Sexual Addiction: Definition, Common Signs & Options For Help


The human brain can often fall prey to compulsive behaviors. The state of being compelled to do a certain behavior without thinking of the consequences is the simplest definition of addiction.

Humans can suffer various addictions, but the most common addiction types include alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana.

But another highly prevalent type of addiction is sexual addiction. If you feel your urge to get sexual satisfaction is getting out of hand, you are not alone! Sex addiction is a common psychiatric disorder affecting about 4.7 million people in the U.S.

But do not fret! Sexual addiction is treatable with medications and therapy. Read on to learn all that you need to know about sexual urges and how to control them!

What Is a Sexual Addiction?

Hypersexuality or sexual addiction is a mental state characterized by an overwhelming desire and urge of carrying out sexual behaviors.

Sex addicts experience repetitive sexual thoughts and may indulge in sexual activities like excessive masturbation, pornography, or engaging in risky sex.

The uncontrollable desire to engage in excessive sexual acts can also lead to interaction with multiple partners. That conduct lays the foundation for a poor romantic relationship with a spouse or partner.

Most addicts are focused on fulfilling their desire so much that they often completely neglect the physical and financial complications that arise from it.

Accordingly, the inability to control intense and frequent sexual fantasies and impulses severely tampers with one’s work and personal life.

As addicts might go out of the way to engage in sexual acts, it often comes at the expense of negative consequences like poor health and strained personal and social relationship disruptions.

Research shows that sexual addicts are prone to suffering from the following complications:

  • Genital trauma
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Substance abuse disorder (SUD)

Therefore, seeking therapy for sexual addiction becomes vital, especially when it starts to impact your personal, professional, and social life!

Do Sexual Urges Go Away?

Many people with sexual addiction live under the false notion that sexual urges can subside on their own. But the truth is that these urges typically do not go away without proper treatment.

Individuals with compulsive sexual behaviors have recurrent sexual thoughts that are often hard to control. Dysregulation of emotion is a salient feature of the disorder.

Neurological dysregulation contributes to sexual arousal and acts as a means to cope with negative thoughts. Therefore, sexual urges rarely go away without professional help.

Forms of Sexual Addiction

Sexual addiction can take different forms. Based on the patients referred to the hospital, clinical studies identify the following types of sexual addiction behaviors.

Paraphilic Hypersexuality

It is characterized by high sexual frequencies (often distressing) like chronic adultery, viewing pornography several hours a day, and soliciting prostitutes.

Avoidant (Excessive) Masturbation

Such individuals do not have any paraphilic feelings and only enjoy masturbating to pornography.

Chronic Adultery

Individuals falling in this category are frequently found cheating with their partners.

Sexual Guilt

This type includes patients who have self-reported hypersexuality. Such individuals are distressed and guilty over sexual behaviors but do not fall into the extreme category.

Designated Patients

These types of sex addicts are reported by their spouses after discovering their infidelity and paraphilic demands.

Sexual Addiction Statistics

It is a fact that sexual addiction is a relatively common addiction that needs medical attention.

According to a study, compulsive sexual behavior is a prevalent addiction that needs more evidence-based treatments.

The following are some statistics as they relate to sexual addiction:

  • The average prevalence of compulsive sexual behavior (addiction) in American adults ranges from 3% to 6%.
  • A 2022 survey reveals that the prevalence of sex addiction was higher in males (4.9%) than in females (3%).
  • The lifetime prevalence of sexual addiction (5.6%) is high in OCD patients.
  • Distress is present in 8.6% of hypersexual individuals.
  • 17% of people with sex addiction have tried to commit suicide

What Are the Signs of Sexual Addiction?

Several emotional or physical signs can point toward compulsive sexual behavior, including the ones below.

Masturbating Excessively

Masturbation is a healthy and safe way to relieve sexual stress and practice self-care. However, excessive masturbation that occurs multiple times a day to achieve sexual satisfaction is a prominent feature of sexual addiction.

Research highlights the association between compulsive sexual behaviors and increased rates of intercourse, masturbation, and sexual fantasies. The urge to masturbate excessively is attributed to increased sexual excitation.

Addicts masturbate to the point where it starts to interfere with their daily functioning. They may also engage in it even when they are not experiencing arousal.

