top of page
Search
  • Karen Stollznow, Ph.D.

Sex 'Addiction' and Compulsive Sexual Behavior

Myth or mental health disorder?

sex addiction

KEY POINTS

  • "Sex addiction" is not a medical term. It's most often termed compulsive sexual behavior or hypersexuality.

  • Sexual compulsivity is technically not an addiction, but it's an emerging psychiatric disorder.

  • Sexual compulsivity is a trying condition, but with treatment and dedication to healing, can be overcome.


Michael had an enviable career with a high-paying job, and he was happily married with children, not to mention he enjoyed a satisfying sex life with his attractive wife. However, this facade masked a double life, in which he surfed for hardcore pornography at every available opportunity and visited adult entertainment stores with arcades while he was also a paying member of multiple dating sites intended for hookups. Some mistake compulsive sexual behavior as "sex addiction." It's often mentioned in the media with glee, a sensational and salacious habit attributed to sports stars like Tiger Woods and Hollywood celebrities. While the term "sex addiction" is widely used in the media and popular culture, it isn't considered an actual addiction, disorder, or diagnosis. Sex addiction isn't a medical term. It's more of a media buzzword not included in the DSM-5. In psychology, it's most often termed compulsive sexual behavior, sexual compulsivity, or hypersexuality. Compulsive sexual behavior is technically not considered an addiction, although it's an emerging psychiatric disorder. Many people advocate for it to be considered as another form of unhealthy consumption, alongside addictions to alcohol, drugs, gaming, or gambling. The cravings for sexual activity are similar to cravings felt for alcohol or drugs by those with substance addictions. Sexual compulsivity can take many forms. It's not always about having indiscriminate and frequent sexual intercourse. It can also include a dependency on pornography or an obsession with, and an inability to control, various other sexual fantasies, urges, and behaviors. It's an out-of-control feeling of never being satisfied or a constant battle to control behavior that's on autopilot. People with sexual compulsivity return to their behaviors, time and time again, despite the negative consequences. There are many signs that someone you love may have a sexual compulsion. The individual engages in phone sex, cybersex, use of sex workers, pornography, or exhibitionism. The person might have multiple sex partners or cheat on their partners. They may habitually masturbate. On the other hand, they may develop a tolerance to pornography, meaning they will require more extreme and explicit imagery to become sexually aroused. Sexual compulsivity is more common in men than women. In some cases, men may develop porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED), impotence caused by excessive porn consumption. The person usually has trouble making and keeping healthy and stable relationships. They may also show a downward work performance and career loss from an inability to focus on work or watching pornography at work. Sometimes the person doesn't even recognize these signs as they disassociate themselves from their behaviors or rationalize them. Hiding, lying, and gaslighting are also characteristics of this compulsion as a result of the shame, guilt, and fear associated with the behaviors. When caught, the person may even be defensive of their actions, arguing that indulging in pornography, even to an excessive degree, is "just what men do" and that "boys will be boys." Others feel remorse and regret for their behaviors but also a deep sense of hopelessness and powerlessness.

Their temporary pleasure and unhealthy relationships precede forming healthy, intimate relationships. Sexual compulsivity has an enormous negative impact on those coping with it and those around them. It can cause great damage to relationships and result in the neglect and abuse of a spouse or partner, children, and other family members. It can cause negative consequences for a person's job, career, and finances. It can lead to substance abuse or jail time for sexual offenses. It affects a person's emotional and physical health, possibly leading to STIs. There is growing evidence that compulsive sexual behavior, over time, might cause changes in the brain's pathways, especially in areas related to reinforcement, creating new nerve pathways of addictive behavior. Over time, more intense sexual content and stimulation are needed for satisfaction or relief.

There are many potential causes of compulsive sexual behavior. It may be based on childhood trauma, like molestation or rape, and may have a genetic component. Sexual compulsivity is often underpinned by depression, anxiety, and other mental issues, such as personality disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Despite the denialism surrounding the condition, there are several treatments to help people recover from their addiction and abuse, including therapy, medications, and techniques like meditation and mindfulness. As always, having a healthy diet and daily exercise play a significant role in recovery. Some have success with support groups and 12-step programs, like Sex Addicts Anonymous or Sexaholics Anonymous. Most people will require a combination of these modalities to manage their behavior and ultimately regain control over their lives. Sexual compulsivity is an extremely trying mental health condition, but it can be overcome with appropriate treatment and dedication to healing.


Karen Stollznow, Ph.D. - website - books

Connect with Our Specialists
Today

Learn more about your treatment issue

Does My Insurance Cover Counseling?

Most insurance companies do cover counseling, call us today to check your benefits

Therapy Counseling Treatment Mental Health.jpg

In-Person or Virtual?

We offer confidential, personal therapy space in locations all around Greater Houston.  We also service all of Texas with virtual therapy options.

Get Help Today

At The Resilience Center of Houston, we work with children, teens, and adults who struggle with life stressors and transitions, behavioral problems, and mental health disorders. Our mission is to empower you to live your fullest life and support you on your journey toward self-discovery. Our licensed therapists provide virtual online counseling to those across Texas, work in person at several locations in greater Houston, and are in-network with most major Insurance and EAP programs. Take the first step towards healing with compassionate care with experts you can trust.

bottom of page