Sex Addiction Symptoms & Withdrawal | The Ranch

We Can Help. Call Today. 844-876-7680

An estimated 3 to 6% of U.S. adults, or 7.4-14.7 million adults, suffer from sex addiction (also called hypersexual disorder or compulsive sexual behavior). A type of process addiction, sex addiction is characterized by persistent and escalating sexual thoughts and behaviors that negatively impact a person’s life. In most cases, people addicted to sex form little or no attachment to sexual partners, thereby never attaining genuine intimacy.

Eventually, the pursuit of sex becomes more important than family, career and personal health and safety. As sexual preoccupation increases in terms of energy and time, the addicted person may become overwhelmed by feelings of shame, denial, despair and confusion.

What Is Sex Addiction?

Sex addiction is similar to other compulsive behaviors in that it involves a potentially destructive variation of a normal life-enhancing activity. The pattern of sexual fantasy and behavior causes marked distress or significant impairment in personal, family, social, financial, occupational or other important areas of functioning.

A common misconception is that someone with a strong libido or multiple sexual partners must be sexually addicted. Unlike people with a strong sex drive who enjoy sex, sexually addicted people crave the risky pursuit, garnering little pleasure from the sexual act itself. They rely on compulsive sexual behaviors as an escape from emotional pain or a way to cope with life stressors. People addicted to sex often manipulate, deceive and have a need to control sexual partners. Despite the many negative repercussions, addicted individuals cannot stop.

Although sex addiction is not included in the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, the disorder is increasingly recognized as a mental health problem. The following symptoms are indicative of sex addiction:

  • Sexual preoccupation to the point of obsession
  • Loss of control over sexual urges, fantasies and behaviors (typically evidenced by failed attempts to quit or cut back)
  • Negative life consequences related to compulsive sexual behaviors, such as ruined relationships, trouble at work or school, loss of interest in nonsexual activities, financial problems, loss of community standing, shame, depression, anxiety or legal issues

Types of Sex Addiction

People with sex addiction have a behavioral addiction that involves compulsive and harmful sexual behavior, thoughts or fantasies. Sexual addiction can manifest in a wide range of compulsive behaviors, including:

  • Compulsive masturbation
  • Multiple affairs
  • Anonymous sex
  • Obsessive dating
  • Compulsive use of pornography
  • Risky or unsafe sex
  • Cybersex
  • Exhibitionism
  • Voyeurism
  • Prostitution or use of prostitutes

Sex Addiction Causes

Abuse, neglect and other forms of trauma during childhood are often at the root of sex addiction. Early traumatic experiences can lead to a deep-rooted sense of unworthiness and efforts to block or numb painful feelings. Other potential contributing factors include inconsistent parental nurturing and support, lack of parental role modeling of healthy, adaptive behaviors, and early exposure to sexual material or experiences.

Similarities to Other Addictions

Sex addiction is characterized by the repetitive, compulsive pursuit of risky activities despite adverse social, psychological and/or physical consequences. As with substance abuse, a person engages in compulsive sexual behaviors to attain a high. Lasting chemical changes in the pleasure center of the brain occur with both sex addiction and drug and alcohol addiction. A person addicted to sex craves more intense, riskier and increasingly frequent stimuli to attain a high.

Withdrawal Symptoms

When someone who is addicted to sex tries to stop their compulsive thoughts or behaviors, they may have withdrawal-like symptoms. These can include symptoms such as depression, anxiety, emotional instability, anger, fatigue, agitation, hypersensitivity and physical discomfort.

Sex Addiction Treatment

Various types of psychosocial treatments are available for individuals with sex addiction. Inpatient treatment programs for sex addiction help clients identify triggers and develop healthier coping skills to minimize urges and work through shame. Two common psychotherapy approaches are cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy. Family therapy and couples therapy can help restore trust and address underlying issues that fuel sexual addiction. There are also 12-step supports groups such as Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, and Sexaholics Anonymous.

Sex Addiction Recovery at The Ranch

Effective treatment for sexual addiction requires a multifaceted approach that addresses trauma and co-occurring disorders. For example, an estimated 40 to 60% of individuals with sex addiction meet the diagnostic criteria for substance use disorders.

At The Center for Relationship and Sexual Recovery at The Ranch, we offer specialized, gender-specific treatment for sex addiction and intimacy disorders in our Men’s Program and Women’s Program. The wealth of experience of our specially trained clinical staff, coupled with a wide array of traditional, experiential and trauma-focused therapies help clients address destructive behaviors and identify dysfunctional relationship patterns. Clients learn ways to stop engaging in self-defeating, unhealthy behaviors and develop insights into emotional issues underlying dysfunctional sexual behaviors.

  • Compulsive masturbation
  • Multiple affairs
  • Anonymous sex
  • Obsessive dating
  • Compulsive use of pornography
  • Risky or unsafe sex
  • Cybersex
  • Exhibitionism
  • Voyeurism
  • Prostitution or use of prostitutes