The Low-Down on Sex Addiction in 3 Simple Questions

Katie Smith
The Low-Down on Sex Addiction in 3 Simple Questions
Photo: Ashley Britton/SheKnows.

When it comes to sex addiction, there’s a ton of debate—including about whether or not the condition actually exists.

This question—does sex addiction exist?—has been raised for a while, though the World Health Organization (WHO) really weighed in by adding sex addiction to its list of mental health disorders. According to its listening, a person has to show a “persistent pattern of failure to control one’s intense, repetitive urges, resulting in repetitive sexual behavior” to get diagnosed with the condition.

Still, questions surrounding sex addiction persist, so we decided to talk to mental health experts to get the low-down on the condition.

What is sex addiction?

Sex addiction is defined by three major criteria, Robert Weiss, a licensed clinical social worker and sex addiction therapist, explains.

1. You’re preoccupied with sex to the point of obsession when it comes to sexual fantasies and behavior. 2. You’ve lost control over your sexual fantasies and behavior—often evidenced by multiple failed attempts to quit or cut back. 3. You’re experiencing negative life consequences—relationship trouble, issues at work or school, depression, anxiety, loss of interest in other activities, declining physical health, or financial woes—as a result of your sexual behavior.

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Sex addiction is like other addictions, and the substance you’re using to numb your feelings (stress, sadness, boredom and the like) is just sex, Weiss says.

One common misconception is that sex addiction is about having too much sex. But Michael J. Salas, a counselor in Dallas specializing in relationships and sexuality, says that’s false. Having a high sex drive and having an addictive behavior are two different things.

And, obviously, not all sex addicts have the same exact experience. According to Dr. Barbara Winter, a licensed psychologist specializing in sex addiction, sex addiction falls on a continuum, and anyone who “turns to sex or porn instead of real connection” can be paving the way for a tough road of dependency or compulsive patterns.

Why is sex addiction just now being classified as a disorder?

Sex addictions commonly co-occur with other disorders, Lindsay Cooke, a licensed mental health counselor, explains. She adds that up until this point, “there wasn’t enough empirical evidence to support it”—it being sex addiction’s clear classification as a disorder. Salas agrees, noting that while sex addiction is a very real thing, it can be hard to define.

MORE: How to Get Over Common Sexual-Performance Anxieties

Plus, according to Weiss, there’s been a “small but extremely vocal” group of clinicians who’ve argued against sex addiction being made an official disorder over the past few decades. Weiss says these professionals feared naming it a disorder might shame people with sex addictions.

Is there any treatment for sex addiction?

Techniques to treat sex addiction are pretty similar to techniques to treat others, like alcoholism and eating disorders, Weiss explains. The first step is to focus on “containing the problematic behavior” in a safe way, he says. Then, clinicians focus on “breaking through the patient’s denial” and helping them manage their addiction.

Over time, treatment usually includes group and individual therapy, as well as cognitive therapy, education, social learning and 12-step or other addiction-focused support.

MORE: How to Get Over 4 Common Sexual-Performance Anxieties

Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills family and relationships psychotherapist, says the sex addicts she’s treated typically have a high success rate. She adds, “Accountability is the first prerequisite needed in order to change.”

Like many addictions, it can be difficult to speak up and get assistance, but for those living with sex addiction, the classification as a mental health condition should make it easier to get the help they need.

If you or someone you know would like more information on or help with sex addiction, please visit the Sex Addicts Anonymous website or call them at 1-800-477-8191 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. CST, Monday through Friday.


Originally posted on SheKnows.