Females can experience out-of-control sexual behavior, or “sex addiction,” too. Here’s what we know.
People of all genders can experience varying degrees of sexual feelings, behaviors, and fantasies. Embracing your sexuality is often a part of your self-discovery process.
However, feeling out of control of your sexual behaviors, especially if they interfere in your daily life, can have significant mental health impacts.
Sex and gender exist on a spectrum. We use “women” and “men” in this article to reflect the terms assigned at birth. However, gender is solely about how you identify yourself, independent of your physical body.
Many people use the term “sex addiction” to refer to hypersexuality or compulsive sexual behavior disorder (CSBD). However, sex addiction is not a diagnosable condition, and the term is not universally accepted in the medical community.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR), a clinical tool used by mental health experts, does not include sex addiction as a diagnosis.
Instead, feeling like you’re out of control of your sexual behavior could fall under the diagnostic category of “other specified sexual dysfunction” or “other specified disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disorder (hypersexual).”
CSBD is an impulse disorder recognized by the International Classification of Diseases, 11th Edition (ICD-11), a diagnostic handbook used in many countries and maintained by the World Health Organization.
People who feel out of control of their sexual behavior can find their symptoms very distressing. Note, though, that feeling distress due to moral conflict or because others do not approve does not merit a diagnosis.
It’s also important to determine whether the person is dealing with symptoms of an untreated mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety. Some people use sex to cope with their symptoms. Getting the appropriate diagnosis can help the person receive the most effective treatment.
Amidst the debate, repetitive and compulsive sexual behaviors may affect as many as 3% to 6% of the general population.
Symptoms related to sex addiction might also be classified as out-of-control sexual behavior (OCSB).
According to “Treating Out of Control Sexual Behavior: Rethinking Sex Addiction,” a book by sexual health experts Douglas Braun-Harvey and Michael Vigorito, OCSB is a sexual health challenge in which your consensual sexual urges, thoughts, or behaviors feel out of control. The emphasis is on “feeling” rather than “being” out of control.
OCSB is a newer concept that looks to define sexual addiction as a behavioral pattern rather than a clinical disorder.
People of all genders, including women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB), can experience hypersexuality.
Sexual compulsions can present differently in men and women. And due to cultural norms and expectations, women may feel more distress regarding uncontrollable sexual behaviors and thoughts.
“The topic of sex addiction is so controversial, and even more so when it comes to women and sex addiction,” says Catherine Hall, LMSW, a psychotherapist in New York, New York.
While there is a stigma attached to sexual behavior for everyone, “It becomes even more fraught when it comes to women because we are often not seen as desiring sex at all,” says Hall.
The research on women is limited, partly due to stigma that prevents them from seeking help or support for these issues. A lack of reporting means that we may not know the true prevalence of hypersexuality in women.
Sarah Melancon, a sociologist and certified sexologist in Los Angeles, California, explains, “Historically, the broad concept of “sex addiction” is both gendered and politicized.”
“Women have long been subject to a sexual double standard — where men are expected to be sexual, women are judged for engaging in the exact same activities,” she says. Melancon notes that men are predominantly the ones who seek treatment for sexual concerns.
People may feel out of control of their sexual behaviors for many reasons, including:
- growing up with restrictive views on sexuality
- cultural and religious conflicts
- shame or guilt
- partner differences in sexual behaviors
Some mental health challenges may be linked with hypersexuality, including:
Depending on the person, there may or may not be differences in men’s and women’s behaviors when it comes to sex addiction.
“It is often said that women experience sex addiction as an emotional addiction — and that for men the addiction is a compulsive pursuit of physical satisfaction, [but] I have not seen this play out,” says Hall.
“Emotional desire is not solely in the purview of women, and physical gratification does not solely exist for men with sex addiction,” she says.
Regardless of your symptoms, if you are engaging in sexual behaviors, thoughts, or urges that feel out of control to you, they may have crossed over into the realm of out-of-control sexual behavior.
Sex addiction is not a formal diagnosis, but out-of-control sexual urges and behaviors can be highly disruptive.
Cultural expectations and stigma may keep people from talking about sex addiction. Seeking treatment, however, can be an important part of the process.
If you or someone you know is living with sex addiction, help is available.
Looking for a therapist, but not sure where to start? Consider checking the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) referral directory to find a certified sex therapist or sexuality counselor in your local area.
Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource may also help.