The term “sex addiction” describes compulsive and uncontrollable sexual thoughts, urges and behavior. Check out these sex addiction facts to clear up some of the myths surrounding the addiction and learn about its effects and risks.

 1. Sex Addiction Is Real, but Controversial

Psychiatrists are still coming to a conclusion about exactly what sex addiction is. That’s why it’s not described as a distinct diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). This is the diagnostic handbook published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Sexual addiction can be diagnosed using the DSM-5 and other diagnostic tools as an illness of “other specified sexual dysfunction.” When someone says they have sex addiction, they have probably been diagnosed with hypersexual disorder or compulsive sexual behavior disorder.

One of the most crucial sex addiction facts to understand is that sex addiction is real. People with sex addiction feel unable to control their need for sex. They often use sex as a coping or avoidant mechanism. Whether it’s called sex addiction or something else, many people struggle with compulsive sexual behavior.

2. Sex Addiction Isn’t a Joke

There’s a tendency for society to think of sex addiction as a joke, or as a problem that isn’t all that serious. Some people write off sex addiction as nothing more than a high libido or having a healthy enjoyment of sex.

Sex addiction is no joke; it’s a behavioral disorder that’s as real as any other. There’s a big difference between enjoying sex and feeling a compulsion to have sex. It’s a strong drive the sex addict is unable to resist. It has serious real-life consequences that affect both the person who’s addicted to sex and people in their life, especially their loved ones.

3. It’s Unclear What Kind of Addiction Sex Addiction Is

Even among experts who consider sexual addiction a distinct illness, there’s some disagreement over what kind of addiction it is.

Some experts believe it’s like alcoholism or a drug addiction. They believe sex can affect brain chemistry as alcohol and drugs do. Others believe that sex addiction is a behavioral or process addiction. This means it’s more like a gambling addiction than a drug addiction.

So far, research hasn’t provided conclusive results. One study compared people who were addicted to pornography and people with substance or behavioral addictions. It found no similarities in brain activity between the two groups. A later study compared the brains of sex addicts and drug addicts and did find some similarities. In a 2017 study, researchers found that people diagnosed with compulsive sexual disorder had structural brain differences compared to the brains of healthy controls.

Researchers don’t yet agree on what defines a sex addiction. With other kinds of addictions, one defining factor is how it affects your life. If your sexual behavior is out of control and repeatedly causes major problems in your life, you might have an addiction.

4. It’s More Common Than You Think

Sex addiction doesn’t appear in the spotlight very often, and this makes it seem like a rare and unusual problem. But compulsive sexual behavior is a lot more common than most people realize.

More than 1,500 Sex Addicts Anonymous® meetings take place every week in the US. It’s estimated that between 3% and 6% of adults have problems with compulsive sexual behavior. Increasingly, rehab centers across the country are including programs for treating sex addiction.

Another misconception about sex addiction is that it’s mostly men who are sex addicts. Around 40% of people who have problems with compulsive sexual behavior are women.

5. Sex Addicts Don’t Always Enjoy Sex

For a sex addict, sex isn’t necessarily pleasurable. Their inability to resist the compulsion means they might feel shame or disgust afterwards. Sex itself is less pleasurable, and the addiction means they can’t stop themselves.

Sexual compulsion means sex addicts are more likely to have risky sexual encounters. They’re more likely to have sex with people they don’t know well and to have unprotected sex. This means they’re at risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Sex addicts risk harming themselves with risky sexual behavior, and there’s a risk to loved ones. If the sex addict contracts an STI, they risk passing it on to their partner. Infidelity can also cause lasting harm to personal relationships.

Not all sex addicts engage in risky sexual activities with others. Some are addicted to other kinds of sexual behavior like pornography or compulsive masturbation. There’s no risk of contracting an STI from addition to porn or masturbation, but they can still have a big impact. For some addicts, the compulsive behavior leads to a damaging lack of intimacy in their relationships, physical harm to themselves, or poor job performance because of porn-viewing patterns.

6. There Are Consequences of Sex Addiction

A 2012 study was designed to develop criteria for diagnosing hypersexual disorder. In this study, researchers examined how people’s lives were affected by their sex addiction.

For instance, they looked at people’s sexual behavior and the number of sexual partners they had. They found that most people in the study either had sex with sex workers, or had many affairs or short-term sex partners. The average person in the study had 15 sex partners in the previous 12-month period.

They also found that people who met the criteria for hypersexual disorder often experienced negative consequences because of their behavior. Those people were more likely to experience negative consequences than people diagnosed with substance use disorders.

  • 58% of people said their sexual behavior was a problem before they reached the age of 18. For 30% of people, it was between 18 and 25 years old.
  • 17% of people had lost a job at least once due to their sexual behavior.
  • 39% had a relationship end.
  • 28% contracted a sexually transmitted disease.
  • 78% said their compulsive behavior interfered with their ability to have a healthy sex life.

In the published study, the researchers said, “It’s not that a lot of people don’t take sexual risks from time to time or use sex on occasion to cope with stress or just escape, but for these patients, it’s a constant pattern that escalates until their desire for sex is controlling every aspect of their lives and they feel powerless in their efforts to change.”

7. Sex Addiction Can Fuel Further Risky Behavior

Sex addiction and compulsive sexual behavior often lead to intense feelings of guilt and shame. This can lead sex addicts into other kinds of harmful behavior.

Eighty-three percent of self-identified sex addicts show signs of other kinds of addictive behavior. They might be workaholics, abuse drugs or alcohol or have a gambling addiction. Thirty-eight percent have some kind of eating disorder. Fifty-eight percent of people with compulsive sexual behavior have been depressed during their lives.

Get Help for Sex Addiction

No matter how it’s described or diagnosed, living with a sex addiction is painful and potentially risky.

If you or a loved one are struggling with compulsive sexual behavior, there is hope, and help. Call The Ranch at 844-876-7680 today to take the first step, a free and confidential consultation.

Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

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