If compulsive sexual behaviors are adversely impacting your life, there are treatment options that can help you find relief.
Whether you call it sex addiction, compulsive sexual behavior disorder, hypersexuality, or something else, support is available if you feel your sexual urges and behaviors are adversely impacting your life.
Sex addiction is a controversial term because not all mental health professionals recognize it. It’s not a formal diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).
This doesn’t make the experience any less real for the 3% to 6% of the general population who may identify with some of the symptoms attributed to sex addiction.
Sexual desire and expression exist on a spectrum. For some, their relationship with sex and intimacy is manageable and a positive part of their lives. For others, persistent or compulsive sexual tendencies may impact their ability to function every day.
“If you and your partner are in agreement with your sexual behaviors, then there really is no issue or pathology,” says clinical psychologist Nancy Irwin, who practices in West Los Angeles. “If your sexual behavior is costing you or your partner, family, friends [or] something, then you may want to seek treatment and change your behavior.”
If you’re wondering “how can I stop my sex addiction” or “how can I control my out-of-control sexual behaviors,” professional help is available.
How you treat your compulsive sexual behaviors depends on many factors.
You may want to reach out to a mental health professional who specializes in sexual health. They’ll be able to explore what options might work better for your particular circumstances.
Speaking with a sex therapist can guide you toward uncovering and healing the potential root causes of your compulsive sexual behaviors, some of which may include:
- childhood trauma
- overlapping mental health symptoms such as depression or anxiety disorder
- relationship challenges
- physical conditions
There are many types of psychotherapy, but a
- psychodynamic psychotherapy
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- couples therapy
- family therapy
Sex therapy is another treatment option that can help you examine your relationship with sex and overcome any sexual challenges you might be facing.
Somatic therapy practices may also provide relief for those living with trauma.
“Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing [EMDR] is a trauma modality that uses somatic symptoms as a conduit for transforming behaviors while resolving traumas,” Irwin explains. “Treatment plans vary, but 10 sessions can make a profound difference.”
She adds that exploring your attachment style can also allow you to better understand how possible intimacy challenges that might be influencing your sexual behaviors were formed in early childhood.
Addressing this in therapy could also teach you how these tendencies can be changed to improve your current and future relationships.
Residential programs can serve as a more immersive and thorough option when treating compulsive sexual behaviors, sometimes referred to as sex addiction.
Inpatient centers may offer you a safe space to work with qualified counselors in a more intimate, secluded environment.
Depending on the type of inpatient program you enter, you may participate in a wide range of activities and therapies during the day, such as:
- individual therapy
- group therapy
- educational classes
- recreational activities
Inpatient programs can last for weeks or months, although most last up to 6 weeks. The length of time might differ according to each person and recommended treatment plan.
There are no Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved medications for sex addiction or compulsive sexual behavior.
But a 2020 study indicated that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and naltrexone could help manage some compulsive sexual behaviors if combined with CBT or another form of psychotherapy.
Another 2020 study indicates that naltrexone by itself can lead to a significant decrease in hypersexual behaviors. But this study had no control group and a small sample size of men. More research is needed to explore whether naltrexone is an effective long-term treatment option.
Only a health professional can help you explore pharmaceutical options for your specific symptoms.
Twelve-step programs can provide support for some folks who experience compulsive sexual behaviors. But they’re not for everyone, and your experience will depend on factors such as:
- your symptoms
- how long you’ve experienced them
- what other support you have
Depending on the intensity of your symptoms, these programs might help you manage some of your behaviors.
More research is needed on its efficiency, but a 2018 study notes that a program such as Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) may benefit some people. For example, it can:
- reduce sense of helplessness when it comes to sex
- reduced avoidant coping strategies
- improve impulse control
- lower levels of compulsive sexual behaviors
Recovery programs can offer support for those who join as well. Some of the most common sex addiction groups include:
Joining groups alongside other people who share the same experiences can remind you that you’re not alone.
The main sign that you may need professional support is if you experience persistent and intense levels of distress related to your sexual urges and behaviors.
This distress can come directly from your behaviors or be associated with the consequences of such behavior — for example, relationship challenges.
“Many sexologists and sex therapists are of the opinion that this [sex addiction] diagnosis is problematic and can be used in ways that support shame and the medicalization of diverse desire,” says Good Vibrations staff sexologist Carol Queen.
“But we think it’s crucial since the notion of sex addiction can be so stigmatizing (and sometimes downright sex-negative) that we focus on the effects of sexual behavior on the person’s well-being and that of any partner/s.”
Instead of focusing on how much sex and which types of sex you engage in, Queen believes it’s important to reflect on these behaviors and urges’ impact on other aspects of your life.
Here are some signs that may indicate you might need professional help for your sexual behaviors:
- you’re unable to go to work because of your sexual practices
- you can’t stop thinking about sex even if you want to
- you persistently disregard safer sex practices
- you lie to others to conceal your sexual behaviors
- you frequently feel guilty, frustrated, or ashamed about your sexual practices
- you constantly experience difficulty managing your impulses and urges
- you violate personal or sexual boundaries of your partner(s) or others
- you’re unable to build a life outside of your relationship with sex
- you repeatedly experience adverse consequences as a result of your sexual behaviors
To better reflect on the impact that sex has on your life, Queen recommends asking yourself the following questions:
- Can you find consenting partners to sexually engage with?
- Can you communicate clearly about your sexual desires without shame or guilt?
- Can you listen to your partner and respect their desires and boundaries when different than yours?
- Are you and your partner(s) more or less on the same page when it comes to sexual practices?
- Do you feel your sexual needs get in the way of other aspects such as your job, school, or relationships?
- Can you integrate your sexuality into your larger life?
- Are there other challenges that could play into your compulsive sexual behaviors? (for example, substance use or mental health conditions)
If your sexual tendencies aren’t causing harm or interfering with your life, then you likely don’t need to seek help.
But if you have a hard time managing your sexual tendencies and they adversely impact your life or the lives of others, you might want to consider talking with a mental health professional.
Sex addiction is a controversial term that may promote stigma or shame among those who experience sexual desire at a higher level or frequency than others.
Sex addiction isn’t considered a formal diagnosis according to the leading diagnostic manuals used by mental health and sexuality professionals.
But whether you call the condition “sex addiction,” “out-of-control sexual disorder,” or “hypersexuality,” this point remains the same: Those who live with compulsive sexual behaviors can experience challenges that adversely impact their lives and relationships.
If you’re experiencing distress because of your sexual urges and behaviors, help is available and effective.
Healing may take some time, depending on the type of treatment you pursue. But no matter which treatment option you decide on, it’s possible to manage compulsive sexual behaviors.