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Sexual addiction

The term sexual addiction is used to describe the behaviour of a person who has an unusually intense sex drive or an obsession with sex. Sex and the thought of sex tend to dominate the sex addict's thinking, making it difficult to work or engage in healthy personal relationships.

Sex addicts engage in distorted thinking, often rationalising and justifying their behaviour and blaming others for problems. They generally deny they have a problem and make excuses for their actions.

Sexual addiction is also associated with risk-taking. A person with a sex addiction engages in various forms of sexual activity, despite the potential for negative and/or dangerous consequences. In addition to damaging the addict's relationships and interfering with his or her work and social life, a sexual addiction also puts the person at risk of emotional and physical injury.

For some people, the sex addiction progresses to involve illegal activities, such as exhibitionism (exposing oneself in public), making obscene phone calls, or molestation. However, it should be noted that sex addicts do not necessarily become sex offenders.

Behaviour associated with sexual addiction includes:

  • Compulsive masturbation (self-stimulation)
  • Multiple affairs (extra-marital affairs)
  • Multiple or anonymous sexual partners and/or one-night stands
  • Consistent use of pornography
  • Unsafe sex
  • Phone or computer sex (cybersex)
  • Prostitution or use of prostitutes
  • Exhibitionism
  • Obsessive dating through personal ads
  • Voyeurism (watching others) and/or stalking
  • Sexual harassment
  • Molestation/rape

In general, people with a sex addiction gain little satisfaction from the sexual activity and form no emotional bond with their sex partners. In addition, the problem of sex addiction often leads to feelings of guilt and shame. Sex addicts also feel a lack of control over their behaviour, in spite of negative consequences (financial, health, social, and emotional).

How is sexual addiction treated?

Most sex addicts live in denial of their addiction, and treating an addiction is dependent upon the person accepting and admitting that there is a problem. In many cases, it takes a significant event - such as the loss of a job, the break-up of a marriage, an arrest, or health crisis - to force the addict to admit to the problem.

Treatment of sexual addiction focuses on controlling the addictive behaviour and helping the person develop healthy sexual behaviours. Treatment includes education about healthy sexual behaviours, individual counselling and marital and/or family therapy. Support groups and 12-step recovery programmes for people with sexual addictions, like Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (UK), are also available. In some cases, medication used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder may be used to curb the compulsive nature of the sex addiction.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on November 03, 2016

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