Women make up a fairly small percentage of the number of people who seek help for sex addiction. However, when they do seek sex addiction counseling, women can potentially receive unique benefits from programs that offer gender-specific treatment. That’s true, in large part, because affected women typically experience different symptoms than affected men. In addition, sex-addicted women tend to come from different backgrounds than sex-addicted men.
What Is Sex Addiction?
Unlike the situation for various forms of substance addiction, there is no agreed-upon definition of sex addiction in the U.S. In addition, the condition goes by a number of names, including hypersexual disorder, compulsive sexual behavior and hypersexuality. Despite these somewhat confusing facts, researchers have uncovered a range of problems frequently found in people with a clearly dysfunctional relationship to sex. These problems include:
- Losing your ability to control your level of involvement in sex, sexual thought and/or sexual fantasy
- Relying on sex or sexual thought or fantasy to avoid unpleasant thoughts or emotions
- Repeatedly engaging in sex, sexual thought or fantasy in situations that could harm your health or the health of other people
- Repeatedly having sex or engaging in sexual thought or fantasy during times normally devoted to important responsibilities or obligations, and
- Continuing a harmful pattern of sexual behavior, thought or fantasy despite experiencing negative repercussions
Symptoms in Women
Men affected by sex addiction tend to express their desires in specifically sexual terms that focus on physical acts much more than emotions or feelings. However, women affected by the condition have a much greater tendency to express their desires in terms of love and relationships. In fact, women with sex addiction frequently also display overlapping symptoms of another unofficially defined condition called love addiction. Possible symptoms of this condition include:
- An obsessive focus on the classic ideals of romantic love
- Use of manipulative behaviors (including sex) to control a romantic partner
- An outsized fear of losing a romantic partner
- An absence of emotional closeness within romantic relationships
- The tendency to confuse sexually intense experiences for love
- An inability to feel a sense of personal well-being when not in a relationship, and
- A frequent need for overt displays of devotion from a romantic partner
Women affected by love addiction may also turn to sex, sexual thought and fantasy largely as substitutes for lack of a current romantic partner. Only roughly 8% to 12% of all people who enter sex addiction counseling are women. However, this fact may be due at least in part to the different ways men and women perceive (or fail to perceive) their condition.
Backgrounds of Affected Women
There is another factor pointing to a need for gender-specific sex addiction counseling for women: the differences in the backgrounds of affected women as compared to men.
Issues in men that may increase risks for an addictive relationship to sex include:
- Poor parental attachment in early childhood
- Incestuous parent/child relationships that remain hidden during childhood, and
- Exposure to emotional neglect during childhood
Issues that may increase risks for women include:
- Overt cases of parental or sibling sexual abuse during childhood
- Exposure to physical neglect during childhood, and
- Exposure to rape or other forms of forcible sexual assault
It’s worth noting that not all women or men affected by sex addiction experienced any such traumas in their early years.
Psychiatry: Understanding and Managing Compulsive Sexual Behaviors https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2945841/
Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity: Differentiating the Female Sex Addict: A Literature Review Focused on Themes of Gender Difference Used to Inform Recommendations for Treating Women With Sex Addiction http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10720162.2014.931266
Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous: Characteristics of Sex and Love Addiction https://slaafws.org/download/core-files/Characteristics-of-Sex-Love-Addiction.pdf