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Sex Addiction

What is sex addiction?

Sex addiction is a compulsive need to perform sexual acts in order to achieve the kind of "fix" that an alcoholic gets from a drink and an addict gets from a drug. Sex addiction can be a highly dangerous and destructive condition. Like drug or alcohol dependence, it affects the addict’s mental health, personal relationships, quality of life, and safety. It is somewhat common, but is often not diagnosed.

Usually, a sex addict seeks out multiple sex partners or may have (illegal) relations with children, animals, or objects. The addiction may include a compulsive need to masturbate, view pornography, or be in sexually stimulating situations. The addict may significantly alter their life and activities in order to perform sexual acts multiple times a day. A sex addict cannot control their behavior, despite severe negative consequences.

What are the symptoms of sex addiction?

Sex addiction can be difficult to spot from the outside. Most addicts become skilled at hiding their behavior and can even keep the addiction secret from spouses, partners, and family members. They will do this by lying about their activities or engaging in them at times and places where they won’t be found out. But, sometimes symptoms are present and noticeable. A person might have a sex addiction if they show some or all of the following signs:

  • chronic, obsessive sexual thoughts and fantasies
  • frequent relations with multiple partners, including strangers
  • lying to cover their addiction
  • preoccupation with having sex, even when it interferes with daily life, productivity, work performance, etc.
  • inability to stop or control the behaviors
  • putting oneself or others in danger due to sexual behavior
  • engaging in illegal sexual activity with prostitutes or minors
  • need for dominance and control in sexual encounters
  • feeling remorse or guilt after sex
  • other negative personal or professional consequences

A sex addiction can be hard to diagnose. It’s important to remember that enjoying sexual activity does not make one a sex addict. Enjoying sex is normal. Sometimes, sexual interest may be discordant between members of a couple. This does not mean that one is a sex addict.

A sex addict is typically someone who has a compulsive need to perform sexual acts and appears to have no control over these impulses. Their sexual appetite cannot be quenched and nothing can stand in the way of their trying to fulfill this need. Even the love one has for a spouse can be put on the line when there is a sex addiction. Like other addictions, it is a disease and can change a person in many ways.

What are the treatments for sex addiction?

Unlike other addictions, treatment for sex addiction cannot require the addict to give up sex for the rest of his or her life. This is unrealistic. Sex is a normal and healthy human function. But a sex addict must learn the difference between healthy and unhealthy sexual behavior. This process can often take months or years. Treatment for sex addiction usually includes one or more of the following methods:

Inpatient treatment programs

There are many different inpatient treatment centers that offer sex addiction recovery programs. Often, sex addicts must be removed from their normal daily lives for at least 30 days to help them regain control of their impulses and start healing. These types of programs typically include in-depth individual and group therapy sessions.

12-step programs

Programs such as sex addicts anonymous (SA) follow the same recovery model as alcoholics anonymous (AA). They can be very helpful for sex addicts. Members are not required to give up sex entirely, but they are encouraged to refrain from compulsive and destructive sexual behavior. Group meetings with other sex addicts provide a good support system.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

This type of therapy can help a sex addict identify triggers for sexual impulses and ultimately teach them how to cope through behavioral changes. This is achieved through one-on-one sessions with a licensed mental health therapist.


Some sex addicts benefit from a course of drug therapy, and certain antidepressants might help alleviate urges. Also, because addiction often accompanies mental health issues like depression, a prescription treatment may assist in combating the cause of the addiction.

What is the outlook for sex addiction?

A sex addict faces a unique set of challenges. It may be necessary for them to abstain from sex for up to a year. This period of abstinence can help sex addicts learn to identify the causes of their urges and explore deeper emotional issues that might be contributing to the manifestation of the addiction.

If sex addiction is left untreated, sex addicts will continue to engage in risky behaviors. They may put their health and the health of their partner(s) at risk through unprotected sex. If they are married or in a relationship, they could transmit sexually transmitted diseases to their partner. Also, sex addiction can cause the destruction of a marriage because of the stress of infidelity. Finally, a sex addict could end up in prison for engaging in illegal sexual acts like solicitation, rape, or molestation.

Like a compulsive eater, a sex addict must learn the difference between natural, healthy urges and addictive ones. They will have to learn how to have positive sexual encounters without losing control. For sex addicts, there is not necessarily a "cure," but there are ways to manage the condition and live a normal, balanced life. This means the addiction is something they will likely have to deal with for the rest of their lives. Long-term treatment solutions like SA meetings can assist in long-term recovery from sex addiction.

Even after recovery, spouses and family members of a sex addict may need to deal with a relapse. A relapse is when an addict turns to their addiction again, whether it’s a single act or for a longer period of time. This doesn’t mean they have failed, as it is often a normal part of the recovery process. As an addict progresses, relapses will happen less often. They will learn how to recognize triggers or the things that bring an episode on, and how to better manage them.

Help and resources

There are organizations that can provide support. If you or a loved one has a sex addiction, these resources may be helpful:

Content licensed from:

Written by: Mara Tyler
Medically reviewed on: Nov 08, 2016: Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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