Understanding Sex Addiction Symptoms And Knowing When To Get Help

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated March 22, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many individuals enjoy having sex, though we can all vary in needs and preferences regarding giving and receiving pleasure. It can be normal to seek out sexual activity because it can make your body feel good. 

However, when your sexual activities affect your quality of life, it may signal an addiction. If you are concerned that you have an unhealthy relationship with sex, consider reaching out for help through the various available resources. 

Sex Addiction Symptoms

Sex addiction can make it difficult for someone to control their urges, thoughts, and impulses surrounding sexual activities. Often, the individual engages in behaviors excessively, even when it causes harmful consequences. 

Sex addiction cannot be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Fifth Edition (DSM-5) but can still impact a person's quality of life, including their mental and physical health. 

Some potential signs of sex addiction are:

  • Frequently engaging in sexual activities

  • Having obsessive and frequent sexual thoughts and urges

  • Experiencing depression, anxiety, or shame due to sexual urges or activities

  • Neglecting daily activities

  • Engaging in risky sexual behaviors

  • Infidelity

  • Criminal offenses

When To Get Help For A Sex Addiction

You may decide to seek help for an addiction when it's negatively impacting your life, whether at work, school, or home. At times, sex addiction may seep into each of these areas simultaneously. 

You don't need to wait until your addiction is "bad enough" to seek support. The sooner you seek help, the more effective your treatment might be. Effective treatments can keep your addiction from escalating even further.

You Have Symptom Of A Sex Addiction, Outlined In The ICD 

The World Health Organization classifies compulsive sexual behavior, more commonly referred to as sex addiction or hypersexual disorder, as a mental health disorder according to the ICD, their statistical manual of mental disorders. 

The diagnostic criterion of this disorder includes having repetitive sexual impulses that result in distressing sexual behavior and adverse consequences. It may include sexual activities that affect daily functioning, such as work duties, personal relationships, and family. 

To receive a clinical diagnosis, the persistent pattern of compulsive sexual behavior may be demonstrated over time rather than for a short period. Moral judgments about one's sexual activity may not be a basis for a diagnosis.  

You Fit Addiction Criteria In The DSM-5

Published by the American Psychiatric Association, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition (DSM-5) does not have a classification for compulsive sexual behavior

Some sexual behaviors associated with sex addiction may be lumped under other addictive disorders, behavioral addictions, and mental health disorders. Sex addiction may be a symptom of mania related to a condition such as bipolar disorder or psychosis.   

There are various sex addiction symptoms that you might look out for if you're worried that you or someone you care about has a problem. Understanding sex addiction signs and symptoms and knowing when to get help can keep your mental health from declining. 

There are several ways to seek help, including counseling, medications, or intimacy work. Seeing a sex therapist or healthcare professional specializing in treating sexual addiction may help you manage compulsive sexual behavior and avoid negative consequences in the future.

Are You Struggling With A Secret Addiction?

You Have Extreme Sexual Cravings

One symptom of sex addiction is having extreme sexual cravings. Someone suffering from sexual addiction might have excessive sexual fantasies and crave sexual pleasure often, potentially several times throughout the day.  

Someone with this addiction may think about sex all the time, which could lead them to seek out sexual encounters more often. They might also make unsafe choices to satisfy their cravings. People with sex addiction might want to have sex constantly. 

You Experience Behavioral Concerns

Someone may have a sex addiction without having sex all the time. In cases like this, a person might become addicted to other sexual behavior. There are varying levels of sexually compulsive behavior, such as:

  • Chronic or constant masturbation

  • Partaking in phone sex or online webcam chats

  • Spending all of your money on online pornographic content 

  • Watching pornography or live webcams often 

  • Inappropriate sexual urges or activities not involving intercourse 

Porn addiction may go along with sexual addiction. All forms of sexual behavior may become detrimental to an individual because they can take someone's attention away from their responsibilities or cause real-life consequences. 

The extreme sexual cravings experienced by those with sex addiction may make it tough to get through the day. Sexual impulses and obsessive sexual thoughts can cause significant impairment in everyday functioning and affect a person's physical and emotional safety. 

Without mental health treatment, it may be challenging for someone to move forward healthily. Sex addiction can cause people to miss work or lose close relationships due to compulsive sexual behavior or poor choices. These sexual addiction issues may cause someone to feel like they have no control over their life. 

Unsafe Sex

Individuals with a sex addiction may engage in unsafe sex practices. They may desire sex so much that they struggle to account for the impacts of their actions. Instead of seeking out a safe and meaningful connection for their sexual encounters with others, they may have sex with strangers and put themselves in danger. 

When you have a sex addiction, using safety might not cross your mind. One example may be having sex with multiple partners or visiting a sex club without taking precautions to prevent a sexually transmitted infection (STI). The urge to seek out sex might be so intense that you forget about or disregard safety measures like condoms or birth control. These actions may lead to health issues or unwanted pregnancies.

People engaging in unsafe sexual acts might deal with complex emotions as well. Someone with sex addiction may feel shame, anxiety, or self-loathing after coming down from a sex high. 

Sex addiction is a mental health issue that may only respond to professional treatment. If you often engage in unsafe sex practices, know that you may break the cycle by seeking support.

Missing Work To Have Sex

Those with a sex addiction may miss work or other important events to engage in sex. Have you ever called into work or failed to show up because you wanted to spend time having intercourse or partaking in sexual activities?  

Sex addiction can cause people to make poor choices, and someone may lose their job or face other consequences if they don't manage their urges. Addiction may cloud someone's judgment and block out the potential ramifications of missing work.

Escalating Sexual Behaviors

Another symptom to look out for is the desire to escalate your sexual behaviors. Sex addiction can be like other forms of addiction in many ways. It may cause those addicted to sex to want to seek out more sex or escalate their behaviors to get more enjoyment. Sex addiction may cause you to seek out unsafe sex acts more often, which could put you at a higher risk of health complications. 

There could be mental and physical health complications when engaging in frequent sex acts. If you find your sexually compulsive tendencies are causing you to seek increasingly risky sexual behavior, you may need support and treatment.  

Abuse

Sexual acts performed without consent are considered sexual abuse and assault. Not all people with sex addiction partake in sexual abuse. Sexual addiction may be caused by sexual trauma or abuse. However, consider seeking support if you find yourself engaging in or desiring harmful and illegal sexual behavior. Mental health professionals can work with you to get the treatment you need. 

Cheating

A potential symptom of sexual addiction is infidelity. You might have someone in your life that you love very much. Despite this, you could be so compelled to seek sex that you cheat on your spouse or partner. 

Cheating on someone may end your relationship or cause marital conflict. However, you may be unable to consider the consequences if you feel controlled by your addiction or desires. 

Sex addiction can make you feel like you have no impulse control regarding sexual urges. You might succumb to these intense impulses and engage in extramarital affairs or have multiple partners without your primary partner knowing. 

Although polyamory may be a method to resolve your urges, polyamory or ethical non-monogamy can also require communication and consent before sleeping with other partners, as STIs or potential pregnancy can impact multiple individuals. 

Finding a mental health specialist can make it possible to move forward from addiction. With the support of a therapist, you may stop feeling ashamed about sexual addiction and start feeling like you can take control of your actions. 

Depression 

It may be common for individuals with sexual addiction to develop other mental health conditions. You may find yourself experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety due to your addiction, or you may find that you've experienced trauma due 

Sex addiction can cause people to feel shame and develop self-esteem issues. Feeling shame can be normal when you have a sex addiction. However, it may lead you to feel the urge to turn to other habits to cope. If you are experiencing this, an addiction therapist may be beneficial. 

Mental Health

Your mental health may be harmed by sex addiction if you don't seek out treatment options. Untreated compulsive sexual behavior could lead to substance use concerns. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) operates a free hotline to help people through mental health conditions, including substance use disorders. It may also help you navigate treatment options—Call 1-800-622-4357 to get connected.

Are You Struggling With A Secret Addiction?

Treatment For Sex Addiction

Getting treatment for sex addiction may allow you to break free from your addiction. If you don't know where to begin, reach out to a family doctor, therapist, or another qualified wellness professional to express your concerns about your sexual behavior.

Since many doctors use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association, which lacks content on sex addiction, they may not be able to diagnose you with sex addiction officially. 

However, they could be able to help you manage sexual behavior and talk about your experiences with your addiction. They may also help you find resources, such as support groups, that you can utilize.  

Support Groups 

Peer-reviewed studies and empirical evidence have shown that support groups can help those with sexual addictions lessen the frequency of their unhealthy sexual behavior and find sexual sobriety. You may find a community of people dealing with similar problems within these groups. 

Addiction can come in many forms, but it often stems from a similar place and is treated similarly. There are different types of groups, including Sex Addicts Anonymous and Love Addicts Anonymous. If you are also concurrently living with substance use disorder, Alcoholics Anonymous may be helpful. 

Therapy 

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a medically reviewed treatment method that has helped many people overcome sex addiction and their cravings for physical touch. 

You may find that you can improve symptoms by talking to a skilled therapist who understands sex addiction. Behavioral therapy can help individuals learn how their behaviors and thoughts impact their lives and those around them. 

Treatment Facilities

If therapy or support groups feel insufficient, a treatment facility for addictions may benefit you. While many people associate these facilities with substance use, there are also places specifically designed to help people cope with compulsive sexual behavior. Those addicted to sex can find ways to mend their relationships and change their sexual behavior in a supportive and healing environment. 

If you want to find a rehabilitation center for sex addiction in your area, consider calling 1-800-477-8191, the number for the Sex Addicts Anonymous group. 

Online Therapy 

Knowing when to get professional help can be valuable when you suspect you have an addiction. Online therapy may help you effectively manage your addiction as you work through any subsequent mental health disorders. 

One study showed 71% of participants felt internet-based therapy was more effective than traditional in-person counseling. Online therapy can be used for various causes, including addiction, trauma, or mental health conditions. If you decide to pursue treatment, you can go to a therapist at a traditional office location or try online therapy through an online platform like BetterHelp

Some individuals with sex addiction prefer online therapy because of how discreet it can be. You can choose to stay unknown if you wish, potentially allowing you to open up in a non-judgmental environment. A therapist may also help you sort through any shameful feelings you're experiencing because of your addiction.

Takeaway

It can feel challenging to admit you're experiencing a problem such as sex addiction. However, recognizing the problem can be vital in treating it. By becoming more aware of the symptoms of sex addiction, you may better understand when those symptoms appear in your life. 

Consider mental health treatment if your sex addiction or sexual behavior negatively impacts your life. If your performance at work is slipping or your relationships are negatively affected, consider using online therapy to receive support and guidance.  

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