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Sex Addiction Warning Signs

Sex is a natural and healthy aspect of human life, but excessive indulgence can have harmful effects. While not yet recognized as an official diagnosis, sex addiction can have severe consequences for individuals. Identifying warning signs and at-risk groups is crucial for early intervention and treatment.

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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.

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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
  • Headaches
  • Body aches or stiffness in muscles and joints
  • Decreased or non-existent sex drive
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Trouble focusing
  • Avoiding or withdrawing from socialization
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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.

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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.

Talk to your doctor about what treatment options may be best for you. You can also check out support groups like Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, and S-anon.

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.

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FAQ's About Sex Addiction

What are the signs that a person is addicted to sex?

If you think you or a family member has a sex addiction, there are some warning signs you can look for. While not an exhaustive list, these symptoms of sex addiction could indicate a problem is present.

Common symptoms of sexual addiction include:

  • Obsessive thoughts around sex and masturbation
  • Spending a lot of time planning when and where you’ll get your next sexual high
  • Engaging in risky or dangerous sexual behavior or situations
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not having sex or masturbating
  • Masturbating excessively to the point of injury
  • Continuing to have sex and masturbate despite the negative consequences
  • Feeling shame, anxiety, regret, or depression about your compulsive sexual behaviors
  • Struggling to quit engaging in sexual behavior
  • Having many sexual partners or paying for sexual acts

What do sex addicts have in common?

There are some traits commonly seen among sex addicts. Remember that not all sex addicts must have these traits, nor is this a definitive list.

Common traits that sex addicts have in common include:

  • Loneliness
  • Discontented with life
  • Impulsivity
  • Isolation
  • Co-occurring mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, mood disorders, OCD, ADHD, and impulse control disorders

How does sex addiction start?

Sex addiction typically starts with emotional dysregulation or maladaptive behaviors around sexual activity. The cause of an individual’s sex addiction may vary from neurological changes and mental illness to past trauma and impulsivity.

Whatever the cause or combination of causes, fixation or obsession with sex is often the first symptom in sex addicts.

What is the difference between sex addiction and porn addiction?

Sex addiction and porn addiction are different, although they frequently co-occur. Sex addiction is the compulsive urge to have sex or masturbate, while porn addiction is the uncontrollable desire to watch or consume pornography.

The two addictions overlap; for example, both conditions may include excessive masturbation and sexual behavior in inappropriate or public locations.

The biggest difference is that one focuses on consuming porn while the other focuses on physical sex.

How do you treat sex addiction?

The most common treatment for sex addiction is therapy and support groups. Inpatient rehab is rarely necessary for the treatment of sex addiction.

For individuals with co-occurring mental health conditions, medication may be helpful to manage symptoms that worsen or contribute to sex addiction.

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. Casarella, J. (2022, December 18). Sex Addiction: 8 Signs to Look For. WebMD.
  2. Fong, T. W. (2006, November). Understanding and Managing Compulsive Sexual Behaviors. Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township)).
  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. Sex Addiction: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Recovery. Cleveland Clinic. (2022, April 5).
  5. Shimoni, L., Dayan, M., Cohen, K., & Weinstein, A. (2018, December 1). The Contribution of Personality Factors and Gender to Ratings of Sex Addiction Among Men and Women Who Use the Internet for Sex Purposes. Journal of Behavioral Addictions.
  6. Weiss, D. (2010, August 12). The Prevalence of Depression in Male Sex Addicts Residing in the United States. Taylor & Francis Online.

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