Sex Addiction Treatment and Therapy Options

Oct 14, 2023

Reviewed by Eric Patterson, LPC


In today's world, where the internet makes sexual content easy to access, anonymous, and extremely affordable, problems related to sex addiction have become more common. People may debate whether sex addiction is a real issue, but it's clear that it can harm individuals and their relationships. That's why it's important to know about the different ways to get help. 

Sex addiction, or hypersexual disorder, is a mental health condition characterized by chronic, obsessive sexual thoughts, and compulsive behaviors. People with sex addiction experience an overwhelming preoccupation with sex that interferes with their daily life. Hypersexuality affects 3% to 10% of the general U.S. population. It impacts men more often than women. 

Fortunately, there are treatment options available for those who struggle with sex addiction.

What is Sex Addiction?

Sex addiction, also known as hypersexual disorder or compulsive sexual behavior, is a mental health condition characterized by a persistent and escalating pattern of sexual behaviors that are difficult to control. People with sex addiction experience negative consequences in their daily lives and personal relationships as a result of their addictive behavior. 

Sex addiction is often compared to other behavioral addictions, such as gambling or compulsive shopping, as it involves an intense preoccupation and urge to engage in sexual activities. It is important to note that sex addiction is not recognized as a standalone disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), but it can co-occur with other mental health conditions such as , obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), personality disorders, and bipolar disorder and other mood disorders. 

Signs and Symptoms of Sex Addiction

One of the signs of sex addiction is chronic, obsessive sexual thoughts and fantasies. Individuals may find it difficult to control these intrusive thoughts, which can consume their thoughts and lead to distress. This preoccupation can result in the individual engaging in compulsive relations with multiple partners, seeking out sexual experiences even when it puts their physical, mental, and emotional well-being at risk.

Other signs can include:

  • Consistently engaging in sexual activities despite negative consequences.

  • An inability to control or stop sexual behaviors.

  • Neglecting important responsibilities or relationships due to sexual behaviors.

  • Experiencing distress or discomfort when not engaging in sexual activities.

  • An increasing need for more extreme or risky sexual experiences to achieve the same level of satisfaction.

Sex addiction can have a significant impact on personal and professional relationships. Individuals may struggle to maintain healthy relationships due to their preoccupation with sex and the compulsive behaviors associated with it. This can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and detachment from loved ones. Additionally, the individual may find it challenging to concentrate on their work or engage in other daily activities due to the constant thoughts and urges.

Despite experiencing negative consequences, individuals with sex addiction find it difficult to control or stop their behaviors. They may feel a lack of control over their sexual impulses and an intense need to act on them, which can lead to a cycle of guilt, shame, and further engagement in the addictive behaviors.

Causes of Sex Addiction

Sex addiction can arise from a combination of factors, including mood, brain chemistry, genetic differences, hormones , and a history of abuse. Individuals with this condition often struggle with regulating their emotions and seek sexual behaviors as a means of coping or achieving temporary relief.

Mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder or hypersexual disorder, can predispose individuals to engage in compulsive sexual behaviors. These disorders can cause intense emotional highs and lows, leading someone to seek out sexual experiences to regulate their mood. 88% of individuals with a sex addiction have a history of other mental health conditions. 

Chemical changes in the brain also play a role in the development of sex addiction. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, is released during sexual activity. In individuals with sex addiction, the brain may become conditioned to associate sex with an intense pleasurable response, leading to a compulsive need for more sexual experiences.

Hormones, such as testosterone, can contribute to the development of sex addiction. High levels of testosterone have been linked to increased sexual desire and impulsivity, potentially leading to excessive sexual behaviors.

A history of abuse, particularly emotional or sexual abuse, is another significant factor in the development of sex addiction. Trauma can create deep emotional wounds that individuals may attempt to numb or escape through compulsive sexual behaviors.

Impact on Physical and Mental Health

Sex addiction can have a significant impact on both physical and mental health, leading to a range of risks and consequences. Individuals who engage in hypersexual behaviors may experience negative physical consequences such as exhaustion, sleep disturbances, and increased vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections. Additionally, the pursuit of sexual experiences may lead to neglecting personal hygiene, proper nutrition, and other aspects of self-care, which can further compromise physical health.

Mentally, sex addiction can contribute to feelings of shame, guilt, and low self-esteem. The compulsive nature of the behavior may result in individuals neglecting important responsibilities and commitments, leading to financial, legal, and relationship problems. This can further exacerbate feelings of distress and create a cycle of negative consequences. One study found 28% of sexually compulsive men showed signs of depression, compared to 12% of the general population.

Diagnosis and Treatment for Sex Addiction

Diagnosing sex addiction can be challenging as it is not officially recognized as a separate disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, mental health professionals often rely on criteria for other behavioral addictions and impulse control disorders (ICD) to assess individuals with compulsive sexual behaviors.

The first step in diagnosing sex addiction involves a comprehensive assessment by a mental health professional. This assessment typically involves a thorough evaluation of a person's sexual behaviors, personal relationships, and their impact on various areas of their life. The professional may use screening tools, interviews, and questionnaires to gather relevant information and assess the severity of the addiction.

Once a diagnosis is established, treatment for sex addiction focuses on addressing the underlying causes, managing the addictive behavior, and promoting healthy sexual relationships. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating sex addiction as individual needs vary, but a combination of therapies is often recommended.

Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can help individuals with sex addiction identify and modify their unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors. This therapy aims to improve impulse control, develop coping strategies, and enhance interpersonal skills.

Another form of therapy commonly used in the treatment of sex addiction is psychodynamic therapy, which explores the root causes of the addiction through self-reflection and insight. It helps individuals gain a better understanding of the psychological, emotional, and relational factors contributing to their compulsive sexual behaviors.

In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage associated mental disorders or symptoms, such as anxiety or depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), commonly used in the treatment of mood disorders, may be effective in reducing the intensity of sexual urges. However, medication alone is not considered a standalone treatment for sex addiction but rather a complementary approach in conjunction with psychotherapy.

Support groups, such as Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), can provide a supportive and non-judgmental environment for individuals to share their experiences, challenges, and recovery journeys with others who have similar struggles. Participating in a 12-step program or support group can offer a sense of community and accountability during the recovery process.

Couples or relationship therapy may also be recommended, especially when the addiction has significantly impacted intimate partnerships. These therapy sessions aim to rebuild trust, improve communication, and establish healthy boundaries within the relationship.

It is important to note that the journey to recovery from sex addiction is unique to each individual, and treatment outcomes can vary. An integrated approach that addresses the physical, psychological, and relational aspects of sex addiction is typically recommended to achieve long-term recovery and a healthier overall well-being. Seeking support from mental health professionals and trained addiction specialists is crucial in effectively diagnosing and treating sex addiction.

References:

Signs of a Sex Addict - WebMD

Sex Addiction, Hypersexuality and Compulsive Sexual Behavior - Cleveland Clinic

Psychodynamic psychotherapy brings lasting benefits through self-knowledge - American Psychological Association

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