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How to cope with a partner with sex addiction

December 15, 2021
Reviewed by: Rajnandini Rathod

A good sex life can do wonders for a relationship. It can bring you closer to your partner, reinforce the love you have for each other and keep you in good spirits. However, what if you have a partner who has an insatiable urge to have sex all the time? Do you give in to your partner’s fantasies at all times? Do you allow your partner to engage in sexual activities outside the relationship? Do you turn a blind eye to your partner’s sexual affairs? These are some of the hard questions that partners of sex addicts have to deal with.

Being married to or dating someone with a compulsive sexual behaviour disorder (CSBD) can be incredibly tough. However, before addressing these issues, one needs to know the difference between CSBD and high sex drive.

CSBD or sex addiction is not about sex- it’s actually about addiction. The primary purpose of a sex addict is to get a high and not necessarily stimulate their genitals (though both can take place simultaneously). The arousal experience is primarily in the brain. People with a high sex drive are motivated by sex itself, and they are focused on the physical part of the arousal. People with CSBD cannot control their sexual urges and will engage in sexual activities even outside their relationships. People with high sex drive can control their urges and can find satisfaction with their partners. 

Understanding Compulsive Sexual Behaviour Disorder

CSBD refers to a pattern of habitual sexual behaviours and the inability to control them. These urges, fantasies, or actions can lead to problems in every aspect of a person’s life, from personal to social and work.

Although CSBD is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), the World Health Organization (WHO) included compulsive sexual behaviour in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). The ICD-11 classifies CSBD as an impulse control disorder. People with sex addiction show the same behavioural patterns that are often seen in people with other forms of addiction like drugs, alcohol or even gambling. Addicts of any kind participate in their addictions even when the consequences are extremely harmful.

How to identify if your partner is a sex addict?

The term sex addiction was first employed in the mid-1970s when several members of Alcoholics Anonymous wanted to apply the principles of 12-steps toward sexual recovery from serial infidelity and other unmanageable compulsive sex behaviours that were comparable to the helplessness they experienced with alcoholism. Today many 12-step style self-help groups exist for individuals who identify as sex addicts, including Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, and Sexual Compulsives Anonymous.

Although only a mental professional can diagnose CSBD, here are some of the signs to look for if you suspect your partner is a sex addict.

·   Your partner spends a lot of time watching pornography

·   Your partner spends an unhealthy amount of time masturbating

·   Is overly obsessed with sex, sexual positions and fetishes

·   You may have found evidence that your partner is having casual sex or paying for sexual services.

It is important to note that these signs don’t mean that your partner is a bad person or that they don’t love you. They aren’t engaging in this behaviour with an intention to hurt you. They simply aren’t able to control their sex addiction. Also, before you confront your partner as a sex addict, it’s imperative to seek the help of a mental health professional and get a proper diagnosis.

How to cope when your partner is a sex addict?

You may go through a whole range of emotions when you find out that your partner has CSBD. You may also feel lonely and unable to understand or share this very personal problem with a friend or a loved one. However, no matter the status of your relation with your partner, you need to keep a few things in mind.

Don’t blame yourself: When your partner compulsively cheats on you and has sexual affairs outside the relationship, it is not because you lack anything. Chances are that you may have a loss of self-esteem, loss of trust, anxiety and disillusionment about love and romance. However, you need to understand that your partner’s actions need to be owned by your partner alone and that you are not liable for their behaviour.

You can’t fix your partner: No amount of pleading, coercing, tears, fights, threats can change your partner’s sex addiction problems. You can, however, insist on your partner seeking professional help. Once your partner acknowledges the problem, a certified mental health professional can help your partner with their sex addiction problem.  

Your feelings matter: Allow yourself to feel your emotions. As your partner seeks therapy, you may feel that you need to show your support by being loving and understanding. However, for the sake of your own well-being, you need to express your emotions whenever you feel hurt by your partner’s infidelity.

Set clear boundaries: While it may be very painful to do this, you need to tell your partner that there are some boundaries that they cannot cross. Insist on your partner wearing protection at all times, not indulging in sexual activities with any close friends or people you might know. You may also wish to abstain from having sex with your partner while they are sexually active with others for the sake of your own health. If you do have sex, then consider getting tested regularly for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Seek the help of support groups: There are many support groups for spouses and partners of sex addicts. Having a group of friends who have shared the same experiences as you will make you feel less lonely and more understood and heard.

It’s ok to walk away: If your partner’s sex addiction is having an adverse effect on your mental and physical health, then you need to consider the option of leaving your partner. This separation can be temporary till the time your partner recovers from the sex addiction or permanent wherein you no longer want to stay invested in the relationship.

Is sex addiction curable?

While CSBD doesn’t have its own diagnostic category in the DSM-5, it may be diagnosed as a subcategory of another mental health condition, such as an impulse control disorder or a behavioural addiction.

Treatment by a mental health professional who is an expert in addictions and compulsive sexual behaviours may help your partner significantly. The treatment options will depend on your partner’s symptoms and what may be causing their behaviours. Some of the options include cognitive behavioural therapy, cognitive analytic therapy, mindfulness practices and self-help group sessions.

The therapist may also recommend a combination of therapy and medicinal treatment for your partner’s sex addiction. Some of the medicines that have been successful in reducing compulsive sexual behaviours include Fluoxetine (Prozac or Sarafem), Sertraline (Zoloft), Citalopram (Celexa) and Naltrexone (Vivitrol or Revia).

In conclusion, living with a partner who has CSBD can be extremely challenging. You may seek professional help for your partner and emotional support for yourself. However, whether you choose to stay with your partner or walk away, your choices are valid, and they matter.      


(2021, November 17). Sexual addiction. Wikipedia. Retrieved from 

Borreli. L (2015, March) Hypersexual Disorder or Just a High Sex Drive? The Profile of a Sex Addict.

Haul, P. (2015). Sex addiction: The partners’ perspective: A comprehensive guide to understanding and surviving sex addiction for partners and those who want to help them. Routledge.  

Gonzalez-Pons. K., Larenz. L. (2021, Nov) Dating Someone with a Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder. 

Compulsive sexual behaviour.

Compulsive sexual behavior – Diagnosis and treatment – Mayo Clinic. (2020, February 7).