Many people wonder what sexual addiction really is, as well as the signs, causes, treatment options, and non-threatening ways to talk with a partner they suspect of sexual addiction. Nevertheless, “sex addiction” is not a term that all therapists use, although there is research pertaining to hypersexual disorder. “Sex addiction” has not been included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-V), (an authoritative guide agreed upon by hundreds of international experts), but rather compulsive behavior or disorder, where hypersexual disorder may be considered a subcategory.
What is Sexual Compulsion?
A sexual compulsion is an uncontrollable urge to engage in a sexual activity, such as viewing pornography, self-pleasuring, talking about sex excessively, attempting to have consensual sex with strangers, pressuring one’s partner to have sex, or driving around and shopping for sex workers.
A common misconception about sex addiction is that masturbating over a certain number of times within a period of days means the person has the condition of sex addiction, porn addiction or masturbation addiction. However, an addiction is an uncontrollable compulsion to act, not the number of times the act happens or the act itself. The urge also causes distress. One could experience compulsive sexual urges and only act on the urge infrequently. However, if the urge is so powerful that it interrupts their daily life, that person would qualify the issue with the label of compulsion.
Another person would be capable of watching pornography and masturbating several times per day with no negative side effects and be content. Since their sex life, relationships, etc. are not negatively impacted or disrupted and they are not unhappy, they do not qualify as sexually addicted. That is why it is important not to equate the amount of times that people engage in a sexual act with a sexual disorder. Therapist and Dr. Kirk Honda notes that “if someone plays golf three times a week, this does not mean they have a golfing disorder. However, if the person had an uncontrollable urge to go golfing and it ruined their life, then we would call that a golfing compulsion.” Therefore, addiction is compulsion and not an amount.
Recognizing the difference between sexuality and the uncontrollable compulsive urge when identifying sexual addiction is essential. A person who engages in sexual behavior outside of the confines of a monogamous, heterosexual relationship, like masturbation, voyeurism, or swinging, regardless of frequency, is not necessarily sexually addicted, especially if the couple agrees such sexual activities are acceptable. If a sexual act feels shameful, it can indicate internalized propaganda that is different from an imposed value system, rather than being bad, wrong or immoral. Self-pleasuring or masturbating without the partner’s “permission” is inadequate information to know if the person suffers from compulsion or not. Not all people who cheat are sex addicts, nor do all sex addicts cheat. Similarly, a person who commits a sexual crime does not necessarily have a sexual addiction, since it might be a consequence of a number of psychological conditions, (e.g., antisocial personality disorder).
7 Common Signs of Sex Addiction:
Understanding that sexual compulsion is an uncontrollable urge to engage in a sexual activity, below are some of the most common signs of sex addiction:
The need, desire or craving for certain sexual behavior(s) becomes excessive.
The person resists and opposes fulfilling the need for a sexual behavior.
3. Failure to stop
Although the person resists, they succumb to the urge and eventually act to fulfil the sexual behavior.
4. Hiding the act
People will generally conceal the sexual behavior for the sake of shame or fear of consequences.
Sexual behavior escalates over time, becoming more intense, frequent, and/or producing negative consequences in other areas of life. Sex addiction can be likened to drug addiction where people need increasingly stronger substances to elicit the same effect.
Having resisted the sexual behavior, the person now feels regret after engaging in it.
7. Loss of control
The compulsion is a behavior that cannot be stopped or controlled.
Hypersexuality is classified as an impulse control disorder (ICD). Other examples are:
- Compulsive checking to make sure the stove is turned off
- Compulsive cleaning
- Compulsive eating
- Compulsive washing
- Compulsive counting
- Compulsive hair pulling
- Compulsive hobbyism and punding (repetitive goal-less tasks, e.g., mechanical tasks, assembling and disassembling, collecting, or sorting household objects.)
- Compulsive hoarding
- Compulsive scratching or picking
- Compulsive shopping
- Compulsive switching the lights on and off
- Compulsive tapping
Compulsions are common, and sexual behavior can be a compulsion for some.
Addiction or compulsion in general is usually caused by some childhood trauma or mistreatment. However, it can also be caused by certain medications or brain injuries and other causes. “Hypersexuality (HS) was one of the earliest examples of an impulse control disorder (ICD) or behavior to be associated with treatment for Parkinson's disease.”
Sex Addicts Anonymous is a 12 step program like Alcoholics Anonymous. However, it’s important to talk with a professional therapist to determine if you actually have sex addiction or real compulsion. Many people mistake sex addiction for cognitive dissonance in their sexuality, meaning a feeling of shame because of a conflict of ideas surrounding their sexuality. A therapist can help with differentiating between shame about their own sexuality (non-traditional sexual activities, homosexuality, etc.) and sex addiction.