What Is "Sex Addiction"?

For some people, sexual desires, thoughts, and behavior can become problematic. Such people may be preoccupied with sexual fantasies and urges and act on them — repeatedly sending explicit texts and images or fondling others without consent are examples — while feeling that they have no control over their behavior. Such behavior is often popularly referred to as “sex addiction,” a term that has little medical or scientific validity, or, more medically, hypersexuality. However, the terms “sex addiction” and “hypersexuality” are best regarded as a kind of cultural shorthand for perceived problems in regulating thoughts and behaviors related to sex, whether the problem stems from lack of impulse control, a greater than average sex drive, some combination of the two, or a moral code that proscribes sexual activity.

The kind of problematic behavior often believed to reflect "sexual addiction" may mask an underlying state of depression or anxiety, in which case sexual activity may be an attempt to remedy underlying distress, even though it can create its own array of negative consequences, from declining physical health and financial problems to disruption of existing relationships and career. Typically, it is accompanied by feelings of deep shame. Often a contributing problem is the belief that sexual thoughts or behavior of any kind are shameful or a moral violation. Recent studies have shown that many men who identify as “sex addicts” actually engage in less sexual activity than average, but feel more shame about their sexuality or have more negative attitudes about sex.

How the condition is labeled is important, because the label suggests treatment. Most scientifically trained experts believe that the best treatment for problematic sexual behavior is psychotherapy that explores the person’s underlying feelings and ability to regulate feelings, beliefs about self, past sexual experiences, and more. Many scientific organizations condemn the use of addiction models for treating “sex addiction,” because they take a moralistic approach to sexuality concerns. 

Recent posts on Sex Addiction

K. Ramsland

Women Aroused by Murder

By Katherine Ramsland Ph.D. on December 12, 2017 in Shadow Boxing
Some female serial killers defy notions in criminology and sexology that women develop sexual addictions.

Reducing Hard Candy Christmases, One Family At a Time

By John-Manuel Andriote on December 11, 2017 in Stonewall Strong
Teaching parents that sexual orientation is about more than sex is a key to supporting their gay kids.
Juno Gemini DeiantArt Licensed for non-commercial use Google Images

Why Do Some Men Engage in Sexual Exhibitionism?

By Michael Bader D.M.H. on December 10, 2017 in What Is He Thinking?
One of the weirdest sexual behaviors exhibited by some of the men busted for sexual harassment is masturbating in front of a woman (e.g. Louis C.K.). The real cause is anxiety.

My Parents Cheated. Does That Mean I Will Cheat?

By Grant Hilary Brenner M.D. on December 08, 2017 in ExperiMentations
Infidelity is of constant interest, especially during the holidays when intimacy reigns. New research sheds light on how our parents' behavior affects our relationship decisions.
M. P. Priestley

The Ripper's Home Base?

By Katherine Ramsland Ph.D. on December 05, 2017 in Shadow Boxing
As we approach the 130th anniversary of the Ripper murders, we see more theories about whodunnit; here's one that offers details from original reports.

They Say They're a Sex Addict. Is It Automatically True?

By David J Ley Ph.D. on December 01, 2017 in Women Who Stray
Just because a person says they feel they are addicted to sex, does it mean it's automatically true?

Don't Call Harvey Weinstein a Sex Addict

All too often everything from having extramarital affairs to watching porn to desiring different sexual experiences with a reluctant partner is lumped together as sex addiction.

Sex Addiction Summer Camp or Toxic Masculinity?

By David J Ley Ph.D. on October 11, 2017 in Women Who Stray
Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein joins the long line of men who flee to sex addiction treatment in an effort to avoid or suppress sexual scandals.

Harvey Weinstein Proves Sex Addiction Doesn't Exist

By Marty Klein Ph.D. on October 11, 2017 in Sexual Intelligence
Labelling Harvey Weinstein a "sex addict" allows us to confidently say "I'm not like that," rather than encouraging us to look at our own pain.

Simple Steps to Porn/Sex Addiction Recovery

By Sam Louie MA, LMHC on April 03, 2017 in Minority Report
What do you do if you're not ready for therapy but need "action steps" to help you with sex addiction recovery? This recovery "packet of information" can be a great start...

The Misleading “Sexual Addiction” Label

The term “sexual addiction” carries misconceptions that can lead client and therapist down the wrong road

Sex Addiction is About Morality, Not Sex

By David J Ley Ph.D. on December 05, 2015 in Women Who Stray
Study after study finds that sex addiction is about a moral conflict over sexuality, not about frequency of sex behaviors.

Is Sex Addiction Real?

Is sex addiction more of a guy thing?