When considering the severity of addiction, alcohol, and drugs almost always come up in conversation. One addiction that might not spring to mind is sex.
Yet, some estimates put the number of sexual addictions annually at close to 30 million people in the U.S. alone. Sex addiction is absolutely real and can be extremely destructive to healthy relationships. While there are treatment options, from addiction treatment centers to self-help, the signs are easily hidden from others.
If you or a loved one are struggling with sexual addiction, there is hope. We will discuss the signs of sexual addiction, so you know what to watch out for and what you can do about it if you notice these problematic patterns of behavior.
Are Sexual Activities Addictive?
Human beings can become addicted to almost anything.
There are even support groups for those addicted to video games, gambling, shopping, and exercise. Sexual addiction is less commonly discussed but still extremely prevalent in the U.S.
Are sexual activities addictive in and of themselves?
The short answer is “no.” Most people can enjoy sexual activity with a partner without becoming addicted. A healthy sex life is crucial to building lasting intimacy within romantic relationships and can help lower stress levels to improve heart health.
For some people prone to addiction, however, sex can become an obsession. When that happens, sexual thoughts and activities can impede a happy and healthy life. Sexual addiction can also damage or destroy pre-existing romantic relationships or partnerships. It can ruin the ability to form meaningful connections with others.
What Symptoms Do Sexual Activities Cause?
Any sexual activity can have consequences. Most are positive. This is especially true in the context of a healthy romantic relationship.
Occasionally, sexual activity can lead to emotional and physical harm. The following are a few symptoms to be aware of, and, if they become persistent, to consider them as indicators of possible sex addiction.
1. Destroyed Relationships
If a person is cutting off close relationships and channels all their energy into pursuing sexual partners, it can be a sign of dysfunction that leads to addiction.
Someone may also cheat on their partner to fulfill their sexual addictions. The feelings of shame and guilt associated with cheating or risky sexual behavior lead to destroyed marriages and relationships. Research shows that between 20-40% of all divorces are due to infidelity.
2. Dangerous Behavior
Sexual addiction almost always leads to impulsive, risky behavior. Risky behavior can include engaging in the following:
- Unsafe (unprotected) sex
- Illegal activity, like hiring an escort or sex worker
- Compulsive sexual behavior that hurts you or your partner
- Compulsive sexual activity with “dangerous” partners (drug addicts, violent people, etc.)
- Compulsive sexual activity that puts you at increased risk of STDs/STIs
Much of the damage associated with unsafe or risky sexual behavior is mental and emotional. A sexually unhealthy relationship can result in profound self-image issues, loneliness, or feelings of emptiness. In extreme situations, risky sexual behavior can lead to depression or suicidal ideation.
3. Emotional Distress
Those with a sex addiction may neglect the need for genuine love and connection, instead only concerned with how to fulfill their sexual needs.
In many cases of sexual addiction, sex addicts use sex as a means of coping with a history of trauma and abuse. Rather than addressing these problems through counseling or therapy, they find solace in sexual experiences. They may value the attention they receive during sex or seek the thrill of a dopamine rush from risky sex acts.
However, outside of the context of a supportive and nurturing romantic relationship, sex usually fuels problems of poor self-worth and loneliness.
4. Work Issues
Every new couple has a honeymoon period where getting to work on time can be a struggle. They would probably rather roll around in bed than clock in for their shift or face the morning commute.
When sexual addiction begins to manifest, work becomes less important. It gets put on the back burner. What used to be getting to work a few minutes late becomes a chronic issue, and work absences become an issue.
A sex addict might even compromise their job by trying to pursue sexual relationships with employees or staff members.
5. Health Issues
Sexual addiction can cause severe health problems, especially if risky behavior with strangers is involved. The most significant risks are sexually transmitted diseases and infections (STDs/STIs):
While people think curing these infections is as easy as taking a couple of pills, many of these STDs are becoming antibiotic resistant—making them incredibly hard to treat.
