Sex addiction, also called hypersexuality, hypersexual disorder, sexual compulsivity, and compulsive sexual behavior disorder, is a behavioral addiction focused on sex. More specifically, sex addiction is a dysfunctional preoccupation with sexual urges, fantasies, and behaviors, usually involving the obsessive pursuit of non-intimate sexuality – pornography, casual and/or anonymous sex, prostitution, etc. This adult pattern of sexual urges, fantasies, and behaviors continues for at least six months, despite attempts to either stop or curtail the activity, and directly related negative life consequences – relationship instability, emotional turmoil, physical health problems, career trouble, legal issues, and more.
In short, sex addiction is an ongoing, out-of-control pattern of sexual urges, fantasies, and behaviors that causes problems in a person’s life.
Patterns of fantasy-driven behavior typically exhibited by sex addicts include:
- Compulsive use of pornography, with or without masturbation.
- Compulsive use of one or more digital sexnologies – webcams, sexting, dating/hookup websites and apps, virtual reality sex games, sexual devices, etc.
- Consistently being “on the hunt” for sexual activity.
- Multiple affairs or brief “serial” relationships.
- Consistent involvement with strip clubs, adult bookstores, adult movie theaters, sex clubs, and other sex-focused environments.
- Engaging in prostitution and/or sensual massage (hiring or providing).
- A pattern of anonymous and/or casual sexual hookups with people met online or in person.
- Repeatedly engaging in unprotected sex.
- Repeatedly engaging in sex with potentially dangerous people or in potentially dangerous places.
- Seeking sexual experiences without regard to immediate or long-term potential consequences.
- A pattern of minor sexual offenses such as voyeurism, exhibitionism, frotteurism, etc.
Like other addicts, sex addicts use their addiction not to have a good time, but to “numb out” and escape from stress and emotional (and sometimes physical) discomfort, including the pain of underlying emotional and/or psychological issues like depression, anxiety, unresolved early-life trauma, and the like. In other words, sex addicts don’t use compulsive sexual fantasies and behaviors to feel better, they use them to feel less (to distract themselves from what they are feeling). So, sexual addiction is not about having fun, it’s about controlling what one feels.
For active sex addicts, sexually addictive activity takes place no matter what, regardless of outward success, intelligence, physical attractiveness, existing intimate relationships or anything else. Very often sex addicts, feeling shameful or fearful, will tell themselves, “This is the last time that I am going to behave in this way,” yet they are compelled to return to the same or a similar sexual situation.
Over time, sex addicts organize their entire lives around sexual fantasy and the behaviors that follow. They spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about, planning for, pursuing, and engaging in sexual activity (with themselves and/or others). Sex becomes an obsession to the point where important relationships (spouses, kids, parents, friends, etc.), interests (exercise, hobbies, creativity, etc.), and responsibilities (work, finances, childcare, etc.) are ignored. Oftentimes, sex addicts’ behaviors escalate to the point where they violate their inner values and moral code, which both creates and intensifies their shame. And because they feel so much shame about what they are doing, they nearly always find themselves leading a double life, keeping their sexual acting out secret and hidden from family, friends, and everyone else who matters to them.