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The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM5), created by the American Psychiatric Association, does not list sex addiction or being addicted to sex as a diagnosable mental health disorder. However, it exists and is a real problem for many Americans.

Research suggests between 5% and 7% of Americans are affected by an addiction to sex.

Those who oppose the DSM5s exclusion of sex addiction or being addicted to sex argue that how it develops and manifests is similar to other addictions, such as substance use disorders. The idea is that a person lacks control over thoughts, urges, and behaviors related to sex. This lack of control interferes with personal, professional, and social functioning.

9 Signs You Could Be Addicted to Sex

As with other addictions, specific signs point to a possible disorder. Below are nine signs you might be addicted to sex.

1. Infidelity

If you have a sex addiction, it is your top priority, even above your significant relationships. You cannot control the urge to seek a sexual partner and engage in sexual acts. You do this even when it means cheating on someone you love.

For some people, being unable to find a sexual partner may lead to criminal sex acts.

2. Criminal Sex Acts

Having a sexual addiction does not mean you will become a criminal. However, there may be times when you want to engage in a sexual activity so badly that you make poor decisions that could be criminal. For example, paying a prostitute or engaging in prostitution to satisfy an urge.

Other sex acts that you may not realize are criminal include:

  • Sexting with a consenting adult is legal. If the person you are sexting with turns out to be underage, you are committing a crime
  • Sextortion is when you threaten to share nude photos of someone to get them to send more nude or explicit images of themselves
  • Listing names online of people you have had sex with is illegal
  • Cyberbullying involves sexual communications, photos, etc.
  • Cyberstalking, like making unwanted sexual advances online
  • Downloading images of children being exploited sexually

Some U.S. states still have laws making infidelity and fornication illegal and punishable with fines and jail time. While these laws exist, they are rarely enforced.

3. Can’t Stop Thinking About Sex

If you have a substance use disorder, you have obsessive thoughts and cravings for alcohol or drugs. If you have a sex addiction, you have obsessive thoughts and cravings for sex. Your thoughts are uncontrollable and interfere with taking care of your daily responsibilities. Obsessive thoughts can be so strong you do whatever you can to stop them, which usually means engaging in a sex act.

4. Much of Your Time is Spent on Sex

Having a sex addiction requires time and effort. It is like a vicious cycle in which you crave sex, spend time seeking a sexual encounter, engage in a sexual act, recover from the sex act, and seek, engage, recover, and repeat. For some people, this cycle can take most of the day.

5. Skipping Activities to Participate in Sex Acts

Addiction can steal the time you once spent with family and friends. You no longer participate in activities you once enjoyed, so you can spend more time engaging in sex. You find excuses to avoid events or regular responsibilities, and even though personal and professional relationships are broken due to the addiction, you cannot stop.

6. Need for Self-Satisfaction

Sex addiction doesn’t always mean sex with another person or multiple people. It can also mean sexual activities you do with yourself. Masturbation is one example. Spending excessive time engaging in masturbation could be a sign of an addiction. Addiction can also mean masturbating at inappropriate times and locations.

7. Risking Your Health for Sex

Someone with an alcohol use disorder risks their health by drinking and driving. Someone with a drug use disorder, such as heroin, may endanger their health by sharing needles. If you have a sex addiction, you may risk your health by engaging in unprotected sex. Other forms of risky sex behaviors include having sex in dangerous locations, having sex in public spaces, having sex with strangers who may have a sexually transmitted disease, or having one-night stands with people who could be out to harm you.

8. Paraphilia

Paraphilia is sexually satisfied through acts that make other people feel uncomfortable, psychological distress, or pain. Examples include sadomasochism, voyeurism, and exhibitionism. Pedophilia is often placed in this category.

9. You Can’t Stop Despite Negative Consequences

An untreated addiction can lead to many negative consequences, including financial problems, broken relationships, loss of employment, physical and mental health problems, etc. Even though you understand the effects your addiction is having on your life, you cannot stop seeking the high you get from sex.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Sex addiction is often accompanied by a mental health or substance use disorder. Sometimes all three exist. Some conditions worsen a sex addiction. Certain drugs, like cocaine, can increase your sex drive due to their stimulating effects.

Also, you may have underlying mental health disorders that co-occur or cause sex addiction, including:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Codependency

Treatment for Sex Addiction

Many treatment options exist for sex addiction. You will need a comprehensive assessment by a licensed professional to determine if you meet the criteria and, if so, create a treatment plan for recovery.

Treatment may involve medication to treat any underlying mental health or substance abuse disorders. Anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, and withdrawal medications are examples. Treatment typically includes individual and group behavioral therapies to help you learn appropriate coping skills to help you maintain recovery.

Behavioral therapies often include cognitive-behavioral therapy, contingency management, dialectical-behavioral therapy, and motivation enhancement therapy. In addition, couples therapy, relationship counseling, or family therapy is recommended so your loved ones can help you avoid a relapse.

To learn more about sex addiction, call us for a confidential conversation about the disorder and how we can help.

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  1. Kraus SW, Voon V, Potenza MN. Should compulsive sexual behavior be considered an addiction? Addiction. 2016;111(12):2097-2106. doi:10.1111/add.13297

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