What is Sex Addiction?

Sex Addiction / Out Of Control Sexual Behavior Explained

Sex addiction is one of those issues in the eye of the beholder. Not everyone with a high sex drive is a sex addict. Only when the fixation on sex starts to impair one’s daily life is it a problem.

For those who truly are addicts—their sexual compulsion makes it difficult for them to maintain family and work relationships or get adequate sleep—unhealthy sex habits can have many consequences, including pain and shame. Excessive use of pornography, for example, can set damaging, unrealistic expectations of what normal sex and normal sex partners are like, making it difficult or impossible to be satisfied with real world sexual relations.

Distorted Reality and Sex Addiction

The first and most difficult step to recovery for sex addicts is admitting to themselves and to others they have a problem with sexual relations and building healthy relationships with a partner.

Reality is the key to facing your truth and mental health; therefore, one must first get in touch with reality.

A distorted reality can start early within the family. When addiction is present in one family member, co-addiction often exists. This includes sex addiction and other types of substance abuse and addiction.

If you’ve just begun to notice that you’re becoming out of control sexually, or are starting to questioning whether a sex addiction, you should definitely consider getting an evaluation by a sex addiction therapist.

Many variables need to be assessed individually to determine if sexual addiction exists. These include pleasure, brain function, control, exploitative or risk to self, and a psychological agenda.

Healthy versus Unhealthy Sexual Relationships

  • In healthy sexual relationships, pleasure and brain functions are normal when assessed. No brain dysfunction such as brain tumors, substance abuse or mania exists.
  • Healthy sex lacks exploitation, risk to self, or a psychological agenda.
  • Individuals with a sex addiction use sex for attention, acceptance or love.
  • Healthy sex contains a control element; that is people choose to engage in sexual activity and do not feel hopeless or out of control.
  • They also don’t have a history of trying to stop the behavior only to return later, for example, compulsive masturbating (masturbating so often it interferes with you’re your work or social life).
  • Out of control sexual behavior is not pleasure driven, but rather used as a stress reduction, to increase positive feelings, or an attempt to heal a past trauma.
  • This severely limits the normal pleasure felt in healthy sexual behavior. There is a high risk of negative consequences from sex addiction, such as STDs, unwanted pregnancies, and legal implications.

Addiction Belief System

Humans naturally hold beliefs that affect the decisions we make, skewing the way we look at relationships.

The beliefs that are true for persons with sex addictions are:

  • I’m basically a bad, or unworthy person
  • Nobody can love me for who I am
  • My needs are never going to be met if I have to depend on others
  • Sex is my most important need

For healing to occur, the process must get at the “core issues for which addictions have become the solution.” (Patrick Carnes, Facing the Shadow: Starting Sexual and Relationship Recovery).

I recommend reading anything by Patrick Carnes, Ph.D. Another newer examination of sexual behavior is by Douglas Braun-Harvey & Michael A. Vigorito, “Treating Out of Control Sexual Behavior: Rethinking Sex Addiction” is also recommended.

In order to help yourself see the reality of your sex addiction, do the four things listed below. This will give you great insight and a useful start to facing the reality of your sexual addiction with the help of a sex addiction therapist.

  • List what you think are your problems
  • Be honest with yourself
  • Review these problems and look at what secrets you have
  • What excuses or rationales do you use for your sexual behavior? 

by Patrick Carnes