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Sex Addiction- Cause, Effect & Treatment

April 20, 2021


Sex addiction can be characterised as an intimacy disorder consisting of sexually compulsive thoughts and acts. Similar to other types of addiction, sex addiction also begins to get severe as you progress.


Sex addiction can be defined by a range of compulsive behaviours of a person that can affect a person’s life significantly. 

However “Sex Addiction” has been excluded from the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM-5) as a diagnosable condition. But it still can be diagnosed as “other sexual behaviour not due to a substance or known psychological condition” under the DSM-5 as well as ICD-10 criteria.

Sex Addiction vs Porn Addiction

Sex addiction and porn addiction are not the same. Porn addiction is a compulsive sexual disorder an can lead an individual into being addicted to sex, and it is also not listed as an officially diagnosable disease in DSM-5.  Porn addiction can lead to severe sex addiction if not treated timely.

Sex addiction can lead to some severe problems In life. Similar to drug and alcohol addiction, it affects the physical as well as mental health of a person. A person with a sex addiction often tends to seek multiple partners along with compulsive masturbation, compulsive viewing pornography and involve themselves in sexually stimulating activity. 

These activities escalate to the point that it becomes tough to quit and the person does everything in his power to indulge in sexual acts multiple times a day despite being aware of its negative consequences.  

Causes of Sex Addiction

Just like porn addiction, sex addiction can also develop due to different factors in life. 

Biological Factor

  • Genes- Genetic disposition, emotional dysregulation or impulsivity may be a prime reason for sex addiction. Also, anxiety or depression may trigger sex addiction as well.
  • Hormones– Hormones play a vital role in developing sex addiction. A higher level of testosterone or estrogen hormone in your body can increase sex drive and may make you more susceptible to want more sexual activity.

Social Factors

  • Relationship- Rejection in relationships may lead you to seek another way of sexual gratification. Thus increase the chance of sexual addiction out of guilt or being the victim in many cases.
  • Social Isolation- Being isolated from society can increase the likelihood of seeking an unhealthy way of sexual experience. It leads to a varying range of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. These psychological problems can further escalate the sex addiction behaviours due to boredom or lack of any direction in life. 
  • Social Influence- Watching others engaging in frequent sexual activity or watching pornography may lead you to participate in a similar event, primarily if you identify with the other person. This kind of addiction happens especially with teenagers and young adults. Watching friends engaged in excessive sexual activities or the urge to try out a scene from a pornography video may influence teenagers and young adults to explore, which may lead to sex addiction. 

Psychological Factors

  • Childhood Trauma– Early age experience, including a series of abusive events or sexual harassment, can lead to hypersexual behaviour. 
  • Mental Health- Anxiety, depression, personality disorder, performance anxiety or lack of impulse control, these mental health conditions can trigger excessive sexual activities. 

People with bipolar disorder or people with extreme psychological disorders such as psychosis, schizophrenia or split personality disorder where aggressive behaviour is one of the major symptoms may engage in risky sexual behaviour. 

Signs & Symptoms of Sex Addiction

Unlike a person with a regular sex drive, a person with Compulsive Sexual Behaviour can show several emotional and physical signs of sex addiction. These signs may be varied due to the different behaviour of people.

One characteristic of sex addiction is secrecy. A person being a sex addict tend to hide their true form from family members. But some symptoms are apparent and noticeable such as unusual behaviour, performing sexual acts in front of family and people around them, talking about sexual episodes in a normal conversation, curious to know about others sex life and fantasies..

  •  Chronic Sexual fantasies, sexual thoughts.
  •  Engage in other sexual activities when alone such as phone sex, pornography, or virtual sex 
  •  Multiple sexual partners
  •  Lying to cover up sexual addiction
  •  Sex affects daily productivity and performance.
  •  Lose control to stop the behaviour
  •  Putting others in danger due to sex addiction
  •  Feeling of guilt or remorse for the constant need for sex
  •  Other negative personal and professional consequences, including going to jail.

Sexual addiction is often categorised as a cycle of hypersexuality and low self-esteem. 

However, a person with sex addiction doesn’t mean he or she has to engage in constant unnatural sex. They may be the people who are unable to stop despite knowing the adverse effects it causes in their health out of being excessively habituated to it.

Effects of Sex Addiction

Sex addiction has a  long term and severe impact on the physical and psychological well being of an individual.


The primary effect of sex addiction comes in the form of physical health problems. Uncontrolled and excessive sex increases the probability of sexually transmitted disease or infections. A study conducted by USDA showed that 38% of men and 45% of women with sex addiction suffer from a venereal disease because of uncontrolled behaviour. 

2. Pregnancy

Pregnancy is also another long term effect of sex addiction. Studies have shown that nearly 40% of women with sex addiction experienced unwanted pregnancies as a result of uncontrolled sex.

3. Loss of Self Esteem

Many sex addicts lose their self-esteem and self-worth because of the guilt and embarrassment of their addiction. They experience a strong feeling of loneliness, despair and grief. 

4. Lack of Intimacy

People suffering from sex addiction are typically unable to maintain an intimate relationship with other people and lack of self-esteem also contributes to the problem. People with sex addiction live in constant fear of being judged by others because of the way they are. That fear makes them turn away from family and friends and mostly hesitate to meet people with who they feel they would be emotionally attached to.

5. Legal Problems

People with sex addiction generally engage in consensual sex with others. But for some people it becomes paraphilic. Some people move towards more extreme conditions such as voyeurism, exhibitionism or even paedophilia. These conditions can lead to legal ramification. 

