What It Is

Sex addiction can be a highly dangerous and destructive condition. Like drug or alcohol dependence, sex addiction is a common, but infrequently diagnosed, condition that affects the addict’s mental health, personal relationships, quality of life, and safety.

In general, sex addiction is referred to as a compulsive need to perform sexual acts in order to achieve the kind of “fix” that an alcoholic gets from a drink or an addict from a drug. Usually, a sex addict seeks out multiple partners or may also have relations with children, animals, or inanimate objects. The addiction may manifest as a compulsive need to masturbate, view pornography, or be in erotically stimulating situations. Sex addiction may require the addict to significantly alter his life and activities in order to perform sexual acts multiple times a day. A sex addict cannot stop his or her behavior, despite severe negative consequences.

Symptoms and Signs

Sex addiction can be difficult to spot from the outside. Most addicts become skilled at hiding their behavior and can even keep the addiction secret from spouses, partners, and family members. However, an individual might have a sex addiction if he or she exhibits some or all of the following behaviors:

  • Chronic, obsessive sexual thoughts and fantasies
  • Relations with multiple partners on a frequent basis, especially with strangers
  • Preoccupation with having sex, even when it interferes with daily life, productivity, work performance, etc.
  • Inability to stop compulsive sexual behaviors or restrain sexual activity
  • Putting oneself or others in danger due to sexual behavior
  • Engaging in illegal sexual activity with prostitutes, minors, or children
  • Need for dominance and control in sexual liaisons
  • Feeling remorse or guilt after sexual episodes
  • Negative personal or professional consequences due to sexual behavior

Since sex addiction can be difficult to diagnose, it’s important to remember that enjoying sexual activity does not make one a sex addict. A sex addict is typically someone who has a compulsive need to perform sexual acts and appears to have no control over these impulses.

Treatment Options

Unlike other addictions, treatment for compulsive sexual behavior cannot require the addict to give up sex for life. Sex is a normal, healthy, and necessary human function. However, a sex addict must learn the difference between healthy and non-healthy sexual behavior. This process can often take months or years. Treatment for sex addiction usually includes one or more of the following methods:

Inpatient Treatment Programs

There are many different inpatient treatment centers that offer sex addiction recovery programs. Often times, sex addicts must be removed from their normal daily lives for at least 30 days—but often longer—to help them regain control of their impulses and start the recovery process. These types of programs typically include comprehensive individual counseling and group therapy sessions.

12-Step Programs

Programs such as Sex Addicts Anonymous (SA) follow the same recovery model as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and can be incredibly helpful for many sex addicts. Members are not required to give up sex entirely, but are encouraged to refrain from compulsive and destructive sexual behavior.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This type of therapy can help a sex addict identify triggers for sexual impulses and ultimately teach the addict how to cope with them through behavioral changes.

Medication

Some sex addicts may benefit from a course of drug therapy treatment, as certain antidepressants might help alleviate urges.

Expectations

Unlike with other addictions, a sex addict faces a unique set of challenges. It is not realistic for a sex addict to give up sexual activity entirely, but it may be necessary for him or her to abstain from sex for up to a year. This period of abstinence can often help sex addicts learn to identify the causes of their urges and to explore deeper emotional issues that might contribute to the manifestation of the addiction.

Like a compulsive eater, a sex addict must learn the difference between natural, healthy urges and addictive ones. For sex addicts, there is not necessarily a “cure,” but there are ways to manage the condition and still live a normal, balanced life.

Spouses and family members of a sex addict should be prepared to deal with the possibility of relapse, as it is often a normal part of the recovery process.

Resources

More information about sex addiction, as well as information for family members or loved ones, can be found by contacting the following organizations:

  • Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous
  • The Society for Advancement of Sexual Health
  • Sexual Recovery Institute