Sex addiction is what’s known as a behavioral or process addiction. This means someone compulsively engages in pleasurable behavior that is otherwise harmless. As the addiction develops, lasting chemical changes occur in the brain. This happens in a region called the pleasure center. The changes drive the addict’s compulsion to continue the problem behavior. Sex addiction is also called compulsive sexual behavior disorder or hypersexual disorder.

An estimated 3% to 6% of the U.S. population suffers from some form of addictive sexual behavior. They risk unplanned pregnancy, relationship issues and divorce. Some find it hard to develop intimate relationships with others. There’s also the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.

How Is a Sex Addiction Diagnosis Made?

Diagnosing a sexual addiction is challenging. One reason for this is the variation in sex-related behavior. It can include excessive:

  • Masturbation
  • Pornography use
  • Cybersex or phone sex
  • Visits to strip or sex clubs
  • Hiring of sex workers
  • Numbers of sexual partners

Another reason diagnosis is difficult is that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) doesn’t have clear criteria for hypersexual disorder.

Sex Addiction Diagnostic Criteria (ICD-11)

Hypersexual disorder can be diagnosed using the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The latest version, published in 2018, is the ICD-11. This version includes diagnostic criteria for compulsive sexual behavior disorder. Here, it’s classed not as an addiction, but as an impulse disorder.

In this version, the diagnostic criteria for compulsive sexual behavior disorder include:

  • Repeated sex-related behavior that interferes with important non-sexual interests, like health and personal care, work, and relationships.
  • Sex-related behavior as a way to cope with stressful life events
  • Sex-related behavior to cope with issues such as anxiety, depression or irritability.
  • Continuing the behavior despite the risk or the distress it causes you or others
  • Repeated failed efforts to control or reduce the behavior
  • A pattern of problematic sex-related behavior that has lasted at least six months.

In addition, the symptoms can’t be caused by other factors, like medication, substance abuse or manic episodes from bipolar disorder.

Alternative Diagnostic Criteria (CSATs)

Certified sexual addiction treatment specialists (CSATs) may also diagnose sex addiction. They do it based on three signs:

  • Thinking about sex to the point of obsession
  • Loss of control over sexual fantasies, urges and behaviors – This often includes failed attempts to quit or cut back.
  • Negative life consequences related to compulsive sexual activity – Examples include:
    • Ruined relationships
    • Work or school problems
    • Loss of interest in nonsexual activities
    • Financial problems
    • Loss of standing in the community
    • Legal issues

The Difference Between Addiction to Sex and a High Libido

Being addicted to sex isn’t the same thing as having a high sex drive. Different people want sexual intercourse to different degrees. Some have a naturally higher sex drive than others. This can make it difficult to diagnose a hypersexual disorder.

For the right diagnosis, it’s important to look at two key diagnostic criteria:

  • Continuing the behavior even though it leads to harm
  • A consistent failure to control the behavior

If someone can’t control their sex-related behavior, even though it causes harm, they might be addicted to sex.

Impulse Behavior in Sex Addiction

Impulsivity may play a strong role in sex addiction. Impulsive behavior is common in children and adolescents, but it decreases as most become adults. Some adults remain highly impulsive. They’re more likely to act without thinking or caring about the consequences of their behaviors.

People with process addictions score high on impulsive and compulsive behavior traits. They also score high in positive and negative urgency traits. This means their emotions influence their impulsive or compulsive behaviors. This matches the ICD-11, which highlights how sex addicts continue with their behavior despite the risks.

Getting a Sex Addiction Diagnosis

Many people who are addicted to sex also develop substance addictions or have a history of trauma or mental health problems. Their treatment focuses on these co-occurring disorders as well as the sex-related behavior. This ensures they get all the help they need to manage the problems they’re dealing with.

If you think you or a loved one may be addicted to sex, getting a diagnosis is the first step on the road to sex addiction recovery. A clear diagnosis shows a way forward for treatment, recovery and the return to a healthy and fulfilling life.

Get the help you need by calling The Ranch at 18448767680 today.

Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

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