What is sexual addiction?
Sexual addiction is a condition in which an individual cannot manage their sexual behavior. Persistent sexual thoughts affect their ability to work, maintain relationships, and fulfill their daily activities. The American Society of Addiction Medicine describes addiction as "a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry."
A person with sexual addiction is obsessed with sex or has an abnormally intense sex drive. Their thoughts are dominated by sexual activity, to the point where this affects other activities and interactions. If these urges become uncontrollable, the person can have difficulty functioning in social situations.
In some cases, a person with a healthy and enjoyable sex life may develop an obsession. They may find themselves stimulated by acts and fantasies that most people do not consider acceptable.
In some cases, the person may have a paraphilic disorder, such as pedophilia. This is a diagnosable disorder.
A paraphilic disorder involves sexual arousal caused by stimuli that most people do not find acceptable, for example pedophilia. It involves distress and dysfunction.
Sexual addiction has not been fully established as a medical condition, although it can adversely affect families, relationships, and lives. One difficulty with identifying sexual addiction is that people have different levels of sex drive, or libido. One person may consider their partner a "sex addict" only because they have a higher sex drive.
Behaviors and characteristics
Some attempts to define the characteristics of sexual addiction have been based on literature about chemical dependency. Sexual addiction may share the same rewards systems and circuits in the brain as substance addiction.
However, people with sexual addiction may be addicted to different types of sexual behavior. This makes the condition harder to define. It also suggests that the disorder stems not from the individual acts, but rather an obsession with carrying them out.
Sexual addiction also appears to involve making rules to feel in control of the condition, and then breaking them to make new rules.
Addiction can be difficult to treat, as a person with an addiction will often rationalize and justify their behaviors and thought patterns. People with a sex addiction may deny there is a problem.
Current treatment options aim to reduce any excessive urges to engage in sexual relations and to encourage the nurturing of healthful relationships.