Seeking Help For Experiencing Sex Addiction As A Woman

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated June 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Women who engage in compulsive sexual behavior may find it difficult to acknowledge their problem and pursue treatment. Though research shows that many people experiencing sexual addiction are female, many are reluctant to admit it, perhaps due to the perception of stigma around their difficulties. If you’re a woman and think you may be addicted to sex, how can you be sure and get help?

Despite widespread disagreement on how sex addiction should be defined and diagnosed, specific indicators are common in women who struggle with unhealthy sexual behavior. If you’re experiencing significant distress about your sexual activity, it may be worth pursuing therapy. This article will discuss some typical experiences and challenges of female sex addiction and suggest some routes to recovery.

Getty
Looking for a healthier relationship with sex and sexuality?

Is female sex addiction real?

Often, people are skeptical about whether female sexual addiction exists, causing significant barriers to treatment. Some view the problem in purely moral terms, believing that women who engage in out-of-control sexual behavior simply choose to pursue pleasure without regard for how it might negatively affect themselves or others. 

However, women who report being addicted to sex often feel deep shame about their actions. Rather than carelessly seeking gratification, they tend to be severely distressed over the damage their compulsions cause to their personal, professional, and romantic lives. Yet they may have trouble managing their symptoms. This difficulty in controlling one’s behavior despite repeated consequences may sound familiar to many who have struggled with other addictive disorders.

The most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not list sexual addiction as a mental condition. But the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases list includes compulsive sexual behavior disorder as a recognized condition. Fortunately, a formal diagnosis may not be necessary to receive assistance from mental health professionals, support groups, and other resources.

How to tell if you’re addicted to sex

Though there may not be a ready-made checklist that can determine whether your symptoms qualify as sex addiction, there are several warning signs to look for:

Your sex life is crowding everything else out

Are you spending so much time seeking out sex, masturbating, watching pornography, or engaging in sexual fantasies that it leaves little time for other things? There’s not necessarily anything unhealthy about a strong sex drive or an active sex life. If these activities get in the way of other things you care about, such as spending time with family and friends or pursuing your career, then speaking to a therapist about your concerns may be helpful.

It’s hard to separate sex and shame

There is a strong connection between addiction to sexual behavior and feelings of shame. Sexual pleasure may temporarily lift affected individuals' self-esteem, but they may feel worse afterward. If you feel trapped in an escalating cycle of shame, sex, and regret, it might indicate that you’re experiencing symptoms of sex addiction.

You feel compelled to engage in sexual behavior

According to the American Psychological Association, a compulsion is a behavior that a person engages in to ward off anxiety or mental distress. Do you seek out sex, masturbation, or pornography because they feel good or because that’s the only way you know to stop feeling bad for a little while? The answer may reveal whether you’re engaging in healthy or compulsive behaviors.

You engage in risky or harmful activities

Some women addicted to sex explain that they feel driven to make dangerous sexual decisions, such as having frequent unprotected sex with strangers. Others may feel compelled to do things that could have negative personal or professional consequences, such as cheating on romantic partners or having sex in the workplace. These impulses could be related to the intense association between pleasure and shame or may represent dependence on the adrenaline rush of doing something dangerous. 

Negative life outcomes

The types of risky behavior described above can wind up causing damage to your health, relationships, career, or reputation. If your sexual activities hurt your quality of life, it may be time to seek help from a therapist or support group. Having a better understanding of why certain behaviors are so gratifying can help you to develop healthier coping mechanisms for managing symptoms.

You want to stop, but you don’t know how

One of the most evident signs that your sexual behavior is becoming addictive is that you cannot stop it. If you want to change your life but keep falling back into the same unhelpful patterns, it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional. A therapist can help you to learn how to manage your urges and increase self-control.

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo

Is sexual addiction different for women?

People of any gender can exhibit compulsive and obsessive sexual behavior, and neurological researchers have argued against the idea that there are significant differences between male and female brains. However, men and women are often treated differently in present-day society, particularly concerning their sexuality. As a result, women may experience sexual addiction differently than men.

Research indicates that women with sexual addiction are less likely to seek and receive treatment. The most common reason for this reluctance is shame. Excessive sexual behavior tends to be more harshly judged and condemned in women than men. Female sex addicts may internalize these negative judgments, leading to a belief that they are immoral or wrong.

Women may feel they’ve controlled their sexual addiction if they can abstain from sex for a significant period.

Because refraining from sex may be seen as more socially desirable for women than men, these individuals may be less likely to see a problem with spending so much energy suppressing their desires.

How can women overcome sex addiction?

Research on treating sex addiction is somewhat limited, partly because there are no agreed-upon criteria for diagnosis in the United States. However, there are a few common types of treatment approaches that may offer relief and a pathway to recovery:

Support groups

Feelings of shame and fears of social stigma can make female sexual addiction feel very isolating. Many people find it helpful to have support from others working to overcome similar behavior. Support groups can serve as sources of advice and solidarity. Clinical evidence regarding the effectiveness of these programs is limited, and some may be uncomfortable with the religious content.

Getty/AnnaStills
Looking for a healthier relationship with sex and sexuality?

Boosting self-esteem

For those whose compulsive sexual behavior is rooted in low self-esteem, building a healthy self-image may help overcome symptoms. Research supports self-affirmation, which involves listing and focusing on the things in life that matter most to you. 

For example, if you strongly value caring for the environment, you could look for opportunities to conserve and reduce waste in everyday life. Writing down these actions and referring back to them when you feel distressed could construct a more positive view of yourself that helps defuse feelings of shame.

Another technique that could help is positive self-talk. When you find yourself thinking things like “I’m helpless,” “I’ll never change,” or “I’m a bad person,” try to steer your thoughts in a more positive direction. It’s often most helpful to focus on your ability to improve. You could reframe your inner dialogue with statements like, “Controlling my addiction is hard, but I’m working at it and trying my best.”

Engaging in therapy

Research suggests that psychotherapy can effectively treat addictive sexual behavior. If you’ve been reluctant to talk with a therapist due to fears about the social stigma of sex addiction, you may find online therapy an alternative to in-person treatment. Many internet therapy platforms enable clients to talk with mental professionals through text or voice chat. It might help you feel more comfortable discussing your struggle with sexual addiction.

This treatment approach has very similar outcomes and success rates to face-to-face therapy. Researchers conducted a meta-analysis of studies encompassing nearly 10,000 participants and found that online and in-person therapy had the same effectiveness. 

Takeaway

Although sexual addiction is not considered an official diagnostic category in the U.S., many women struggle to refrain from compulsive and destructive sexual behavior. This difficulty may be compounded by intense feelings of shame that make it hard to seek help. However, it’s often possible to overcome addictive sexual habits and get your life back on track with assistance from a mental health professional.
Gain insight into healthy intimacy
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started