Addiction Treatment
Addiction Treatment

Sex Addiction

Badge Icon

Medically reviewed: 06/28/2018
Last updated: 05/15/2019
Author: Addictions.com Medical Review

Reading Time: 8 minutes

What is Sex Addiction?

Sex addiction is a behavioral addiction marked by the difficulty or inability to control and resist sexual urges, thoughts, and behaviors. Also known as compulsive sexual behavior or hypersexual disorder, sex addiction affects between 3 to and 6% of U.S. adults. When left untreated, sex addiction can cause problems with relationships, family, careers, and other important areas of life, and can even progress to rape or pedophilia, in severe cases. Sex addiction can be effectively treated at an addiction treatment center using cognitive and behavioral therapies, support groups, counseling, and medication.

Table of Contents

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Sex Addiction?

In its early stages, sex addiction signs and symptoms can be relatively easy to hide from other people and be difficult to spot as a result. For instance, porn is easily accessible on the Internet and can be viewed in private browsers on personal phones and laptops at home or at the office. However, sex addiction tends to progress rapidly and can quickly give way to more noticeable behaviors.

Common signs and symptoms of sex addiction:

  • Compulsively masturbating or stimulating oneself in private or public settings
  • Having extra-marital affairs or multiple affairs in a non-married relationship
  • Experiencing frequent one-night stands
  • Using pornography consistently and excessively
  • Practicing unprotected, unsafe sex
  • Engaging in cybersex
  • Performing prostitution, or purchasing the services of a prostitute
  • Dating excessively for the ability to have multiple sexual partners
  • Voyeurism, or watching others have sex
  • Sexually harassing others
  • Sexually molesting others
  • Rape
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Impaired family relationships
  • Loss of employment
  • Intended pregnancy
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • The onset of mental health disorders like anxiety and depression
  • Legal problems
  • Financial problems
  • Inability to stop having sex despite attempts to quit

Those who suffer from sex addiction will often devote copious amounts of time to engaging in sexual behaviors, and less time to important life areas surrounding career, education, family, sociability, and personal interests. They may demonstrate withdrawal symptoms of anger, irritability, anxiety, and depression when unable to engage in behaviors related to their sex addiction.

Lack of Bonding for Sex Addicts

Those who suffer from sex addiction are usually unable to form close emotional bonds with their sexual partners and often lack the desire to form any bond with the people they’re having sex with. These individuals can usually experience full satisfaction from sexual activities like pornography or cybersex that don’t involve in-person interaction. If you’re unable to form a close emotional bond with your partner or spouse, or since they’re becoming more distant as time passes, it’s possible they may need help recovering from sex addiction.

Consequences of Sex Addiction

Many different consequences can result from an individual’s inability to control their sexual addiction. Some of the most common consequences of sex addiction include:

  • Financial consequences. Phone sex, strip clubs, and prostitution are examples of sex addiction behaviors that can be costly and put undue financial stress on sex addicts and their families.
  • Health consequences. Individuals who suffer from sex addiction are likely to take part in promiscuous activities that can lead to unwanted pregnancy, rape, and STDs like AIDs or hepatitis.
  • Social consequences. Sex addiction can lead to adverse social interactions. Many who suffer from sex addiction may spend more time on sexual activities and behaviors than to their social lives. Additionally, those who spend lots of time doing cybersex can sometimes be too pushy or aggressive in real-life situations and lead to social upsets or sexual violence.
  • Emotional consequences. Sex addiction can cause feelings of guilt, anxiety, depression, and many other negative emotions that can lead to long-term mental health disorders and the risk of suicide.

Myths & Facts About Sex Addiction

Myth: People with good morals will not suffer from sex addiction

Fact: Your morals are not a direct impact on whether or not you suffer from sex addiction. If your sexual behavior takes you out of the realm of your own values or beliefs, then this could be affecting your morals, and you may feel bad, but there is the help.

Myth: Only men are sex addicts

Fact: While the majority of sex addiction sufferers are men, there are signs that about 20% of those suffering from sex addiction are actually women. Unfortunately, it can be more difficult for a woman to address her sex addiction due largely in part to the majority of the support groups and treatment options being geared to men.

Myth: Sex addiction affects all gay men

Fact: Sex addiction is not secluded to gay men, a particular minority or a singled out type of person. Sex addiction can affect any gender or sexual orientation.

How Does Sex Addiction Interact with Drug Addiction?

People who suffer from sex addiction tend to rely on drugs and alcohol to lower their inhibitions so they can act on their impulses. For instance, sex addicts may visit night clubs to scope out potential sexual partners and drink excessive amounts of alcohol to relax and feel more confident before approaching their prospects. Club drugs like Ecstasy produce effects that can enhance and promote risky sexual behavior. Cocaine use is also common among those who suffer from sex addiction since stimulants such as these can boost blood flow, confidence, and energy levels, along with sexual performance as a result.

