Is Sex Addiction Real?

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woman with candlesWhen it comes to the term sex addict, I'm not a fan. From a strictly biological perspective, human beings are not programmed to be in one relationship, with one person, until death do us part. It may feel right to pursue a monogamous lifestyle, but regardless of your choice, it's just not the only "right" way to be. Still, it's nice and comfortable and feels good for a lot of us.

However, as we continue to stay true to one lover, the term sex addict comes up to describe those of us who fall off the path, mostly for men who cheat, go to strip clubs, pay prostitutes for sex, or send dirty text messages. And now, more and more women are being called sex addicts too.

When does the line get crossed between a healthy sexual appetite and sex addiction? This one woman went to extremes -- she went to sex clubs and even resorted to prostitution to satisfy her sex addiction. But for the majority of us who don't go to such extremes, how many times do we have to do it and do we have to feel bad about it to qualify as an addict? Is this something else for women to worry about when it comes to sex?

According to a recent Live Science article, 8 to 12 percent of people who seek help with sex addiction are women. I've read that female sex addicts use sex to gain power and money, but what I don't understand is how this is different than what we do on a date? Don't we use our sexuality (at times) to gain relationships, jobs even, or the things we desire most in life? When does having sex blur into becoming sex addiction? When the risk outweighs the reward? And do female sex addicts use sex for the same reason male sex addicts do?

I was trying to think of a famous female sex addict. One that didn't once find work in the adult industry or in sex work. I can't. I can think of plenty of men, including, of course, Jesse James, David Duchovny, and Tiger Woods. These men have been called, or called themselves, sex addicts because they risked their monogamous family life for sex. That makes them careless, sure, but does that make them addicted to sex? If anything, I'd say it has something to do with power, greed, and money. That and fame. We are so fed on fame that maybe our making these men larger than life contributed to them feeling like they were above morals and ethics?

I know I have a lot of questions, and fewer of the answers, as I sit and ponder who is a sex addict. But before I throw a large portion of women who like sex (a lot) into the ring of sex addiction, I just want to be clear that we know what we're talking about. Because women already have way more hills and valleys to go through to figure out how to have an orgasm and how to really enjoy the pleasure that comes through sex, and I don't think we need anymore guilt and shame for liking sex. The more we explore female sex addiction, the more difficult it may become for women to enjoy sex. 

When is sex an addiction?


Image via Aimanness Photography/Flickr

cheating, sex, sex drive

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nonmember avatar blh

I honestly don't believe in sex addiction. And if there is such thing very very few people have it and most people just use it as an excuse to be big whores and say well its not my fault. If you're gonna be sleazy and gross own it atleast.

Freela Freela

Generally, for something to qualify as an addiction or a problem requiring therapy, it has to interfere with your life in some significant way.  Compare this to, for instance, the difference between social drinking and alcoholism.  One can drink socially and not have it interfere with their lives.  One can even binge drink at times and not have it interfere with their lives.  One can drink socially or even binge once in a blue moon and not feel compelled to have another drink until the next big party.  This people are not alcoholics.  Alcoholics feel compelled to drink even when they know they shouldn't, even though they know there will be consequences, and end up screwing up their jobs, their relationships, and generally their lives because of it.  Sex addiction is the same deal.  Having a healthy sex drive, or having multiple partners, or even using sex for power or influence or leverage does not make a sex addict.  Being so compelled to seek out sex that one blows their whole paycheck on internet porn every month, or loses their spouse and children because they can't stop picking up prostitutes, or loses their job because they compulsively hit on co-workers... this people might meet criteria for sex addiction.

Freela Freela

To use another example: there is a difference between someone who gambles and someone who has a gambling addiction.  If someone finds the casino a fun night out, but knows their limits financially and doesn't let it consume their every waking moment, this person is not a problem gambler.  However, if someone is heavily in debt due to their gambling and is still plugging every nickel they have into video terminals or lottery tickets, and is spending every possible moment of cent either gambling or trying to get funds together to gamble, that person has a problem.  The behaviour itself isn't the issue, whether it's alcohol, gambling, or sex- it's the level of compulsion and the impact on other aspect's of the person's life that determine whether a behaviour has become pathological or not.

