The Polyamorists Next Door

Exploring the world of consensual non-monogamy

Is Polyamory a Form of Sex Addiction?

Is sex addiction having more sex than the person providing the diagnosis?

Woman with bare legs lying on a couch; words read
Sex addiction can be sensational, providing fuel for tabloid coverage of golf stars and talk shows.
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While some people see sexual addiction as an uncontrollable compulsion, or a pernicious threat to mental health and the wellbeing of relationships, others doubt the existence of sex addition and see it instead as a symptom of sex negativity employed by moralists using subjective criteria, a stumbling block that stalls any true conversation about meanings and origins and focuses instead on simply stopping the behaviors, or a lucrative way to convince people they need expensive treatment and fuel for reality shows.

Clearly sex addiction itself is a contested concept, and sexuality and the possibility of addictive or compulsive behavior in poly relationships are even murkier. Even though many people assume polyamorous folks are having lots of sex with many different people, the reality is generally considerably less slutty. In fact, poly people often spend far more time having in-depth conversations about feelings and relationship boundaries than actually having sex. This is not to say that poly people never have sex—they certainly do. Sex is simply not the central focus or primary activity in their relationships.

The intensity, complexity, and communication requirements of polyamory actually make it more likely that some poly folks will be drama junkies, rather than sex addicts. Having lots of creative sex is more likely to happen for swingers, who tend to emphasize sexual variety over emotional intimacy with multiple partners. Even so, does that mean swingers are sex addicts? Given the level of suspicion of the diagnosis of sex addiction among (sex positive) counselors, it is unlikely that most swingers would be diagnosed as sex addicts.

A seated white man waving his hands, screaming
When things go awry in poly relationships there can be some serious freaking out.
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Elisabeth Sheff, Ph.D., is an expert on polyamory and sexual-minority families with children.


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