Sex addiction can lead to negative emotions that some will try self-medicating using drugs and alcohol. An unfaithful spouse who comes home late every night after having sexual affairs may start drinking alcohol to numb and escape feelings of guilt and pain. A person experiencing anxiety triggered by their own sex addiction behaviors may turn to benzodiazepines or painkillers to relieve anxiety. As drug and alcohol use becomes regular and more frequent, those who suffer from sex addiction can also develop a substance use disorder. This is known as a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis and can be treated at the same time as sex addiction at a professional treatment center.

Coping With Shame in Sex Addiction

Many sex addicts experience shame and guilt surrounding their addiction. Some lack the desire to take part in certain sexual activities, to begin with, but are unable to control impulses that drive them to engage in sexual behaviors. Individuals who seek help for sex addiction cite feelings of guilt and shame as their primary reasons for seeking treatment.

  • Guilt – I did something wrong, and I feel bad for my mistake
  • Shame– Because I did something wrong, there is something wrong with me

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, individual and group counseling, and support groups are all designed to help sex addicts overcome feelings of guilt and shame surrounding their addiction. Addiction treatment centers recognize that sex addiction is a treatable behavioral disorder, and can help remove the stigma that surrounds this health condition so you can experience a positive, successful recovery.

How are Sex Addiction and Substance Use Disorders Treated?

Sex addiction and other behavioral addictions can be effectively treated using a range of therapies that address the emotional and psychological symptoms driving these disorders. People who suffer from sex addiction can learn how to change negative thoughts and behaviors into those that are healthy and positive so they can repair their lives, relationships, and overall well-being.

Take these steps to reduce your desire and stop your sex addiction:

  • Avoid triggers. Identify and know your personal triggers that lead to sexual behaviors so you can work on strategies that help you avoid those triggers. For instance, if spending time downtown entices you to visit the adult movie theater, try limiting your exposure to the downtown area as much as possible.
  • 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 can start looking for an addiction treatment center.
  • Join a support group. If you’re struggling with sex addiction, understand you’re not alone. Thousands of other adults in the U.S. are experiencing similar compulsions and are suffering from sex addiction. Sex Addicts Anonymous is just one 12-step support group that can help you overcome sex addiction.
  • Seek help. If you’ve tried overcoming sex addiction on your own but continue giving in to sexual urges and compulsions, seek additional support from a professional. A counselor or trained professional can help you gain control of your addiction and move forward.

Treatment for Sex Addiction and Substance Abuse

Many forms of treatment for sex addiction exist to help you balance your life with healthy sexual relationships that do not hinge on the border of being addictive. An addiction treatment professional can help determine whether you’re truly addicted to sex and can help you get to the bottom of the reasons you may be suffering from sex addiction.

12-Step Treatment

Though 12-step programs were originally designed for those suffering from alcohol use disorder, this method of therapy has evolved to provide options for those suffering from narcotics addiction, prescription drug addiction, and many forms of sex addiction. Some 12-step programs include:

  • Sex Addicts Anonymous
  • Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous
  • Sexaholics Anonymous

Counseling

Individual and group counseling methods have proven effective in treating those who struggle with sex addiction. Marriage counseling can help patients and their partners cope with the fear, deception, lies, and other devastation that may result from sexual addiction.

Faith-Based Treatment

Many faith-based treatment programs can provide counseling, support, and spiritual therapy that helps reduce or assist with the devastation of sexual addiction. Pastoral counseling, prayer sessions, bible studies, and individual support groups can help restore your religious faith, which in turn, may help reduce symptoms of sexual addiction.

Psychotherapy

Various methods of psychotherapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can teach an individual how to improve negative thoughts and behaviors driving their sex addiction. CBT may consist of teaching an individual positive ways to react to sexual desires such as with a loved one, or by transferring thoughts to a more productive, non-sexual, activity.

Family and Friends

Your family and friends can serve as a solid support team you can turn to if you feel the desire or urge to take part in sexual activities. Support is a necessary part of any treatment process, and can greatly improve your chances of experiencing a full recovery from sex addiction.

Medication

If your sex addiction is the result of depression, there are medications that can help. If you use sex as a way to reduce stress or anxiety, there are medications that can help with that as well. Those with severe cases of sex addiction may be prescribed hormonal medications that help reduce sexuality, hinder sexual urges, and eliminate or greatly reduce compulsive behaviors.

When left untreated, sex addiction can destroy your physical, mental, and emotional health, and cause serious problems with your family, relationships, career, and overall well-being. Getting professional treatment for sex addiction today can help you turn your life around, and provide you with the valuable skills you need to live a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle without addiction.