While sex addiction isn't officially recognized as a diagnosis by national or international governing health bodies — though the World Health Organization (WHO) added "sexual compulsive behavior disorder" to its International Classification of Diseases in June 2018 — it's still possible for you or your loved one to have an issue with sex.
Sex addicts aren't just people who crave lots of sex. Many people who struggle with compulsive sexual behavior have underlying conditions including depression, bipolar disorder, or obsessive compulsive disorder.
First, it's important to understand signs your loved one may be addicted to sex. Signs include:
- Chronic sexual thoughts, fantasies and behaviors
- Recurring thoughts and behaviors interfering with obligations
- Thoughts and behaviors continue despite consequences
- Inability to control sexual thoughts and behaviors
If you notice your loved one is exhibiting these signs, he or she may be addicted to sex, but addressing the underlying issue causing these behaviors should be the focus of any discussions.
"Rather than focusing on the sexual behavior, approach your loved one with a concern for how they feel they are able to manage their own life stressors," says sexual psychophysiologist Nicole Prause, Ph.D. "This may open up a conversation where they can express concerns and, rather than being shamed needlessly for their sexual behaviors, they may be motivated to seek assessment for common mental health concerns that are known to motivate frequent sexual behaviors as a part of those disorders."
Before discussing sex addiction or any underlying mental issues with a loved one, do your own research and due diligence to understand not only what they are going through, but to prepare yourself for the conversation.
After you've done your homework, it's important to create a safe space to address the situation. Approach your loved one from a place of support and comfort rather than confrontation and guilt.
"Even if your partner doesn't necessarily want to openly discuss their addiction at this point in time, having this sort of a conversation will help them to move beyond feelings of shame that might otherwise stop them from getting help," says clinical psychologist Daniel Sher.
Once the issue is acknowledged and addressed, now it's time to make sure your loved one is properly supported and equipped to get the support they need to combat their addiction and any underlying problems that cause their sexual behaviors.
Like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a valued resource for people with alcohol-related issues, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous can provide resources and support for your loved one dealing with sex addiction.
With your loved one on the path to understanding and recovery, don't forget about yourself. Sex addiction can take a toll on loved ones as much as that person themselves, so make sure you are OK mentally and emotionally.
"Being in love with an addict can take its psychological toll," Sher says. "Ideally, you should be receiving therapy from a trained mental health professional so that you can also get appropriate support and guidance."