Sexual addiction is sexual behavior with compulsive thinking, where you can't help but act on it even when you know there are negative consequences. It is also known as sexual compulsivity or sexual dependence. About 4-7% of people have experienced some form of sexual addiction.
Sexual addiction can affect a person's normal life, physical health and intimate relationships. The condition does not usually improve on its own until treatment is received.
Symptoms of Sexual Addiction
Most people enjoy sex and often find satisfaction from the act. However, in people who are sexually addicted, this enjoyment becomes an obsession. A person's mind becomes consumed with intense sexual fantasies, and they come to believe that the act of sex is more important than all things family, friends, work, etc. As time goes on, a person may become more and more deeply involved, seeking more and more sexual stimulation or satisfying themselves in unusual ways.
Symptoms of sexual addiction include:
- Prolonged promiscuity, multiple sexual partners or frequent one-night stands
- Compulsive viewing of pornography
- Excessive masturbation (to the extent that it hurts the body)
- Excessive online sex, including but not limited to video interactions, watching live streams, text sex, voice sex, etc.
- Prostitution for the purpose of sexual gratification or frequent prostitution
- Multiple acts of cheating
- Frequent unprotected sexual intercourse
- Exposure Fetish
People with sexual addiction will have their own set of words about their behavior. Some people realize that their compulsions are a problem and that they just can't control them, and they may have tried a few things and just not made much progress. Others will rationalize these behaviors and they will deny that they have a sex addiction, even though their behaviors have led to the breakdown of intimate relationships, family and friends away from them.
Sexual addiction is different for men and women
Sexual addiction is often thought of as a problem exclusive to men, but in fact sexual addiction can happen to women as well. In a study of college students, about 3 percent of men had sex addiction, compared to 1.2 percent of women. A similar rate was found in another survey on online sex addiction, with 5% of men and 2% of women.
About 88% of those seeking treatment for sexual addiction are men. It may be that women are more reluctant to seek treatment due to shame, which may also account for the skewed statistics. No study has yet been done to clarify the difference in treatment effectiveness between men and women, but in terms of symptoms, the symptoms of hypersexuality are very similar for both men and women, so it can be inferred that treatment strategies are effective for both men and women.
What can lead to sex addiction?
There is no one specific characteristic known to cause sexual addiction, however, research does point to several important factors:
Sexual addiction may be a way to cope with emotional pain and life stress. In a 1997 study, 96% of subjects said that specific emotions triggered their sex addiction symptoms. The most common triggers were:
- Sadness and depression (67%)
- Happiness (54%)
- Sense of loneliness (46%)
Studies have shown that people with sex addiction have different neurotransmitters in their brains than normal people. The dopamine and oxytocin that they release during sexual activity produce effects similar to those of drugs or drunkenness. A person may become addicted to this pleasure and need more sexual stimulation to find the sensation.
Androgens affect sexual desire, and when the body produces too much of them, it increases a person's risk of sexual addiction.
History of Sexual Abuse
Most people with sexual addiction say they have a history of sexual abuse.
- 72% have experienced physical abuse
- 81% have had sexual abuse
- 97% of people have experienced emotional abuse
Sexual addiction may be caused by a synergy of these factors.
Sexual addiction and mental health
Most symptoms of sexual addiction and mental health problems occur together. Common psychological complications include:
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
- Drug abuse
- Gambling addiction
- Compulsive Consumption
Mental health issues can make sexual addiction worse, and a person may use sexual behavior to cope with emotional distress or trauma. Therefore, treatment for sexual addiction should not be accompanied by neglecting treatment for psychological issues.
Diagnosis and academic controversy of sexual addiction
The psychological community has long debated whether or not sexual addiction is a "disease". The World Health Organization WHO recognizes sexual addiction as a mental health problem, while the American Psychological Association does not.
Some scholars believe that it is more appropriate to categorize sex addiction as one of the symptoms of other psychological disorders. For example, people with bipolar disorder may experience hypersexuality during dry phase episodes, when they have difficulty controlling their sexual behavior. Others believe that sexual compulsions can occur independently of other disorders on their own.
Shame is also a controversial issue. Years ago, women, the LGBTQ+ community, were thought to exhibit excessive sexual needs, and doctors would perform surgery - labiaplasty or clitoridectomy - on sexually active women to "cure" the condition. Some gay men, such as the famous Alan Turing, were chemically castrated to reduce their sexual appetite. In ancient Chinese literature, depictions of sexual desire also became a laughing stock, and often ended in tragic circumstances. Thus, since ancient times, people have been ashamed of their "sexual addiction" and have kept it to themselves.
Proponents of the disorder's independent existence argue that sexual addiction should be distinguished from social culture. Sexual addiction is not defined by how many times a person has sex, or what type of sex they have, but whether these sexual activities interfere with a person's normal life. Casual sexual encounters, consensual BDSM or viewing pornography do not indicate that a person is sexually addicted. It is only when these behaviors gradually deviate from the norm and disrupt a person's normal emotional interactions that they are called compulsive symptoms.
If you think you or someone you love has a sex addiction, you might consider seeking professional help.