Deanna Hovey

I agree with Freela - addiction to something is when it becomes a negative in your life, causing you not to function in a 'normal' range of said activity. i used the term normal and feel ugly about it. if one person chooses to have multiple partners throughout their life, and maybe never be monogamous, who's business is that? really just the concerned parties. some people just have a higher sex drive and a more open mind about how to pursue it.

american society is so tapped into the gossip of celebrities that it overshadows what is and is not a 'problem.' to me, talking about people that have either strayed from a partner or have multiple partners as sex addicts is right up there with slut shaming. truth be known, i have a voracious sexual appetite - i don't want people trashing my buffet.

good article jamye - i think it's time to open up the flood gates on sex addiction. i feel like the term has come up out of necessity for PR agents to put a spin their clients' personal lives. i'm not even blaming the PR agents - i blame society as a whole for having a holier than thou view of sexuality and sexual activity. why do other people care so much about something that they have a choice about whether or not it personally affects them?

Matthew McCrady

The American Society for Addiction Medicine recently defined addiction--behavioral as well as physical--as being about neurology, not about outward actions (e.g., how often one has sex, or with how many partners). Addiction behaviors result in measurable brain changes. About sex addiction specifically, they say "We all have the brain reward circuitry that makes food and sex rewarding. In fact, this is a survival mechanism. In a healthy brain, these rewards have feedback mechanisms for satiety or 'enough.' In someone with addiction, the circuitry becomes dysfunctional such that the message to the individual becomes 'more', which leads to the pathological pursuit of rewards and/or relief through the use of substances and behaviors." I think the key is that last point--"pathological pursuit of rewards"-- in terms of diagnosing behavior as addictive. Simply risking one's marriage by cheating isn't addiction. It's normal, risk-taking behavior that men and women have engaged in since time immemorial. Being compelled to cheat with a new person every week, despite a desire to abstain, could be considered addiction if paired with other symptoms, such as regularly using one's "substance" (sex, porn) to numb one's feelings of depression or anxiety. 

Jamye Waxman

these are great comments and clarifiers. thank you.

nonmember avatar Sara

What about people that have the neurological make up of a sex addict but don't let it interfere with their lives negatively. So a combination of Matthew and Freela's clarifications. I love sex. I've had many partners of both genders and am not shy about that fact. I also have been, and am currently, in a monogamous relationship with out cheating. However I am need to have sex. I crave having sex and will have it with myself if my partner isn't available for whatever reason. What about people like me - addict?

Because of this I agree with Freela more than Matthew, though his point is also good. I'm not an addict because I control myself. Addicts don't, won't or can't control themselves. Being or not being addicted is a choice. These days we give people outs by saying their an addict. No, they CHOOSE to be an addict. Life is harder when you have to consciously not drink or gamble or screw around but it can still be done. So the word addiction, to me, is a choice not something you absolutely have to do.

Marjc... Marjchaos

Addiction, I don't know. Some kind of mental disorder that makes them subsititute sex for everything in their life, maybe. Maybe they have sexual abuse histories, and this is just a symptom. I mean, maybe they just have really low self-esteem and need the constant sexing just to feel for one moment like they have any value whatstoever. Which you gotta admit, is not a sexy notion. That's the problem I think.  They don't want to be mentally ill, because they are sexual predators. They need their prey to want them. Sexual addcition, as in "I am a sex machine, just can't get enough" sounds sexier than mental illness, so that's what they would prefer to go with.  They don't want to be treated, they want to be tolerated and accepted as is. Way easier to keep filling your gaping maw of misery than to actually do any work to change.


That's my theory, although I am not a professional and do not stand by it. If proven, or even given a decent argument, otherwise, I would happily adjust my attitude. :)

nonmember avatar leila

Just because some people (okay, men) use sex addiction as an excuse for bad behavior doesn't mean there is no such thing as sex addiction. According to the book LOVE ADDICT: SEX, ROMANCE AND OTHER DANGEROUS DRUGS by Ethlie Ann Vare, brain scans show that infatuation and orgasm affect the brain EXACTLY THE SAME WAY as smoking crack. Not everyone who tries cocaine will become an addict, but don't tell me there's no such thing as drug addiction!

nonmember avatar micaGaila

Need to take care of your health http://www.casa-delfino.com/ways-to-manage-pain.html , take care of yourself, to appreciate the precious moments

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