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Warning Signs of Sex Addiction
Sex is a normal, healthy human function. But even too much of a good thing can be bad. Despite not having an official diagnosis, sex addiction can have serious negative consequences for those who suffer from the condition.
Learning the warning signs of sexual addiction and who is at risk is essential to identifying and treating sex addiction before symptoms can worsen.
Top 7 Warning Signs of Sex Addiction
Sex addiction is often the butt of jokes or laughed off as not a serious addiction. But the reality is that sex addiction can easily be physically dangerous, lead to legal problems, and ruin lives like a substance use disorder.
While sex is an important part of individual health, it carries the risk of addiction due to the release of feel-good chemicals like dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin. For some people, repeated sex can make the brain dependent on these chemicals to function normally.
Many people joke that they are addicted to sex, but there’s a big difference between real sex addiction and enjoying intimate experiences with a consenting partner.
When obsessive sexual thoughts and other warning signs begin to affect your daily life, a problem could be present.
1. Obsessed With Thoughts of Sex
Thinking often about sex or having frequent sexual urges doesn’t necessarily mean you have a sex addiction. But if you cannot think about anything else most of the time, there may be cause for concern.
Sex addicts tend to obsess over everything related to sex, whether masturbation, watching porn, obsessing over sexual fantasies, or planning their next sexual encounter.
The compulsion to think or talk only about sexual activity to the detriment of their well-being is often the first warning sign that sex addiction could be present.
2. Excessive and/or Dangerous Masturbation
For some sex addicts who don’t have a partner or have partners who can’t keep up with their sexual demands, masturbation is the next best thing. Unfortunately, many addicts masturbate to the point of injury or attempt dangerous methods of masturbation with questionable materials or objects.
Because the brains of sex addicts require the release of feel-good chemicals to function, some individuals may cause damage to their genitals. Addicts may also compulsively masturbate in inappropriate places, which can lead to legal issues.
3. Engaging in Risky Sexual Behavior
Regardless of their relationship status, many sex addicts may take extreme and dangerous measures to satisfy their sexual addiction.
It’s common for sex addicts to hire sex workers or engage in risky, unprotected sex in dangerous locations.
As sex addicts take more and more risks to feel the “high” from sex, some may find themselves with unexpected pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), or legal problems. Sex addicts can get arrested for public sexual acts, hiring a sex worker, or even committing sex crimes.
4. Frequently Cheating on Partners for Sexual Encounters
For people with severe sexual addiction, their compulsive sexual behavior can make it difficult for their partner to meet such demands. As a result, sex addicts may frequently cheat on their partner with another or many other people to appease their sexual impulses.
Some addicts may also go to great lengths to hide their cheating and compulsive sexual behavior. Whether through one-night stands with strangers or frequent rendezvous with multiple people, sex addicts may feel compelled to engage in hypersexual behavior to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
5. Withdrawing From Important Events to Masturbate or Have Sex
Sex addiction can be incredibly isolating. As the addict becomes more and more fixated on sex and masturbation, it’s not uncommon for individuals to withdraw from personal relationships and important obligations.
Sex addicts may skip important events (i.e., work, school, and family gatherings), neglect relationships to have sex or masturbate.
6. Feeling Intense Shame or Depression Due to Sexual Desires
As sex addicts begin to withdraw from normal life and obsess over sex or masturbation, feelings of shame and depression often begin to manifest. Individuals may become embarrassed by their sexual urges and their difficulty controlling them.
In fact, according to research from the Heart to Heart Healing Center in Colorado Springs, among sexually compulsive men, 28% showed signs of depression, compared to 12% of the general population.
With rates of depression higher in sex addiction, the risk of worsening symptoms and even thoughts of self-harm or suicide pose a serious risk to an addict’s well-being.
7. Feeling Withdrawal Symptoms When Not Having Sex
Sex addiction may be a substance-free condition, but it still comes with withdrawal symptoms like any other addiction. Sex and masturbation typically trigger the release of dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins, which cause feelings of reward, love, and pain relief.
