The National Council on Sexual Addiction Compulsivity estimated that 6%-8% of Americans are sex addicts, which is 18 million24 million people. 

Sexual addiction is sometimes a controversial diagnosis, and is not listed in the DSM-V of mental disorders. However, we will focus here on this as an addiction using the following definition (author unknown): Addiction is an unhealthy relationship with or to a mood-altering substance, event, person, or thing which has life-damaging consequences. We also acknowledge that there a variety of sexual practices and variety may lead to a healthier sex life as long as it is consensual sex.

Symptoms Of A Sexual Addiction

1. Compulsive Masturbation

This means that the person masturbating has difficulty controlling the masturbation, for example, having to masturbate numerous times at work and at home. This masturbation may also affect a partner as the masturbation may be used instead of having a healthy sex life.

2. Using Pornography

This also becomes problematic if it causes consequences such as it being offensive to a partner or the person uses it as a substitute for healthy sex or violent porn influencing how the person treats others.

3. Using adult bookstores, attending strip clubs, escort services, or sex parties

Again, this may cause problems in relationships, addictive processes with the inability to control the behavior, or engaging in dangerous behaviors.

4. Engaging in multiple partners

Various problems may include having a partner who wants a monogamous relationship and the risk of STDs or HIV.

5. Utilizing online anonymous sex for hookups, sexting, or porn

The internet has opened up new avenues for sexual behaviors including dangerous hookups, sending sexual photos, and participating in the “dark web” of base, dark, inappropriate behaviors such as sexting minors, participating in dangerous activities such as violent sex, and other inappropriate behaviors.

6. Participating in prostitution either as a prostitute or seeking their services

Engaging in prostitution as either a prostitute or the john is fraught with danger such as being raped, physical abuse, STDs and HIV, and death.

7. Not practicing safe sex

Again, consequences may include STDs, HIV, other medical problems as well as unwanted pregnancy.

8. Sexual dysfunction due to addictive behaviors

If one is engaging in unhealthy sexual behavior, then healthy sexual behavior may be negatively affected for there may be no interest, an inability to perform without the addiction, or problems within a relationship.

9. Some sexual behaviors cause legal problems. 

Sexual offenses may include: sending sexual messages (sexting), voyeurism, exhibitionism, prostitution, child sexual abuse, or sexual violence.

Rick’s Story

Rick has a sexual addiction. He was constantly cheating on his wife. She was ready to take the children and leave him because of this. In addition to cheating, Rick constantly masturbated at work.  Once, his co-worker caught him.

He also viewed bondage porn and struggled with sex with his wife without bondage which she didn’t enjoy. On occasion, he had utilized the services of a prostitute. His masturbation was a problem as he often had little sexual desire for his wife.

Rick Gets An Evaluation

A counselor evaluated Rick’s behaviors to identify the main problems. He was able to see that he couldn’t quit seeing other women. His masturbation and porn were continuous. Plus, he spent a lot of time thinking about and being involved in the addictive behaviors. Rick struggled with self-soothing behaviors other than sex (such as hobbies). Worst of all, if he wasn’t engaging in or thinking about sex, Rick was irritable.

Rick’s wife threatened to leave. His employer wrote him up. He wasted so much time on sexual activities. Yet he didn’t want to stop, which was an honest evaluation. After a few sessions, Rick and his therapist decided that he was unable to deal with his addiction on an individual counseling level.

Treating Sexual Addiction

Process addictions (sex, eating, working) are difficult treat. For example, one cannot quit eating cold turkey to treat an eating addiction. Unlike the treatment for substance abuse, an inpatient program can offer more in the treating of the addiction. First, the addict is taken away from many of the triggers. Then the addict explores ways to cope with urges for problematic sex and exploring healthier sex and other activities.

Rick did complete a program and continued with outpatient counseling to follow up with relapse prevention. Rick also began attending Sex and Love Addiction (S.L.A.A.) meetings regularly. While he still struggled, he is doing better in taking good care of himself in all areas of his life, including his sexual relationships. His wife and children still moved out, but as Rick works his program his family is far more open about his addiction.

Even though she moved out Rick’s wife is supporting him as he works his recovery program. Rick is now working a program and breaking free from addiction.

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Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Her other specialties include grief and trauma, women’s issues, chronic pain management, holistic healing, GLBTQ concerns, and spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Dr. Anderson has been educated and trained in the fields of education, social work, and spirituality, and she holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (non-denominational/interfaith) specializing in spirituality.

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