Another theory proposes that addicts do not achieve sexual satiation with intercourse and, thus, turn to masturbation for satisfaction.

Spending Excessive Time on Sexual Activities

Sexual addicts frequently fantasize about or carry out sexual activities. Spending excessive time thinking about sex is a sign of addiction.

Sexual addiction often preoccupies the sufferer to the extent that they prioritize sex over other essential aspects of life like family, job, recreation, and social gatherings, isolating themselves to cater to their sexual needs.

That might include masturbating, watching porn, meeting prostitutes, and having virtual sex.

It can severely disrupt their social and personal relationships while negatively impacting their professional life.

Feeling Guilty or Depressed

Feelings of guilt and regret often accompany sexual activities and fantasies, and the cycle continues until the addict indulges in the next sexual act. Individuals are also prone to psychiatric disorders.

Research reveals that compulsive sexual behaviors have a link to:

  • Alcohol abuse (44%)
  • Major depressive disorders (39.7%)
  • Bulimia nervosa (5.9%)
  • Substance abuse cocaine, cannabis (22.1%)

Feelings of remorse and shame follow the rewarding and pleasing sexual experience. The feelings are evident in individuals trying to control their fantasies.

Risky Sexual Behavior

Sexual addicts frequently indulge in risky sexual behaviors. A study highlights the following conditions constitute risky behavior:

  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Unprotected sex

These behaviors are highly prevalent in substance abuse addicts. Indulging in sexual intercourse with multiple individuals increases the chances of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

When a spouse can not fulfill the overwhelming sexual demands of the addict, several addicts pay for sex with sex workers. That also damages their relationship and increases the propensity for infections (such as HIV, syphilis, etc.) and genital trauma.

Indulging in Sexual Crimes

Unsuppressed sexual inclinations can push you a step closer to sexual vices.

A literature review found a potential link between sexual addiction and child sexual abuse.

According to a study, there is a high rate of underlying compulsive sexual behavior in sex offenders. Timely treatment can help prevent sexual offenses.

Types of Unhealthy Sexual Behavior

Sexual addicts frequently indulge in unhealthy sexual behaviors, which makes their addiction more evident and noticeable to those around them. These behaviors include:

  • Unprotected sex (without a condom) with sexually active individuals
  • Mouth-to-genital contact
  • Having excessive sex at a young age
  • Cheating on spouse with multiple sex partners
  • Involvement in sex trade work

What Is the Main Cause of Sexual Addiction?

While some addictions can sometimes be genetic, sexual addiction is almost always due to disturbances in the brain chemicals and connections.

The main causes of sexual addiction include the following.

Neurotransmitter Imbalance

Different neurotransmitters are responsible for mood and satisfaction. Serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine are the common neurotransmitters that regulate mood.

Case reports suggest a possible link between neurotransmitter imbalance in compulsive sexual behaviors. Higher than normal dopamine levels are a potential cause of addiction.

Neurological Pathways

Neurobiological studies reveal alterations in the brain circuitry of sexual addicts. Changes in the reinforcement centers of the brain are linked to the overstimulation of brain circuits.

Underlying Psychiatric Conditions

Another possible explanation for hypersexuality is an underlying psychiatric disorder. Numerous mental health disorders can make you prone to developing a hypersexual profile, like depression and anxiety, ADHD, and bipolar mania.

Epilepsy and dementia can also damage the brain and alter sexual behaviors.

As per studies, hypersexuality is present in 3.5% of Parkinson’s disease patients.

How Sexual Addiction Affects the Brain

Addiction causes significant changes in brain structure and functionality. The limbic system and the brain’s amygdala are entitled to impart feelings of satisfaction and reward.

Research shows impaired functional interaction between the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system. Therefore, sufferers experience impaired functional connectivity.

A 2021 study concludes that sexual addicts present with neurological changes similar to addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

What Is the Personality of a Hypersexual Person?

Hypersexuals experience recurring and uncontrollable sexual fantasies and suffer from several personality issues. They may struggle with depression and shame due to their perception of their sexual needs.

Sex addicts might spend an enormous amount of time watching porn or having sex with other partners, severely impacting their romantic relationship with their spouse as they are preoccupied with sexual behaviors.

