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Sex Addiction in Modern Times

how sex addiction can change mental illnessThe #MeToo movement has prompted many different discussions about boundaries, responsibility, and society. The issues surrounding what constitutes sexual harassment or sexual assault also relate to how someone could cross those boundaries in the first place. Excessive alcohol use or unclear communication are most often seen in college-aged assaults. While still distressing, multiple extra-marital affairs, financial distress from purchasing sex, and compulsive porn-watching seem to stem from a different source than the alcohol or miscommunication assaults. One term that’s been used to describe the “why” of these actions, is called sexual addiction.

According to Medical News Today, sex addiction is described as a condition where someone is unable to manage their sexual behavior. If sexuality impairs the ability to work or hinders relationships, sexual addiction may be the problem.

The effects of sexual addiction include:

  • Losing interest in hobbies or friendships
  • Financial problems
  • Relationship miscommunication
  • Concentration issues during school or work

There are many different reasons why someone could conceivably have a sex addiction, but the common cause stems from a need to escape. Like one of the root elements of alcoholism, the sexual behavior is used more as self medication which functions to treat different problems. This kind of distraction can be all-consuming, but unlike alcoholism, the common conclusion to abstain, is not prescribed.

Trauma is a possible component. If the trauma included sexual abuse, this may be particularly difficult. Often times when sexual abuse occurs, the feelings surrounding loss of power stay with the abused person, even after the abuse is over. In an effort to take control, sexual fantasies around the trauma may feel overwhelming.

The role of anxiety may also play a part. The ability to escape coupled with physiological sensations in the body, can both immediately relieve stress. The impulse to seek the same type of comfort and relief from anxiety can create a loop that leads toward sexual addiction.

Commonly Reported Symptoms:

  • Engaging in multiple affairs. Having multiple partners suggests that the person having the affairs, is more interested in the initial excitement of a relationship than the actual “heart” of it. The endorphins, the escape from real responsibility, and the different lives one must lead to manage all relationships, is a full time job. This type of lifestyle leaves little left over for meaningful relationships.
  • Hiring prostitutes or paying for sexual favors. Hiding sexual behavior from a spouse or loved one to seek additional or alternative sex, is problematic for a number of reasons. Sexually transmitted disease, trust issues, and the inability to harness impulses all result in relationship issues.
  • Repeated unprotected sex. This is physically dangerous for all involved. Because the sex addict frequently displays symptoms of low-esteem, a failure to take precautions in protecting health is another common sign of sex addiction.

Like other forms of addiction, the knowledge and treatment varies dramatically. Celebrities or politicians caught in a sex scandal have been known to claim sex addiction, possibly to avoid moral responsibility for the choices they have made. Whether the compulsion is there because of a seemingly-unavoidable need for instant sexual gratification or because there is a problem with the individual’s personality, the following treatments are available for anyone with compulsive sexual dysfunction:

  • Sex Addicts Anonymous. Recovery exists through a model that describes ‘sobriety’ without abstaining from all sexual experiences. The premise states that sex is not the problem, rather the addiction to certain sexual behaviors.
  • Group therapy. Unlike the twelve-step programs, group therapy is directed by a trained professional. Group therapy has the added bonus of fostering non-sexual connection with others that one-on-one therapy cannot provide.
  • Support forums are a way that one can find help while preserving complete anonymity. Through various online support groups like the forums on Psych Central, there are very different people to gain insight from. Internet support groups also have the added benefit of being available regardless of the time of the day.
  • Individual therapy can also help with these issues. Sex addiction specialists may be the best fit if group settings are not desired.

Further reading: Sex Addiction 101

Sex Addiction in Modern Times

Rebecca Lee

Rebecca Lee lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. She has published with: Harvard, Adbusters, The Virginian Pilot etc. Her book, Object Relations, is due for publication in July.

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APA Reference
Lee, R. (2018). Sex Addiction in Modern Times. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 27 Jan 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.