Sex addiction is becoming increasingly prevalent in the U.S., as advances in technology have increased access to pornography and potential sexual partners. It is estimated that sex addiction affects somewhere between 12 to 30 million Americans.
What is Sex Addiction?
The National Council of Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity defines sex addiction as “engaging in persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behavior acted out despite increasing negative consequences to self and others.” As with other addictions, the behaviors tend to feel out of control and the negative consequences of engaging in the behaviors increase over time. Sex addiction is a broad term that covers a wide range of sexual behaviors including masturbation, viewing pornography, engaging in sex with multiple partners, and calling sex hotlines. Some people who are addicted to sex engage in illegal activities, such as exhibitionism, voyeurism, and child pornography. However, not all sex offenders are sex addicts.
How Sex Addiction Affects the Brain
In a recent study at the University of Cambridge, researchers found that the brains of people who engage in compulsive sexual behavior appear similar to the brains of those who are addicted to drugs, in that the same parts of the brain are affected in both types of addiction. The systems of the brain that are involved in motivation, reward, and craving are activated when people with sex addiction view sexual stimuli. Because these stimuli are associated with rewards, they are more likely to be desired and sought out, leading to compulsive behavior.
Risks of Sex Addiction
Sexual behavior is a normal and healthy part of life for most people. However, people who have a sex addiction can experience significant negative consequences as a result of their addictive behaviors.
Possible effects of sex addiction include:
• Sexually transmitted diseases
• Legal issues (if behaviors result in unwanted advances or are otherwise illegal)
• Relationship problems including separation, divorce
• Feelings of shame/guilt
• Financial problems (if spending money on prostitutes, phone sex hotlines, etc)
Sex Addiction Treatment Options
Treatment options for sex addiction include mutual help groups, therapy, and medications. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to be effective for treating sex addiction. In this type of treatment, people are able to examine their thoughts and feelings in order to change problematic behaviors. Family and couples therapy may also be an important component of treatment, as sex addiction likely created significant relationship problems.
Medications that have been used to treat sex addiction include antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, and medications that decrease male hormones.
Bailey, C.E., & Case, B. (n.d.). Sexual addiction: AAMFT therapy topic. AAMFT.org.
Dryden-Edwards, R. (n.d.). Sexual addiction. MedicineNet.com.
Herkov, M. (n.d.). What is sexual addiction? Psychcentral.com.
University of Cambridge. (2014). Brain activity in sex addiction mirrors that of drug addiction. ScienceDaily.