The fifth edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM-5) no longer includes sexual addiction as a disorder. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) includes sexual addiction in its 11th edition of the “International Classification of Diseases” (ICD-11) (3).
Sexual addiction is a controversial topic. While some people believe it is a real addiction, others believe it is simply an excuse for bad behavior (1).
There is no single definition of sexual addiction, but it is generally agreed that it refers to a compulsive need for sex that causes distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
The criteria for sexual addiction can vary depending on the source, but generally include the eight signs we will be discussing below.
Like most addictions, obsessive thoughts about sex are common in sexual addiction. This can include thinking about sex all the time, constantly seeking new sexual partners, or watching pornography.
Sex addicts will often engage in excessive sexual behavior. This can include anything from frequenting prostitutes or exhibitionism.
People with sexual addiction often take risks to get their sexual desires fixed, such as having unprotected sex or paying for sex.
A key feature of addiction is that you cannot control your behavior. You may want to stop, but feel unable to do so. This can lead to chaotic and dangerous patterns of behavior. The inability to control your sex life can have a profound impact on every other area of your life, affecting your health, job, relationships, and mental well-being.
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Neglecting Duties And Responsibilities
Like most addicts, sex addicts will often start to neglect their normal duties and responsibilities. They may begin to miss work, school, or important social engagements. This is usually one of the earliest signs that there is a problem.
Engaging In Criminal Activities
One sign of sex addiction is when someone begins to engage in criminal activities in order to get their urge fixed. This could include things like stealing, breaking in, stalking, rape, or prostitution.
Feelings Of Guilt And Shame
When someone is addicted to sex, they often feel a sense of guilt and shame. This is because they know that their behavior is not normal or healthy. This is especially true if they are engaging in unacceptable or risky behavior, such as having affairs, viewing pornography, or masturbating compulsively.
People in relationships cheat for many reasons, but when cheating becomes a repetitive and compulsive behavior, it may be indicative of sex addiction.
This is especially true if they feel the need to be sexually active with multiple partners (or anonymous partners) in order to achieve satisfaction. They may also neglect important responsibilities at home or work to seek out new partners.
In the end, the relationships are negatively affected by sexual compulsions— their partner is unsatisfied, the addict feels guilty and ashamed, and often the addict’s activities put them at risk for sexually transmitted infections.
Loss Of Functioning
Sex addiction can result in erectile dysfunction or anorgasmia (failure to reach orgasm). Addiction triggers high dopamine levels in the brain, which gives people a sense of pleasure and reward. After consistently experiencing this “high”, indulging in normal sex becomes less appealing. This is because the person is unable to experience the same level of satisfaction from anything else other than their addiction.
When sex addicts engage in compulsive sexual behavior, they eventually lose interest in having sex with their partners. This often leads to conflict in the relationship.
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What Causes Sexual Addiction?
There are biological, psychological, and social events that may trigger this type of addiction.
Hormonal imbalances such as higher levels of testosterone and estrogen can affect libido.
Additionally, some people may be genetically predisposed to developing a sex addiction. They may have abnormalities in their brain that make them more susceptible to this type of behavior (2).
People who have experienced childhood abuse or neglect are more likely to develop a sex addiction later in life. They may use sex as a way to cope with their emotional pain.
Mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, personality disorders, and bipolar disorder can increase the risk of sex addiction (2).
Peer pressure and the availability of sexual images and content online can contribute to someone developing a sex addiction. If someone is constantly exposed to images and messages that promote excessive sexual behavior, it can lead to them engaging in these activities themselves.
Rejection and social isolation may trigger sex addiction. Social isolation may also lead to mental health problems that further worsen the condition.
Conversely, people who suffer from sex addiction often feel isolated and alone. This is because their disorder can make it difficult to maintain healthy relationships.
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What Treatment Options Are Available?
If you are worried that you or a loved one may be suffering from sex addiction, it is important to seek help. Treatment options are available and can be very effective in helping people recover from this type of addiction. Some of the most common treatment options include therapy, medication, and self-help groups.
Therapy is often the first step in treatment for sex addiction. This involves working with a therapist who specializes in treating sex addiction. The therapist will help you understand your addiction and how to deal with it.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is often used in sex addiction treatment. This type of therapy helps you change the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to your addiction.
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Medication may also be prescribed to help control cravings and addictive behaviors. There are a few different medications that can be used for this purpose, and your doctor will decide which is best for you.
Some common mediations used to treat sex addiction include:
- Mood stabilizers
- Anti-androgen medications
Finally, self-help groups can be a great way to get support from others who are also dealing with sex addiction. These groups can offer helpful tips and advice on how to stay sober and resist temptations. They can also provide a sense of community and support that can be very beneficial.
The Bottom Line
If you are struggling with sex addiction, it is important to get help. Treatment options are available and can be very effective in helping people recover from this type of addiction. Talk to your doctor or therapist about the best treatment plan for you.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Diagnosis of hypersexual or compulsive sexual behavior can be made using ICD-10 and DSM-5 despite rejection of this diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association (2016, onlinelibrarywiley.com)
- Drugs, brains, and behavior: The science of addiction (2018, drugabuse.gov)
- International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) (2022, who.int)