looking through cracked bedroom door at sad woman with head on her knees - sex addiction

An Overview

Our culture has many misconceptions involving sex addiction. Sex makes us uncomfortable, and we attach to it aspects of morality that make it even more difficult to talk about. All of this makes it challenging to recognize the differences between a healthy sex life and a damaging, compulsive one.

Compulsive sexual behavior disorder, also referred to by medical professionals as hypersexual disorder, is a process addiction. Individuals with sexual compulsivity become addicted to their brains’ chemical response to a sexual act. This prompts them to, as Psychology Today notes, “engage in sex or think about sex through fantasies and urges more than normal.”

Understanding Sex Addiction

Similar to aspects of other compulsive disorders, such as too much gambling, shopping, or eating, people who have a sex process addiction are unable to manage their sexual behavior. They may display:

  • An inability to ignore sexual impulses
  • Difficulty maintaining healthy intimate relationships
  • Excessive use of pornography
  • Obsessive masturbation
  • Exhibitionism
  • Voyeurism
  • A preoccupation with sex such that it interferes with daily activities
  • A search for multiple sexual encounters outside the agreement of a committed relationship
  • A preference for paying for in-person or online sexual interactions over intimate relations
  • A need to engage in illicit sexual activity

Medical experts reinforce that sexual activity is a normal and vital part of the human experience. People may choose different partners and a variety of experiences. However, sexual addiction often puts interpersonal relationships and personal health in jeopardy or prompts an individual to harm themselves or others.

Medical News Today reports that in the U.S. alone, between 12 to 30 million men and women experience sexual addiction.

While the root cause of hypersexuality is unknown, researchers discovered a link to early sexual trauma—approximately 60 percent of people who suffer from this disorder were “sexually traumatized in childhood or early adolescence…which can result in distortions in the arousal template.” In worst-case scenarios, an individual who was sexually abused “can only achieve peak sexual arousal in situations that recreate the emotional tone of the trauma.” Trauma is also a leading cause of substance abuse.

The controversy about including hypersexuality in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders involves the term “addiction.” A report from Psychology Today indicates that many reviewers do not consider hypersexuality an addiction. Although not classified as a mental health disorder, hypersexuality is listed in the World Health Organization’s Classification of Diseases.

What Is a Healthy Sex Life?

Is it important to have regular sexual activity? For the majority of people, yes. WebMD lists numerous benefits, including:

  • Enhanced immune system
  • Improved libido
  • Better bladder control for women
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Improved sleep
  • Reduced stress
  • Reduced pain

So with all these positive attributes, why would engaging in a lot of sex be a problem? Context. While it’s one component of a healthy lifestyle, more sex doesn’t necessarily make you happier.

What intimate relations really allow us to do as human beings is develop better bonding with someone. This is not to say single people can’t have satisfying sex lives, but sex may not be their primary source of fulfillment. In fact, some studies show that celibate people—nuns, to be more precise—live healthfully for decades, enjoying many of the same benefits as sexually-active people.

The context of “good” sex vs. “bad” sex goes back to the aspect of compulsivity: if someone is using sexual activity as a means to avoid troublesome issues or complex emotions, or to move into more urge-driven behavior, there might be a problem.

Moving Beyond Misconceptions and Into Treatment

People such as Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, comedian and author Russell Brand, actor David Duchovny, athlete Tiger Woods, and model Amber Woods are just a few of the dozens of celebrities who admitted to and sought treatment for their sexual addictions.

Often, their circumstances were above and beyond what the average American could comprehend, and dismissed as celebrity excess: money and fame cause people to do any number of outrageous things. Nevertheless, their sex addictions were contributing factors to destroyed relationships, unlawful behavior, drug and alcohol addiction, and contracting HIV.

On the other hand, their public struggles with hypersexuality helped identify the problem with it, and the importance of seeking treatment to change behavior.

Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), a 12-Step program, developed a “common elements” checklist that gives individuals a chance to think about their behavior:

  • A powerlessness over addictive sexual behavior.
  • Unmanageability over one’s life as a result.
  • Feelings of shame, pain, and self-loathing.
  • Failed promises and failed attempts to stop acting out.
  • A preoccupation with sex leading to ritual.
  • Progressive worsening of negative consequences.

If some of these characteristics reflect aspects of your life, SAA provides a self-assessment that helps you decide if professional treatment is necessary.

Help From Cottonwood Tucson

While hypersexuality sometimes appears along with substance abuse, mood disorders, and other process addictions, this isn’t always the case.

Our experts consider someone’s past and present to first uncover the root cause of the behavior. Then, we create an individualized plan of healing to not only help control compulsive thoughts, but also learn more effective coping mechanisms for a naturally rewarding life. Contact us to learn about personalized treatment.

For more information about Cottonwood Tucson, Arizona addiction rehab, call (888) 727-0441. We are ready to help you or your loved one find lasting recovery.


  • psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/hypersexuality-sex-addiction

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