Sex Addiction and Women: Shame and Guilt May Prevent Recovery

They’re logging hours behind the computer screen, searching for sex-themed sites. They’re avoiding social engagements to search for sex online, and even looking for x-rated sites in the workplace despite the consequences. Who are they? They’re wives, mothers, sisters and friends, representing a surge in women who are living with sex addiction.

While research continues to examine the multiple causes and treatments for sexual addiction, the condition remains complex. In some cases, women respond differently to sexual addiction than men. In other cases, the following signs of sexual addiction exist and overlap between men and women:

  • Fantasizing or having recurring thoughts about having sex in public or inappropriate places
  • Consistent urges to find new sexual partners, even if it means paid services or strangers
  • A need for the "high" that comes from a sexual encounter, despite the consequences, and an increasing need to have more bizarre or intense experiences to achieve that high

Experts believe more attention is shifting toward women with sexual addictions because of the increasing availability and anonymity associated with online sexual experiences. Women can assume a false identity online and act out sexual experiences with the belief that they can remain anonymous, and in many cases, these kinds of sexual encounters can become an outlet for emotional problems in their real-life marriage or relationship.

Consequences for sexual addiction include a higher risk for STDs, broken marriages and families and loss of career and finances. Experts don’t know exactly how many women may have the dangerous addiction, because many keep the addiction in secret rather than seeking professional help to reach a state of recovery. Overall, an estimated six percent of the U.S. adult population is believed to have sexual addiction.

For women, the feelings of shame and guilt associated with sexual addiction may be stronger than for men and prevent them from seeking treatment for even longer periods of time. Many experts believe women may feel they will be labeled as promiscuous if they seek treatment for their sexual addiction. Further complicating the issue of women and sexual addiction is the likelihood of co-occurring illnesses, such as anxiety disorders or depression, which can also be tied with past sexual abuse.

Like other addictions, sex addiction is progressive and consuming. The condition is marked by a lost ability to control cravings for sexual behavior or thoughts about sex, even to the point of depression and anxiety. Contrasting stereotyped beliefs, sexual addiction is linked closely to deep-seeded intimacy problems and is more based on a sense of escape rather than sexual pleasure.

For some women, sexual addiction occurs alongside love addiction – two similar but distinct conditions that both require professional help and are often rooted in long-held intimacy problems. Experts suggest that an initial step toward recovery for both men and women with sexual addiction is to set aside denial and begin to consider the types of deeply held and damaging beliefs they may have about themselves – beliefs which may lie in close connection to sexually dysfunctional behaviors.

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