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.