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Sex Addiction Basics

Sexual addiction is a compulsive preoccupation with sexual thoughts, the pursuit of sex or sexual behaviors, which the individual is unable to stop in spite of negative consequences to their life, career, relationships or health. Also known as an intimacy disorder or hypersexuality, sexual addiction can be considered a process addiction, similar to gambling, binge eating or compulsive spending.

An estimated 3 to 6 percent of the population suffers from sex addiction, though shame and stigma likely prevent many more from seeking help. Three times as many men seek treatment for sex addiction as women, who are more inclined to get treatment for relationship or love addiction or a co-occurring disorder such as an eating disorder or chemical dependency.

Let’s rule out what sexual addiction is not. Sexual addiction is not about enjoying a lot of sex. Most sex addicts crave the pursuit of sex more than the sexual act itself. Whereas most people find pleasure in being sexual, sex addicts misuse sex and the search for sex as a way to cope with difficult feelings and to feel validated.

The opposite of enjoyable, sex addiction can be devastating for sex addicts, their partners and the people who care about them. Some of the most commonly cited consequences of sex addiction include:

  • Severe relationship problems
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Exposure to sexually transmitted diseases Unwanted pregnancies
  • Legal problems
  • Job loss

Like other addictions, sexual addiction progresses over time, driving the addict to seek out more frequent, unusual, risky or intense experiences and to become more shameful and secretive about their fantasies and behaviors. Some of the behavior patterns associated with sex addiction include:

  • Compulsive masturbation
  • Multiple affairs
  • Prostitution or use of prostitutes
  • Compulsive use of pornography or cybersex
  • Anonymous or unsafe sex
  • Exhibitionism
  • Voyeurism

In severe cases, sex addiction may lead to sexual offending behaviors. It is important to note that sex addicts do not necessarily become sex offenders. Moreover, not all sex offenders are sex addicts.

Many sex addicts go through phases of sexual anorexia when they try to stop acting out, only to return to self-defeating patterns as a result of withdrawal and craving. Research shows that changes in the reward system of the brain make it extremely difficult to manage compulsive sexual behaviors without treatment.

Sex and the search for sex dominate the sex addict’s life, causing them to withdraw from others and rationalize their behaviors. Rather than moving closer to friends and loved ones, the sexual addict creates barriers to the intimacy they crave.

Posted on January 28, 2012 and modified on April 26, 2019

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