Many people have intense sexual urges, fantasies, and behaviors. But what happens when these become intrusive and persistent?

Different factors and experiences may lead someone to develop sex addiction and other sex disorders.

Although sex addiction is not a formal or recognized diagnosis, the phrase has often been used to describe symptoms associated with compulsive sexual behavior disorder (CSBD).

Even then, not all experts agree these symptoms fit into one single mental health condition. This can sometimes make diagnosis challenging.

Regardless, if you’re experiencing compulsive and intrusive sexual behaviors, you may find improvement after seeking the support of a mental health professional.

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 empirical 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.

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It’s natural to wonder where your symptoms came from. However, the root causes of compulsive sexual behavior disorder, also known as hypersexuality, are not well understood.

Experts have identified a few factors that may be associated with what you or others may refer to as sex addiction.

However, whether they cause your symptoms, contribute to your symptoms, or are a result of your symptoms, has not been fully determined.

Potential causes and contributing factors of CSBD include:

  • frontal lobe abnormalities
  • neurotransmitters
  • medications
  • emotional dysregulation
  • parental relationships
  • childhood abuse

Frontal lobe abnormalities

There’s limited neuroimaging research on hypersexuality that would answer if and how different the brain is in people with compulsive sexual behavior.

However, some literature suggests that, in some cases, hypersexuality may be associated with frontal and temporal lobe injuries or tumors.

This review suggests hypersexuality is more likely to occur when there are previous psychosocial challenges or abnormalities on both temporal lobes.

Not all people with frontal or temporal lobe lesions experience compulsive sexual behaviors, though. In the same way, not every compulsive sexual behavior can be explained by a lesion in your brain.

Neurological conditions, such as dementia, have also been linked to sexual compulsions. A causality hasn’t been established yet, though.


Imbalances in some neurotransmitters — such as the highly addictive dopamine — may contribute to compulsive sexual behavior disorder, though the exact mechanisms are unclear.

Neurotransmitters are an important part of your body’s sexual reaction, triggering responses of the central nervous system such as increased heart rate and regulating reactions to pleasure.

Significant changes in the levels of these neurotransmitters may impact your sexual behaviors.


Certain medications may trigger compulsive sexual behaviors, although experts have yet to understand the exact mechanisms.

For example, a 2010 study found that some treatments for Parkinson’s disease based on dopamine replacement have been associated with increased symptoms of compulsive sexual behavior and other impulse-control disorders.

More research on this topic is needed, however, to establish a cause and effect relationship.

Mood states and emotional dysregulation

Some experts have noted a relationship between mood states and emotional regulation with an increase in compulsive sexual behaviors.

A 2020 study, for example, found that emotional dysregulation can be both a symptom of and a contributing factor to the development of the condition.

Emotional dysregulation refers to a difficulty managing your emotions or regulating emotional reactions to a specific stimulus.

A 2020 review also found a link between feelings of boredom and hypersexuality, although more evidence is needed to establish a causal relationship.

In general, higher levels of both pleasant and unpleasant emotions have been linked to an increase in impulsive-compulsive behaviors.

Parental relationships

Family dysfunction may also contribute to symptoms of hypersexuality, although no cause and effect link has been established.

Older studies examined in a 2015 review found people from disengaged and rigid families experience more compulsive sexual behaviors than those from different family structures.

Childhood abuse

A 2020 study and a literature review from the same year indicated that childhood and adolescent sexual abuse is significantly associated with hypersexual behaviors.

A trusted care specialist can help you discover what is influencing and causing your symptoms of sex addiction.

Treatment options for CSBD may include:

  • Psychosocial therapy. Looking at how addiction-related behaviors are linked to social influences.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. Focusing on prevention and reshaping how you think about sexual behavior.
  • Psychodynamic therapy. Exploring how deeper emotions and thoughts are expressed through sexual behaviors.
  • Couple’s therapy. Helping you and your partner understand sex addiction in a relationship.
  • Pharmacotherapy. Using medications to treat other physical side effects or conditions linked with CSBD.
  • Support networks. Finding an outlet to discuss your treatment journey and challenges you may face.

Sex addiction is not a formal diagnosis. The pattern of repetitive sexual activities and urges that’s usually attributed to this phrase can also be explained by compulsive sexual behavior disorder.

The causes of this condition aren’t yet well understood, but some experts believe it may be a combination of different factors. Emotional regulation, sexual trauma, and neurological changes are some of these factors.

If you’re interested in exploring what’s behind your hypersexual behavior, consider visiting these resources: