Sex Addiction

Sex addiction, also known as “compulsive sexual behavior” or “sexual dependency” is an obsession with sexual thoughts and behaviors. Sex addicts have trouble controlling their sexual thoughts and urges, even when it’s inappropriate or harmful to their relationships.

The condition is closely linked with nymphomania–also called “hypersexuality”–which is characterized by an abnormally high sex drive.

What is Sex Addiction?

Like any addiction, a sex addiction can interfere with your job, ruin your social life and, if you engage in frequent unsafe sex practices, be harmful to your health. The most common behaviors associated with an addiction to sex include:

  • Exhibitionism
  • Frequent masturbation
  • Multiple affairs and one-night stands
  • Paraphilias (regular sexual behaviors that are outside the boundaries of commonly-accepted conduct, such as group sex, bestiality or cross-dressing)
  • Sexual harassment, molestation or rape
  • Spying on the sexual activity of others
  • Unsafe sex practices
  • Use of pornography
  • Use of prostitutes.

The Biology of Sexual Addiction

The exact cause of sex addiction is unclear, but it’s likely a combination of many factors. Unhealthy, addictive sexual behavior may be attributed to:

  • Brain alteration or damage resulting from diseases like Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis and dementia. These diseases can damage or otherwise alter the portions of the brain that control sexual desire and behavior.
  • Dopamine agonist medications, like the treatment for Parkinson’s disease.
  • High levels of androgens (sex hormones present in both males and females that influence sexual desire) in the body.
  • High levels of neurotransmitters in the brain–especially dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, which affect mood and pleasure perception.

The Risk Factors for Sex Addiction

Some people are at higher risk for addictive sexual behavior than others. These include:

  • Addicts: People who show a tendency to abuse other addictive substances, such as drugs and alcohol, may have a propensity for addictive behavior.
  • Males: Men are at higher risk for developing an addiction to sex than women.
  • People with mental health problems: People with mood disorders (such as bipolar disorder) and impulse control disorders are at increased risk.
  • People who have been abused: A history of being physically, emotionally or sexually abused may play a role in the development of compulsive sexual behavior.

Warning Signs of Sex Addiction

Only a trained mental health professional can definitively diagnosis a sex addiction, but you can look out for some of the warning signs. A major sign is if you participate excessively in most or all of the behaviors listed above.

Sexual behavior is excessive if you begin to forego other important aspects of your life, such as work or family functions, in favor of indulging your sexual fantasies. If you often make promises to stop engaging in certain sexual activities and continually break those promises, the behavior may be compulsive.

Sex Addiction Treatments

If you have an addiction to sex, you have several treatment options, including psychotherapy, medications and support groups. The main goal of these treatments is to reduce the harmful effects of the addiction while helping you maintain a healthy, fulfilling sex life.

Each treatment method accomplishes this in different ways. Psychotherapy focuses on behavior modification, medications alter brain chemicals and hormone levels, and support groups provide a social network to fall back on during moments of weakness.

How to Seek Help for Sexual Addiction

As with any addiction, you must first recognize that your addiction to sex is harming you and cultivate a desire to change your behavior. Once you do, you can contact:

  • Sex Addicts Anonymous