only feel relief from depressive symptoms while having sex, which can cause both sex addiction and the depressive disorder to worsen progressively.
Bipolar disorder consists of a combination of manic and depressive episodes. A key feature of mania is engaging in high-risk behaviors. Compulsive sexual behavior is one of the most common high-risk behaviors engaged in during a manic episode. As a result, bipolar disorder and sex addiction may often overlap.
Treatment for Sex Addiction
Sex addiction recovery is possible. Sex addiction treatment may consist of therapy, medication or self-help groups. The primary goal of these approaches is to establish a healthy sex life. When learning how to overcome sex addiction, underlying disorders, including substance use disorders, also need to be treated.
If you or a loved one is struggling with co-occurring sex addiction and substance use disorder, help is available. The Recovery Village has treatment centers located across the country focused on treating substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders. Contact a representative today to learn more about available programs.
Miner, M. H., Raymond, N., Mueller, B. A., Lloyd, M., & Lim, K. O. “Preliminary investigation of the impulsive and neuroanatomical characteristics of compulsive sexual behavior.” Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, November 30, 2009. Accessed January 14, 2019. Lee, Chris. “The Sex Addiction Epidemic.” Newsweek, November 25, 2011. Accessed January 14, 2019. Stein, Daniel. J. “Sexual Addiction: An Integrated Approach.” Psychiatry Online, January 1, 2000. Accessed January 14, 2019.
Miner, M. H., Raymond, N., Mueller, B. A., Lloyd, M., & Lim, K. O. “Preliminary investigation of the impulsive and neuroanatomical characteristics of compulsive sexual behavior.” Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, November 30, 2009. Accessed January 14, 2019.
Lee, Chris. “The Sex Addiction Epidemic.” Newsweek, November 25, 2011. Accessed January 14, 2019.
Stein, Daniel. J. “Sexual Addiction: An Integrated Approach.” Psychiatry Online, January 1, 2000. Accessed January 14, 2019.