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Sex Addiction in Women Linked to Higher Levels of Shame

Recent findings from a British research team indicate that shame has a small but considerable effect on women with sex addiction, even after accounting for the impact of religious beliefs and sexual orientation.

Sex addiction in women is not as well-studied as sex addiction in men. However, available knowledge strongly suggests that the condition has gender-specific characteristics when it appears in female populations. In a study presented in 2015 to the 2nd International Conference on Behavioral Addictions, researchers from the United Kingdom’s Nottingham Trent University gauged the impact that shame has on sexually addicted women. These researchers concluded that shame appears as a small but significant factor independent of sexual orientation or a woman’s religious convictions.


Shame is an emotional state with implicitly or explicitly stated moral implications. Because of this moral factor, many people equate feelings of shame with feelings of guilt. However, the two states differ in important ways. A person affected by guilt believes that he or she has done some specific thing that qualifies as a crime or offense; in response to this belief, he or she experiences feelings of remorse or regret tied up with a sense of individual responsibility. In contrast, a person affected by shame believes that he, she or someone else has done something (or inherently is something) embarrassing, improper or disreputable. In response to this belief, he or she experiences a sort of existential pain.

You can feel shame without feeling guilt. In mental health terms, a classic example of this split is a condition called narcissistic personality disorder. People with this disorder commonly lack a well-developed sense of empathy, and therefore commonly lack the ability to feel guilty about the harms they cause other people. However, affected individuals can easily feel shame related to themselves. Outside of the context of mental illness, a person heavily impacted by childhood shame may experience a level of self-consciousness that partially precludes the ability to understand others, empathize with others and feel guilt.

Sex Addiction in Women

Women have sex addiction symptoms that commonly differ from those found in men, according to the results of an extensive study review conducted in 2014 by researchers at West Chester University. While the condition in both genders centers on dysfunctional involvement in sexual thought, fantasy or real-world behavior, women have a particular tendency to experience overlapping issues with love addiction, another problem not specifically tied to sexual expression. Those suffering from female sex addiction also have a gender-specific tendency toward involvement in mutually dysfunctional relationships, as well as a gender-specific tendency to get involved in relationships with men or women dealing with their own separate addiction-related problems. Among other things, a sex-addicted woman may also have a particular preference for sexual fantasy and may act in sexually exhibitionistic ways.

Women, Shame and Sex Addiction

In the study presented to the 2nd International Conference on Behavioral Addictions, the Nottingham Trent University researchers used a project involving 102 British women to help gauge the role of shame in women’s sex addiction. All of the study participants completed remotely administered versions of two screening tools—the Hypersexual Disorder Questionnaire and the Sexual Behavior History—designed to identify people likely affected by dysfunctional sex-related behavior, thought or fantasy. Each participant also completed another screening tool, called the Shame Inventory, designed to assess the extent and possible harmfulness of shame-related thought processes. Some of the participants had a heterosexual sexual orientation, while others had a homosexual orientation or some other non-heterosexual orientation. In addition, while some of the participants had expressly held religious convictions, others lacked such convictions.

The researchers concluded that women with Hypersexual Disorder Questionnaire results indicating the presence of sex addiction had somewhat higher levels of shame than women without such results. They made similar conclusions for the outcomes of the Sexual Behavior History. In both cases, they found that shame appears independent of a specific sexual orientation or the absence or presence of religious convictions. Overall, the researchers concluded that sex addiction is likely linked to a relatively small uptick in women’s shame levels.

The study’s authors specifically note that sex-addicted women do not apparently have increased amounts of shame based on their membership in a specific religious tradition or maintenance of specific religious points of view. They also note that religion apparently doesn’t play a role in a sex-addicted woman’s level of related harm exposure.


Posted on May 16th, 2016
Posted in Sex Addiction

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