Such individuals often give up recreational or physical activities to fulfill their sexual desires.

A sex addict might spend time alone, isolating themselves from others to engage in sexual activities like masturbation.

Is Sexual Addiction a Mental Health Issue?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does not categorize sexual addiction as a true psychological condition or addiction.

However, according to the ICD-10 criteria, sex addiction imparts satisfaction of the same level as an alcohol or opiate user.

Studies now advocate compulsive sexual behavior to be declared as a behavioral addiction.

What Mental Illnesses Go Hand in Hand with Sexual Addiction?

According to Cleveland Clinics, about 88% of people suffering from sexual addictions are diagnosed with other mental health conditions, such as:

  • Bipolar disorder: Bipolar mania can often lead to hypersexuality or heightened sexual interests, which can be due to increased energy or mood swings.
  • OCD: Research reveals that OCD sufferers have higher sexual impulses and engage in activities like internet porn.
  • Depression and anxiety: Individuals suffering from the conditions often turn to sexual behaviors like masturbation to cope with their symptoms.
  • ADHD: Many people with ADHD are hypersexual as they find sexual behavior like masturbating stimulating and may engage in sexual behaviors for stress and anxiety relief.

How Do I Stop My Sexual Addiction?

You can take various measures to prevent the aggravation of symptoms and overcome your sexual addiction. The first step is to talk to your family about the problem so they can support you through your journey to overcoming the addiction.

The best way to overcome your addiction is to seek immediate professional treatment from a psychologist or psychiatrist. Early intervention can result in substantial improvement while preventing worsening symptoms.

Can Sexual Addiction Ever Be Cured?

There is limited evidence on the treatment of sexual addiction. Appropriate treatment can alleviate symptoms and help control sexual urges, but complete addiction resolution is not reported.

What Is the Most Common Treatment for Sexual Addiction?

Various treatment approaches can help reduce or diminish symptoms of sexual addiction. Psychotherapy is the mainstay of sexual addiction.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a highly effective treatment modality for various psychiatric disorders that involves replacing unwanted thoughts and behaviors like sexual desires with other positive ideas.

Clinical research shows that CBT leads to a significant decrease in hypersexuality disorder symptoms.

Your physician might also prescribe different drugs as part of the treatment, including antidepressants, anti-androgens, and mood stabilizers to enhance mental health and treat hormonal issues.

Addiction support groups like the 12-Step Recovery Program can also play an essential role in helping you fight addictions.

What Can I Replace Sexual Things With?

You should try to replace your sexual activities with healthy activities like meditation and exercise.

Yoga and deep breathing exercises can help calm your mind and replace sexual activities with healthy activities.

Exercise can serve as an antidepressant and help rewire your brain by releasing dopamine and serotonin.

Frequently Asked Questions

The following are some frequently asked questions related to sexual addiction.

Why is sexual content so addictive?

Pornography and sexual content are so addictive because they provide high levels of reward and contentment. Sexual content triggers increased levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. The pleasure makes you addicted to pornography.

What hormones cause horniness?

The sex hormones testosterone and estrogen induce sexual arousal and lust. They cause horniness and promote indulgence in sexual activities such as intercourse and sexual content consumption.

Estrogen is present at higher levels only in women, while testosterone is responsible for horniness in both men and women.

Additional Actions to Be Aware of

It is not just sexual addiction to which you can fall prey. Other forms of addictions that you need to look out for, include the following.

  • Pornography Addiction: Pornography addiction refers to the frequent and irresistible urge or desire to watch porn.
  • Love Addiction: Obsessing over love or romance that negatively impacts you is known as love addiction.
  • Exercise Addiction: This is the overwhelming obsession with physical fitness, like spending long hours in the gym.

Wrapping Up

Sexual addiction is a psychiatric disorder characterized by excessive dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels and altered neural circuits.

Hypersexual individuals spend excessive time on sexual activities, intercourse with multiple partners, pornography, and masturbation.

They may indulge in risky sexual behavior like having unprotected sex, suffer guilt and depression and even engage in sexual crimes in extreme cases.

While there is no permanent cure for sex addiction, psychotherapy (CBT) is an effective treatment strategy to reduce sexual urges and alleviate associated symptoms


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