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Sex Addiction Causes

Untreated sexual addiction or hypersexual disorder can be very destructive and isolating. Sadly, society often demonizes those with sex addiction, making it even harder for them to seek the help they need and deserve. It’s important to understand the causes of sex addiction, not only for the benefit of sex addicts but also for their partners and loved ones.

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What Causes the Development of Sex Addiction?

Mental health professionals recognize sex addiction as a serious condition. It is characterized by persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behavior acted out despite increasing negative consequences to self and others.

Overview Causes and Contributing Factors

  • Psychological Factors: Issues like anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem can contribute to the development of sex addiction.
  • Biological Influences: Imbalances in brain chemistry or structure and hormonal factors might play a role.
  • Societal and Environmental Elements: Exposure to certain environments or experiences, such as early exposure to sexual content or trauma, can influence the development of sex addiction.

Top 4 Causes of Sex Addiction

As with many addictive disorders, the exact cause of sex addiction is up for debate.

Research shows that many sex addicts entering mental health disorder treatment develop their addiction for various reasons.

While not an exhaustive list, these four causes are the most common causes of sexual addiction.

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1. Brain Chemistry

Sexual activity is well known for releasing many feel-good chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. These chemicals, also called neurotransmitters, can improve mood, cause feelings of love, and relieve pain.

As sex addicts compulsively have sex or masturbate, their brain is flooded with these chemicals repeatedly.

Over time, the brain may depend on these chemicals for basic functions. When not having sex or masturbating, addicts may feel withdrawal symptoms caused by the brain’s dependence.

2. Coping With Stress or Co-Occurring Mental Illness

Sex and masturbation benefit the mind and body through pain-relieving and stress-relieving chemicals being released each time.

Some addicts may use sex or masturbation to relieve those negative feelings, unknowingly forming an addiction.

While using sexual activity for stress relief isn’t inherently bad, it can increase the risk of addiction for individuals with risk factors.

Certain mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and impulse control disorders are at higher risk for sex addiction.

3. Changes in Brain Pathways

Brain pathways are always changing as we learn and grow. However, some pathway changes can make certain behaviors worse or difficult to control.

In the case of sex addiction, some addicts develop the condition by desensitizing themselves to sexual activity and requiring more to be satisfied.

Over time, an addict may engage in so much compulsive sexual behavior that they have to go further and further to get the same “high.”

For example, requiring more extreme hypersexual behavior like sadomasochism, voyeurism, or exhibitionism for the same effect.

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4. Trauma

Some sex addicts use sexual experiences to cope with trauma, sexual or not.

While this may seem counterintuitive, it’s very common for victims of sexual abuse to begin fixating on their experience and wish to repeat it.

As they seek out the experience over and over, individuals may begin to develop an addiction. Even though the sexual acts may retraumatize them, addicts are overcome by sexual urges and dependence on releasing feel-good chemicals.

Risk Factors for Developing Sex Addiction

Anyone can develop sex addiction, regardless of background or risk factors. However, some people are more at risk than others of developing sex addiction or hypersexual disorder.

Common risk factors for developing sexual addiction or hypersexual disorder include:

  • Problems with substance abuse
  • Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, mood disorders, Impulse control disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and personality disorders
  • Family conflicts or family members with addiction problems
  • A history of physical or sexual abuse
  • History of suicide attempts

How to Recognize Sex Addiction

Sex and masturbation are normal parts of basic physical wellness, so it may be difficult to spot sex addiction.

In addition, our society has many taboos around sex, and many people may laugh off the idea of becoming addicted to sex.

Because the condition is often the butt of a joke, taking warning signs seriously is important if you notice them in yourself or a loved one.

Common symptoms of sex addiction include:

  • Obsessive sexual thoughts and sexual urges
  • Signs of porn addiction
  • Frequent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Having sex or masturbating for large amounts of time
  • Feeling intense shame or guilt about sexual desire or sexual impulses
  • Engaging in paraphilia (abnormal sexual behavior) like exhibitionism, sadomasochism, voyeurism, or pedophilia
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not having sex or masturbating
  • Inability to stop sexual behavior despite harmful consequences to relationships, physical and mental health, emotions, or finances.

Getting Help for Addiction to Sex

Dealing with sex addiction can be incredibly isolating and cause feelings of shame and embarrassment. However, if you or a loved one has a sex addiction, you’re not alone. Many mental health professionals are ready and willing to provide effective sex addiction treatment.

Talk to your doctor about your addictive behavior to determine what treatment options best suit your needs. If you aren’t sure where to start, you can try using SAMHSA’s online treatment locator or 1-877-726-4727 (HELP) to see what sex addiction treatment options are in your area.

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FAQ's About Causes of Sex Addiction

What is sex addiction caused by?

One or sometimes several factors can cause sex addiction. The most common causes are changes in brain chemistry and brain pathways, unhealthy stress coping, and a history of trauma or sexual trauma.

In addition, individuals with a history of addiction in their family may be more at risk of developing sex addiction than others.

Is sex addiction a mental disorder?

Yes. Although sex addiction is not officially listed in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition), the condition is widely diagnosed and treated by many healthcare professionals.

What do sex addicts have in common?

Many sex addicts struggle with isolation, compulsive behaviors, and a history of mental illness or addiction. That said, anyone of any background or experience can develop sex addiction.

How do sex addicts get treatment?

Sex addicts should seek professional help from a therapist, addiction specialist, or medical professional. The most common treatment for sex addiction is therapy, usually in cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT.

CBT works by helping addicts identify the thought patterns and false beliefs that lead to addictive behaviors. Patients then learn to replace or adjust these patterns into more healthy, beneficial ones. They may also learn skills to cope with moments of temptation.

Is sex addiction caused by watching porn?

No. While many sex addicts also have a porn addiction, porn does not cause sex addiction. Sex addiction is often caused by changes in brain chemistry, trauma, or unhealthy coping with stress or mental illness.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

  1. Derbyshire, K. L., & Grant, J. E. (2015, June). Compulsive Sexual Behavior: A Review of the Literature. Journal of Behavioral Addictions.
  2. Felman, A. (2019, October 8). What to Know About Compulsive Sexual Behavior. Medical News Today.
  3. Karila, L., Wéry, A., Weinstein, A., Cottencin, O., Petit, A., Reynaud, M., & Billieux, J. (2014). Sexual Addiction or Hypersexual Disorder: Different Terms for the Same Problem? A Review of the Literature. Current Pharmaceutical Design.
  4. Kraus, S. W., Voon, V., & Potenza, M. N. (2016, January). Neurobiology of Compulsive Sexual Behavior: Emerging Science. National Library of Medicine.
  5. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2023, April 19). Compulsive Sexual Behavior. Mayo Clinic.

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