Apart from these, Sex addiction has some long term psychological effects, such as,

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Drug addiction
  • Emotion dysregulation
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Diagnosis of Sex Addiction

There are no definitive ways to diagnose sexual addiction disorder. DSM-5 doesn’t recognize sex addiction as a proper disorder. It has to be diagnosed as a subcategory of other types of mental disorder such as impulse control disorder or behavioural addiction. 

Mental health professionals often ask questions to explore the possibility of mental disorders, alcoholism or drug abuse as a trigger of sex addiction problems.  

Health professionals may provide patients with a screening test or a questionnaire to determine if an individual can be addicted to sex as well as co-occurring mental disorders such as panic disorder, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder etc. 

However, before going to a healthcare professional for proper evaluation, you may want to look out for the following signs yourself.

  • You are not able to control sexual urges.
  • Your sexual urges make you feel miserable.
  • You feel ashamed, embarrassed post-sexual activity.
  • Your relationship with friends and family is suffering.

If you find yourself exhibiting signs as mentioned above, you should consider having a talk with a psychiatrist or with your family doctor who will then lead you to a psychiatrist.

Treatment of Sexual Addiction

Similar to alcohol addiction or drug addiction, a couple of treatment methods are made available for sex addiction as well.

1.Inpatient Treatment

In this type of treatment, people suffering from sex addiction are placed in strict confinement outside their home in a different environment away from their normal life and undergo strict observation. It helps them regain control of their urge to engage in sexual activity through psychosocial treatment. This type of treatment usually lasts for 30 days or more and is coupled with individual and group therapy sessions. 

2. 12 Step Program

Sex addiction anonymous(SAA) is inspired by the recovery model of alcoholic anonymous(AA). 

This type of recovery is helpful because the patient doesn’t need to give up sex entirely; instead, they are encouraged to distance themselves from compulsive and destructive sexual encounters. 

It is a group-based model where other people suffering from the same problem become a support system for each other. 

3. Cognitive-behavioural Therapy

This type of treatment focuses on a person’s identity triggers such as behaviour, emotions, thoughts for sexual impulses and focuses on altering the behaviours through one on one sessions with a medical health professional.

4. Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT also works similar to CBT. But this type of treatment focuses on distress tolerance, mindfulness, emotional regulation and interpersonal effectiveness.  These treatments can be carried out as individual treatment, tele counselling, or group therapy. 

5.Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy focuses on the subconscious part of the mind. The fact that childhood trauma or unconscious behaviours and conflicts affect your mood, Psychodynamic therapy helps to uncover the effects of childhood traumas and other factors contributing to sex addiction. 

Medication for Sex Addiction

There is no FDA approved medication available for sex addiction. Sex addiction and related sexual diseases co-occur with other types of mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. And these health conditions can be treated with an antidepressant. 

1.Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI)

SSRI is a type of antidepressant that can potentially lower the intense urge of sexual craving by mitigating the brain’s response to rewarding behaviour.

2. Naltrexone

Naltrexone is primarily used for the treatment of alcoholism and opioid addiction. But it is also beneficial for decreasing sexually compulsive behaviour.  

3.Anti-adreogentic Medicine

Anti androgenic medications help to lower testosterone hormone level in the body, thereby reducing sexual cravings. However, this type of medication is not a permanent solution. Once cessation occurs, the hormone level will go back to normal. 

In addition to that, there are several side effects of anti-androgenic medications, raising questions about their overall effectiveness.

Drug Addiction and Sex Addiction

The brain reacts to drugs and sex very similarly. Both affect the brain’s reward system by releasing massive doses of dopamine.

  • When you take a drug, it gives you a sense of euphoria. This rewires your brain and increases the desire to retake drugs to get the same effect.
  • Sex addiction also works in the same way. Every time you engage in sexual activity, endorphins release in your body, creating a powerful incentive to engage in sexual activity again and again. becomes an endless cycle. And you become a prisoner of this desire. 

Sex Addiction and Co-occurring Disorder

Sex addiction and psychiatric conditions have a high correlation, particularly with anxiety, depression and personality disorders.

  • Depression is often co-occurred with sex addiction, and it is a severe mental disease. If untreated, it can become life-threatening to the patient.

Symptoms include:

  • Continuous sad, anxious mood
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling guilty, embarrassed, unworthy
  • Loss of interest in work or hobbies
  • Fatigue
  • Sleeplessness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Restlessness.

Prevention From Sex Addiction

1. Remove Trigger Items

When you are surrounded by items that always remind you of sex, it will be tough to quit. 

Ditch those materials. Dispose of pornographic videos, pictures, content from your phone or computer. Start using a pornography blocker on your browsers.

2. Stay Away From Places That Trigger Addictive Behaviour

Stay away from areas where you had sexual encounters before. Also, Some specific situations trigger sexual reactions. For example, if you had a one night stand with someone, you may be tempted to do that again. Try to restrict yourself from doing that. 

3. Remove Contact of Sexual Partners

Delete contact numbers of your former sexual partners. Having a list of people who are willing to have sex with you will make you crave sex even more. 


A person with sex addiction faces a different set of challenges. They may engage in behaviours that put their physical, mental health as well as the relationship in jeopardy. At the same time, there is no explicit instruction on the diagnosis of sex addiction. That makes it even more challenging to treat.

Nevertheless, it should not prevent you from getting help from a medical professional. They can guide you in the right direction to recovery.