Over time, the brain becomes dependent on these chemicals to function normally. When the addict attempts to cease sexual activity, their brain may struggle to account for the loss and cause unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
Common withdrawal symptoms of sex addiction include:
- Mood swings
- Depression and anxiety
- Intense sexual urges or cravings
- Difficulty sleeping
- Extreme tiredness
- Body aches or stiffness in muscles and joints
- Decreased or non-existent sex drive
- Irritability or agitation
- Trouble focusing
- Avoiding or withdrawing from socialization
What Makes Sex Potentially Addictive?
Anyone of any background can develop sex addiction or compulsive sexual behavior disorder (CSBD). However, for people at risk of developing addiction, the constant release of dopamine through sexual activity plays a big role.
The type of neurotransmitter dopamine often appears in addiction discussions, and for good reason. The chemical causes feelings of pleasure and is a common component in many addictions, from drug abuse to behavioral addictions like gambling or sex addiction.
In the case of sex, dopamine plays a big role in the pleasure many people feel during intercourse. However, when the brain is flooded with dopamine over and over (as well as other feel-good chemicals), the brain begins to rely on that feeling.
Can Anyone Develop Sex Addiction?
Although anyone can develop a sex addiction, some are at higher risk than others for developing the condition. According to research from Columbia University, hypersexuality may affect about 3% to 10% of the general U.S. population.
Sex addiction is also more common in men than women, with research indicating that for every two to five males with hypersexuality, one woman is affected.
Other risk factors for developing sex addiction include:
- Mood disorders, including bipolar disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Personality disorders
- History of addictive disorders
- Impulse control disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- History of suicide attempts
Do I Have a Sex Addiction?
Although sex addiction is not officially listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic guidelines (e.g., the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM-5), many mental health professionals diagnose and treat the condition daily.
If you are worried you may have a sex addiction, a few warning signs may indicate a problem.
Common symptoms of sex addiction include:
- You’re obsessed with sex and spend much time fantasizing about your sexual urges and engaging in sexual behavior.
- You spend excessive time planning sexual activity, figuring out where and how you’ll get your next sexual “high.”
- You masturbate very frequently, once to several times daily
- You obsessively view pornography, whether through videos, adult magazines, or the internet
- You engage in sexual behaviors that contradict religious beliefs, personal values, or what society deems appropriate
- You frequently use sexual services, whether through phone sex, hookups through internet chat rooms, visits to strip clubs, paying for sexual encounters, having multiple partners, or frequent one-night stands
- Your sexual behavior escalates to reckless sexual activity and substance abuse, or you add sexual aggression or dangerous activities like autoerotic asphyxiation to your behaviors
- You frequently engage in paraphilia (abnormal sexual behavior), such as—
- Becoming aroused by psychological distress, injury, or death
- Exhibitionism (exposing genitals to strangers)
- Voyeurism (watching or engaging in sexual activities with others)
- Sadomasochism (sexual pleasure from inflicting pain or humiliation on others)
- Pedophilia (sexual feelings toward children)
- You cannot stop your sexual behavior despite negative consequences to your relationships, physical and mental health, emotions, or finances.
If you agree with many of these symptoms, you may benefit from professional help to address these compulsive sexual behaviors. Sex addiction treatment often begins with therapy, often in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), group therapy, or support groups.
Therapy for sex addiction works by helping you identify the thought patterns and behaviors that lead to compulsive hypersexuality. You will learn new tools and strategies to combat these urges and better cope in moments of temptation.
Finding Treatment for Sex Addiction
If you suspect you or a loved one has a sex addiction, determining your next steps can feel daunting. Because shame and embarrassment are so common in sex addiction, many addicts avoid seeking help before causing serious harm to their well-being.
If you don’t know where to start, try SAMHSA’s online treatment locator or call 1-800-662-4357 to learn what treatment options are in your area.