**This post is outdated. Please refer to our more recent article instead, “Sex ‘Addict’ and Want a Diagnosis?”.
Sex addiction can be a term used to refer to compulsive sexual thoughts and actions that negatively affect your daily life.
Can you really be addicted to sex?
Sex can be used addictively. And like any other addictive behaviour, if left untreated, it can:
- destroy relationships
- jeopardise your health
- cause legal issues
- effect your work and career
- lead to other mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
A sex addiction diagnosis?
In America, sex addiction is no longer included in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-5. There was a diagnoses that could refer to compulsive sexual behaviour in the DSM since 1980 and the release of the DSM-3, but now it’s been removed.
But the newest version of the World Health Organisation’s diagnostic manual, the ICD-11, will include “compulsive sexual behaviour disorder”. An article in World Psychiatry shares that it will refer to:
“A persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges, resulting in repetitive sexual behaviour over an extended period (e.g., six months or more). That causes marked distress or impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”
Symptoms of compulsive sexual behaviour
If you suffer from compulsive sexual behaviour it does not mean you are a deviant ‘sex monster’. In fact it is usually composed of sex acts that the public would consider to be completely ‘acceptable’. Sexual behaviours that occur outside the realms of acceptable behaviour are instead referred to as “paraphilias” (i.e. pedophilia, sexual sadism etc).
Sexual behaviour is a problem once it begins to affect your health, emotional wellbeing, and other aspects of your life.
Signs of sexual addiction include but are not limited to the following:
- intense desire for sexual control that you feel unable to resist
- being driven towards or engaging in sexual activities that you do not enjoy or find pleasurable
- using sexual behaviour as an “escape” from problems or difficult emotions, i.e. anxiety, sadness
- engaging in sexual behaviour despite knowing the risks or experiencing the consequences (i.e. work, health, or legal issues) of your actions, and continuing in the same behaviours
- experiencing trouble in personal relationships, i.e. difficulty having or maintaining romantic relationships or emotional proximity to loved ones
- devoting a large majority of your time engaging in or thinking about sexual activities, i.e. looking for sex online, looking at porn, arranging “hook-ups,” etc.
- leading a “double life” because of your sexual activities; often sex addicts make great effort to hide their sexual acts or interests from others
- feeling irritable when unable to engage in the desired sexual behaviour.
What are the causes of using sex addictively?
Sex addiction occurs in both men and women of all sexual orientations and ages.
The exact causes for sex addiction are not known, but are attributed to a variety of causes. This could be brain chemicals to childhood experiences. Often sex addicts also have issues with drugs or alcohol, other psychological issues, and past experiences with abuse.
Overcoming sex addiction
Sex addiction frequently remains untreated because feelings such as shame, guilt or embarrassment prevent open discussion about the subject. But it is important if your life is being affected by sexual addiction to seek professional help, and not allow difficult feelings to silence your voice. A diagnosis of sex addiction by a mental health professional is the first step in creating a treatment plan that can provide you with relief.
Sex addiction can be challenging to treat, but recovery is possible. Counselling or psychotherapy can provide effective treatment plans and if they are adhered to they can be successful. Your therapist will help you examine your triggers for engaging in sexual behaviour so you can understand how your problematic sexual behaviour comes about. Educating yourself about sex addiction can provide further emotional support and understanding for what you are experiencing.
Healthy behaviours (i.e. social support networks, sports, relaxation techniques, and hobbies) can also help to provide effective control over the difficult emotions that often come with sexual addiction.
Sessions with a therapist/counselling psychologist tend to be brief and because of this it is a good idea to be prepared so you can get the most out of your therapy. You may want to consider doing any of the following to help you better share your experiences, particularly if you find it difficult to talk:
- Record notes about your sexual behaviour.
- List the issues that your sexual behaviour has caused.
- Be honest about any alcohol or drug use.
- List the medications that you are taking.
- Write down your questions.
Treatment options for sex addiction
Several forms of psychotherapy are typically effective for sexual addiction, including psycho-dynamic therapy, cognitive therapy, or group psychotherapy. Choosing the best form of treatment is usually based upon individual needs and circumstances.
In some cases sex addiction may also be treated with the use of medications to target any accompanying feelings of low mood, anxiety or anger. Antidepressants, mood stabilisers, anti-androgens, and hormone-releasing medications are just some of the medications sometimes used to help treat sex addiction. But drugs in and of themselves are not a recommended intervention for sexual addiction.
Sexual addiction is as serious and life-damaging an addiction as any other. The first step is admitting to the problem, and the next step is to seek the help you deserve to find your way back to feeling yourself again.