The existence of “sex addiction” is controversial in the medical community. A proposed diagnosis, hypersexual disorder, wasn’t included in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). But that doesn’t mean people don’t struggle to control their sexual thoughts or behaviors.
The controversy surrounding sex addiction
Many experts don’t view it as a true addiction. There’s “no evidence that sexual addiction is in fact an addiction in the way that addiction is typically defined,” says Dr. Britney Blair, a licensed clinical psychologist. People who are addicted to alcohol or drugs have visible changes in their brains when they stop using. That’s not the case for sexual behavior, she says.
While sex addiction may not be a true addiction, people may struggle to control their sexual behaviors. There is “evidence of compulsive sexual behavior,” Blair says. This behavior is listed as a mental health disorder by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Defining hypersexuality or compulsive sexual behavior
Having sex is a normal human behavior. Someone who enjoys having many sex partners or types of experiences doesn’t necessarily have a problem. But there may be a problem “when a person has been unable to reduce their sexual fantasies and behaviors despite multiple attempts to do so,” says Dr. Mitchell Hicks, a licensed clinical psychologist.
In compulsive sexual behavior disorder, repetitive sexual activities may become the main focus of a person’s life, the WHO says. People with this disorder may continue these activities even when they no longer enjoy them. They may continue even if their behaviors are harming their health.
Treatment options for hypersexuality
If you’re not able to control your sexual behaviors, and that distresses you, it’s time to seek treatment, Hicks says. There are many treatments available, including individual therapy and self-help groups.
Individual therapy may help you learn what triggers your sexual behaviors. Then, you can replace them with healthier behaviors. You may also learn ways to manage stress or to rebuild relationships that have been damaged by your sexual behaviors.
Self-help groups can also be helpful. People who go to self-help groups can meet other people who are struggling with the same issues. “Such a resource helps to combat the intense shame that the sufferer often feels, which is necessary to come out of the darkness,” Hicks says.
Sex addiction may not be a true addiction, but that doesn’t mean these behaviors are harmless. Hypersexuality and compulsive sexual behaviors can have a serious impact on your life. Fortunately, they can be treated.