They’re also often asymptomatic, which means you can unknowingly carry them for years without symptoms, passing them onto numerous other sexual partners.
Untreated STDs and STIs can lead to PID in women, infertility in men and women, along with impaired sexual function.
3 Signs a Person Might Have a Sex Addiction Problem: Things To Watch For
Noticeable symptoms of sexual addiction can be tricky to observe because sexual addicts tend to hide their behavior. The sex addict might be the only person to know about their behaviors, aside from their sexual partners. Partners might even be oblivious.
If you have a loved one or partner with a sexual addiction, for instance, you will not likely catch them on dating apps or know they have an STD.
While there are many red flags that indicate a sexual addiction, a few warning signs stand out.
1. Preoccupation With Sex
A true preoccupation with sex goes beyond a casual conversation or flirting. A person struggling with sexual addiction will be obsessed with sex and having sex. That obsession will reveal itself by the addict self-isolating to prioritize sexual encounters, always looking for a hookup, and constantly trying to initiate sex.
2. Secrecy With a Partner
Sex addicts frequently self-isolate to satiate their sexual obsessions. Their self-isolation might be because they are embarrassed by their sexual encounters or the frequency with which they indulge in risky sex.
It also might be because they are maintaining a sexual relationship where secrecy is critical—in cases of affairs, cheating, and infidelity.
3. Prioritizing Sex
A person who is constantly exhausted or is always changing plans for a sexual encounter or hookup might have a sexual addiction.
None of those signs in and of themselves are indicators, but when repeated often or accompanied by stories from the addict about their sexual activities or escapades, addiction might be the cause.
At What Point Are Sexual Activities a Problem?
Healthy sexual activities do not intrude on a person’s everyday life or influence them to commit risky behavior.
When sexual activity leads to unsafe sex, substance abuse, sexually abusive relationships, or obsessive behavior, it, or the pursuit of it, is a problem. These are clear indications of an addiction that might require treatment—like seeking support groups.
For example, a loving couple can engage in sexual activity 4-5 times a week, and it does not interfere with daily life. In fact, it helps foster intimacy and lower stress.
However, if sex is disrupting employment opportunities, destroying romantic relationships, leading to risky sex, or resulting in bodily harm (STDs), it is a problem that needs addressing.
How Do You Deal With Someone Who Has a Sexual Addiction?
If someone you know or love shows signs of addiction, like those outlined in this article, the most important step you can take is to help them acknowledge a potential problem and seek help outside themselves.
Rarely, if the addiction is acute enough, an intervention might be appropriate, but pursuing that route should be taken with extreme caution and be the last resort. People with addictions are often argumentative when confronted with the reality of their behavior.
A good starting point is to simply let them know you are there for them and don’t judge them.
Educate yourself about sex addiction and treatment options. Choose your words very carefully and let them know you support them no matter what.
Listen to them if they want to discuss their sex life and try to steer them in the right direction. Finally, do not explicitly tell them what to do.
Additional Addictions To Watch For
Additional addictions can accompany sexual addiction, or sexual addiction can lead to risky behavior that results in other addictions. Here are a few addictions that are closely related to sexual addiction:
- Signs of Love Addiction: Love addiction involves an obsession with capturing the feeling of affection but can easily harm healthy romantic relationships.
- Signs of Porn Addiction: A porn addiction includes preoccupation with viewing pornography, self-isolation to indulge in porn, and no interest in real intimacy.
- Signs of Internet Addiction: Internet addiction can include social media obsessions and trying to hide user history on search engines out of shame.
Sexual addiction might not be the most destructive addiction you think of, but it can be as harmful as any other form of addiction.
Fortunately, there are many treatment options for those with sex addiction, including rehabilitation centers, support groups, counseling, sex therapy, and self-help resources.
If you suffer from sexual addiction or know someone that does, seek help before it impairs your ability to have successful and healthy relationships.