Sex Addiction: A Closer Look at This Often Misunderstood Condition

Sex addiction is a relatively common but often misunderstood condition characterized by an inability to control sexual urges and behaviors. While sex addiction is a real and serious problem, it’s important to understand that it is not the same thing as hypersexuality or having a strong libido. Rather, it is a compulsivity that can have serious negative impacts on one’s personal and professional life.

Sex addiction is not currently diagnosed as an official disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Psychologytoday, 2014). However, many mental health experts recognize it as a form of process addiction. A process addiction is a type of behavioral addiction in which a person engages in certain activities in a compulsive or uncontrollable manner.

Though sex addiction is a very real problem, it is still a debated topic amongst experts. While some researchers and clinicians do recognize it as an addictive disorder, some argue that it is simply excessive behavior which should be addressed without pathologizing the individual.

The first mention of sex addiction in clinical literature dates back to the 1980s, where research was conducted on the “hypersexual disorder” and its close relation to substance abuse (Murray, 1980). Since then, much has been written about the potential causes and effects of sex addiction.

What Causes Someone to Be a Sex Addict?

Sex addiction can arise from a variety of factors, both biological and psychological in nature. The exact cause of an individual’s addiction is often difficult to determine, as people differ in the way they respond to various triggers. However, common contributing factors can include past or present trauma, mental health issues, loneliness, boredom, or a need for affirmation.

Additionally, research has identified genetic factors or pre-existing mental health issues such as depression or substance abuse as potential contributors to the development of a sex addiction. Lastly, biological factors such as hormones or chemical/neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain have also been suggested as possible causes of the disorder (Rheaume, 2012).

What Are the Symptoms of Sex Addiction?

The symptoms of sex addiction vary from person to person and can be hard to spot, as they may mimic other conditions or behaviors. Generally, a sex addict will experience some kind of compulsive or uncontrollable behavior related to sex.

Common signs and symptoms of sex addiction can include:

• Excessive preoccupation with sexual thoughts, fantasies, and activities

• Difficulty controlling these thoughts and/or behaviors

• Pursuing unsafe or out-of-character sexual activities

• Continuing these behaviors despite harmful consequences

• Feeling guilt, shame, or remorse after engaging in the behaviors

• Repeatedly seeking out and engaging in sexual encounters even when not in the mood

• Needing an increasing amount of sexual stimulation or activity to feel satisfied

How Is Sex Addiction Diagnosed?

At this time, sex addiction is not formally diagnosed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Due to this fact, many individuals who struggle with this disorder are unwilling to seek help for fear of being labeled as someone with an “official” mental health disorder.

Still, a qualified mental health professional can work with an individual to assess the signs and symptoms and develop a treatment plan accordingly. While formal diagnosis and assessment may not be available, professionals can use various diagnostic tools to help ascertain if someone is suffering from a compulsive sexual disorder.

How Is Sex Addiction Treated?

The most effective treatments for individuals suffering from compulsive behaviors include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), anonymous support groups, family counseling, and/or pharmacological treatments ( Maida, 2018).

CBT helps individuals re-frame their thoughts about sex in manageable terms and works to help them identify triggers and to address the underlying issues that are contributing to the addiction. Anonymous support groups, such as Sex Addicts Anonymous, provide individuals with access to a network of like-minded individuals who can offer emotional support.

Family counseling is also recommended as it can help to mend any broken relationships or identify unhealthy family dynamics that may be perpetuating the addictive behavior. Pharmacological treatments, such as antidepressants, can be used to help stabilize mood and reduce behavior.


In conclusion, sex addiction is a complex disorder that requires professional intervention in order to overcome. While there is no formal diagnosis for this disorder, it is an issue that can have serious social, psychological, and physical consequences. However, with proper treatment and support, individuals suffering from sex addiction can learn to manage their behaviors and move forward with their lives.