Persistent, intense sexual urges and hard-to-control sexual behavior are two of the most common symptoms of compulsive sexual behavior disorder (CSBD).

If this term doesn’t ring a bell, it may be because you might refer to it by another name: sex addiction. This is, however, a term that’s not accepted by all members of the medical community.

Although talked about often in some instances, sex addiction is not a formal diagnosis. Some of the signs and behaviors that are often attributed to it are, in fact, symptoms of CSBD.

If you identify with the phrase “sex addict,” the information in this article might help you clarify this common misconception.

Compulsive sexual behavior is treatable, and talking with a health professional can facilitate a path to recovery and improve your quality of life.

Language matters

In this article, we use “sex addiction,” an expression written about, studied, and discussed in psychology and counseling groups and 12 step programs. Still, there is no evidence to suggest that sex addiction exists or that symptoms of compulsive sexual behavior may be explained as an addiction.

However, this is not to imply your symptoms and concerns aren’t valid or real. This clarification refers to formal terminology only.

The diagnosis of CSBD, also known as hypersexuality, can be challenging. There’s a lack of consistency in fitting some of its symptoms within one mental health condition.

The diagnosis has also been excluded from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), although some experts still think compulsive sexual behavior and what some people may call “sex addiction” are often seen in clinical settings.

Despite not being included as a standalone diagnosis, hypersexuality can still be diagnosed using the manual. This is done by using the category of “Other specified sexual dysfunction.”

Compulsive sexual behavior can also be diagnosed using other diagnostic manuals, such as the International Classification of Diseases, 11th Edition (ICD-11). The condition appears under impulse-control disorders, not addictions.

The ICD-11 is a diagnostic book published by the World Health Organization. Its purpose is to provide a global language for reporting and diagnosing diseases.

Not everyone with CSBD will experience the same symptoms or with the same intensity.

In fact, a 2015 literature review suggested there are significant variations among individuals when it comes to early signs and symptoms of compulsive sexual behavior.

Despite this, there are no reports that indicate symptoms of sex addiction in females are different from those experienced by males.

What some research does suggest is that symptoms of what many refer to as “sex addiction” are more prevalent among males.

For example, a 2013 study working with 1,837 students found 2% of participants had symptoms of compulsive sexual behavior. Of those, 3% were males and 1.2% females.

Some experts believe prevalence estimates for compulsive sexual behavior might not reflect the real numbers, though. This might be because not everyone feels as comfortable talking about their symptoms or admitting to some behaviors.

It might be even harder for some women to openly talk about their sexual addiction symptoms in some cultures. This might be a contributing factor when putting together prevalence estimates.

When you look at the list of symptoms of compulsive sexual behavior, it’s natural to identify with some behaviors more than others.

In fact, even people who don’t have the condition might recognize themselves in a few signs mentioned here.

The key difference is in the duration, frequency, and intensity of these symptoms, and how much they interfere in your relationships and daily functioning.

Someone living with CSBD may find it extremely difficult or even impossible to postpone and control their sexual urges and impulses. These impulses lead to repetitive sexual activities that are rarely satisfying.

This focus on sexual behaviors might lead you to face conflicts at work, in your relationships, and within yourself.

You might also experience guilt and shame that you can’t stop some of these sexual behaviors.

In other words, CSBD is a persistent and intense urge to engage in sexual behaviors and fantasies, despite any negative consequences that these may cause you or the little satisfaction they offer you.

According to the ICD-11, the most common symptoms of hypersexuality include:

  • being focused mainly on sexual activities, leading you to leave other aspects of your life unattended, including personal care
  • engaging in repetitive sexual activities and fantasies that often cannot be stopped at will or controlled
  • experiencing little to no satisfaction from performing some of these sexual activities
  • experiencing significant distress and conflicts in your life due to your sexual urges and behaviors

These symptoms need to be present for six months or longer to be considered for a diagnosis.

Here’s a closer look at what CSBD might feel like.

Loss of control

This is a key sign of compulsive sexual behavior.

People who have identified as having sex addiction admit to having a hard time controlling their sexual impulses and behaviors. This is, in fact, a symptom of CSBD.

In other words, when you live with compulsive sexual behavior disorder, you might want to stop or avoid certain sexual behaviors but find yourself unable to do so.

This is different for someone who, for example, has a high sex drive but no compulsive sexual behavior. They can avoid, postpone, control, and interrupt any sexual urges or behaviors.

For example, if you live with CSBD, you might feel the urge to watch pornography. You would give in to this urge even if that means missing a day of work or school, or disturbing someone else.

In this same case, someone who doesn’t have compulsive sexual behavior disorder might feel the same urge. They can postpone it for after work or another day, though.

Intense preoccupation with sex

When you live with compulsive sexual behavior, you might find yourself constantly preoccupied with sexual thoughts and fantasies. Even if you make an effort to focus on something else, these thoughts usually prevail.

Sex might become the central part of your life. You might start scheduling everything around your sexual activities.

You could also leave important aspects of your life unattended to perform your sexual activities or follow your sexual impulses. This could include your job or school, but also your personal hygiene and health.

Impulsive or compulsive sexual behavior

If you have CSBD, you might show both impulsive and compulsive behaviors. These terms refer to what motivates your sexual behaviors.

You may engage in sexual activities for pleasure, which is considered impulsive behavior. Or you could repetitively perform sexual activities to escape specific emotions, which is considered compulsive.

Sometimes, impulsive sexual behavior comes first. For example, you may have sex for fun and pleasure.

Later on, you might start engaging in compulsive behaviors. For example, having sex because you’re feeling down or to decrease anxiety symptoms.

It’s not uncommon for people with sex addiction to continue to engage in some sexual behaviors even if they don’t take pleasure in it.

Impulsive and compulsive sexual behavior may happen at different times or at the same time.

Sexual behavior that leads to negative consequences

Another symptom of what some people call sex addiction is the presence of persistent behaviors that damage their relationships or put people’s safety in jeopardy.

One indication a person is living with CSBD is if they’re neglecting other areas of their life, such as family or employment obligations, so that they can engage in sexual behavior.

According to one review article, people often report feeling remorse or guilt after engaging in compulsive sexual behavior. Even then, they find themselves unable to avoid or stop such behaviors.

Seeking professional help when you live with compulsive sexual behaviors is highly advisable and particularly important if you’re:

  • taking higher risks to engage in sexual activities
  • hurting yourself or others during sexual activities
  • neglecting important aspects of your life
  • thinking about harming yourself or others

If you’re considering self-harm or suicide, you’re not alone. Help is available right now:

Compulsive sexual behavior disorder is a mental health condition that may affect how you function in the world.

Some people refer to the disorder as sex addiction. However, there’s a lack of evidence to suggest these behaviors can be explained as an addiction.

Your symptoms are nonetheless real and valid. If you’re living with any of them, and they’re causing you and others distress, reaching out to a mental health professional can help.

Consider these resources as the first step to recovery: