What is Sex Addiction?

By The Fix staff 08/11/14

When does normal sexual drive become an addiction, if ever?  Among expert therapists there is wide discrepancy in views. On one end there is well-known Dr. Patrick J. Carnes who argues strongly that sexual addiction starts as compulsive behavior that ultimately, in its excesses, becomes indistinguishable from behavioral addiction, and he has developed treatment programs for it.

On the other end is Dr. Marty Klein who baldly states that sex addiction is misdiagnosed and is best defined as form of narcissism whereby people “not wanting to give up what makes them feel alive or young or loved or adequate…but since they don’t want to stop feeling powerful, attractive or loved, they can’t seem to stop the repetitive sex clumsily designed to create those feelings [and] who finds it too emotionally painful to make different choices. Which is to say, it’s not about the sex. It’s about the immature decision-making.”  Klein concedes that others labeled sex addicts are “struggling with one or more of the following: compulsivity, impulsivity, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder,“ for which sex is medicating.

Whichever view is true, the fact is that primal sexual yearnings have enslaved many humans throughout history. The modern term is hypersexuality but for women the name has been nymphomania, and for men the term is satyriasis. Correctly or not, this has commonly become known as sex addiction.  

Warning Signs and Symptoms

If you are using sex repeatedly as your go-to measure to numb bad feelings such as anger, fear, depression, shame, or guilt; or to relieve stress or low-self esteem by temporarily stimulating pleasure feelings, that is a warning sign. This becomes compulsive behavior when, at the onset of a low mood, you automatically reach for masturbation or sexual encounters for relief, however temporary. When sex begins to dominate your thoughts, you may have gone from impulsive/compulsive behavior into addiction in which your brain and neural net are habituated to seek constant relief. Accordingly, constant masturbation or porn watching may, in the absence of a sexual partner, become a norm in your life as you feel compelled toward it even if you are not in a bad mood.

One hallmark of a true sex compulsive in addiction stage is a willingness to sacrifice almost anything to obtain sex or sexual please. Sex addicts frequently get into financial trouble because they have spent too much time seeking out opportunities for sex – often one-night emotionless stands or multiple short-term affairs cut off from relationship (now commonly sought through the internet); or paying for sex, indulging themselves with porn, participating in repeated phone sex (paid or not) or harassing their partners for near-constant sex. In desperate times, sex addicts feed their addiction by getting off on other people’s sexual behaviors or forcing themselves on another person through harassment, molestation, or rape.

In some cases, sex compulsives will rely on sex dolls. Others may engage in BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism or masochism), though participants often dispute that this is a sexual addiction and not a “lifestyle” that embraces acting out deep longings for “therapeutic” reasons.

Emotionally, sex addicts tend to experience guilt and stress over their actions and over how it has affected their lives. Due to their exploits, sex addicts may also experience legal troubles because of their spending on prostitutes, or for any aggressive behavior seeking direct sex. Another sign: when abstaining from sexual activity, addicts will experience withdrawals symptoms somewhat similar to that of an illicit-drug addict – irritability, anxiety, depression, feelings of deep unworthiness., and sometimes nausea and twitches.

Longterm Effects

Physically, the dangers of repeated unsafe six for those who seek multiple partners leaves individuals subject to multiple sexually transmitted diseases and infections.

Emotionally, sex addicts often become psychologically detached from other daily or life need activities. Relationships with partners, families and friends often deteriorate, leading to greater psychological decline. Feelings ensue of guilt, a lack of control, shame, the need for more, and rage. Work or other important engagements are often missed.  Denial of addiction even after the symptoms and effects are apparent is common.  

Help and Treatment

Therapists recommend individual, family, marital and group counseling to unearth and treat deep-seeded personal and psychological/emotional  issues that underpin  hyper-sexuality , with family and groups involved to create a supportive atmosphere. Common themes in recovery are feelings of abandonment from a parent or love interest, sexual abuse or assault in childhood, or a parental lack of support and love. Recovery processes may or may not include a 12-step program such as Sexaholics Anonymous, or a variety of cognitive, psychodynamic and behavioral therapies, including substitute behaviors to deal with compulsive urges and the underlying emotions.

In each treatment form there are stages of recovery, beginning with admitting and breaking through denial, then understanding the addiction causes and healing process, committing to sobriety, and working to stay clean. Most therapists advice testing a variety of treatment modes.   

Many programs establish abstinence from sex as an early treatment mode. That doesn’t always mean that every sex addict is to cease all sexual activity; generally it is focused on the dominant specific form of compulsive behavior such as phone sex with strangers or the endless pursuit of multiple partners. Many therapists hold that the true goal is to function emotionally and sexually at the societal norm; treatment should therefore focus on eliminating the most compulsive of the triggering behaviors while identifying  healthy alternatives and teaching inner mastery of emotional and psychological upsets.  In fact, the situations and goals of each addict is very special and specific to that person and it’s important to acknowledge this on the road to recovery and plan accordingly.

Treatment often embraces the maxim of “strength/safety in numbers.” When a group is battling the same demons, many sexual hyperactives have  found motivation or inspiration in 12-step programs, group therapy sessions, or just any type of group that allows addicts openly to share a safe space for self-expression.


Love Addicts Anonymous

Sex Addicts Anonymous

Codependents Anonymous

Women’s Love and Sex Addiction Treatment Program

Men’s Love and Sex Addiction Treatment Program

Other Sex Addiction Recovery and Rehab Programs/Facilities: 1-888-298-6689

Other Love Addiction Recovery and Rehab Programs/Facilities: 1-888-298-6689














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