Label of a Sex Addict: Is it Helpful or Detrimental?

Blog Contributed by Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC for Addiction Hope

Labels are given to people for a variety of reasons – regardless of race, gender, stature, or status. Whether meant to be helpful or harmful, labeling individuals with various phrases or names imply more than intended.

In the case of sexual addiction, men or women who struggle with this disorder may be inadvertently identified as a “Sex Addict”, but what are the implications of this term?

The Origins of the Label “Sex Addict”

The label “Sex Addict” was termed for individuals who compulsively engaged in sexual activities and behaviors, regardless of any negative consequences that may result [1]. The term “Sex addict” or sex addiction transpired during the mid-1970s around the time that members of the Alcoholics Anonymous support group attempted to apply the 12-Step principles to recovery from infidelity and compulsive sexual behaviors [2].

Since this point, many support groups based on the 12-step principles have been developed for individuals who categorize themselves as sex addicts, including Sexual Compulsives Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.

No Diagnostic Criteria for “Sex Addict”

While using the term sex addict as a means of identifying a disorder or struggle may help individuals connect with resources that support their recovery journey. However, this can become divisive with a disorder that is yet to be identified with diagnostic criteria in a clinical setting.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, outlines concrete diagnostic criteria for mental health disorders. The most current version of the DSM does not include diagnostic criteria for sexual addiction or sexual disorders, likely due to the lack of clinical research in this area.

Lack of a Definition Breeds Ignorance

The lack of a workable diagnosis and treatment guidelines for clinicians who may be assisting individuals with sexual addictions can give ambiguous meaning to the term “sex addict”.

People who genuinely struggle with compulsive and addictive sexual disorders may be mistaken for “perverts” or “debauchees” or other slanderous terms. These chronic illnesses can easily become misunderstood with the label of “Sex addict”, which may prevent sufferers from reaching out for the help and treatment they need.

Generating Awareness Can Promote Research in the Area

Unfortunately, the labels commonly used in our society can bring about shame, guilt, and confusion, as in the case of individuals who are referred to as a “sex addict”.

Perhaps in breaking the stigma that is associated with these disorders and by supporting greater research in this area, diagnostic criteria might be developed for sexual addiction. This can lead to efficient treatment and better understanding of this mental health issue that is a real struggle for countless individuals.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Do you think the term “sex addict” is helpful or detrimental?


  1. Malenka RC, Nestler EJ, Hyman SE (2009). “Chapter 15: Reinforcement and Addictive Disorders”. In Sydor A, Brown RY. Molecular Neuropharmacology: A Foundation for Clinical Neuroscience (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Medical. pp. 364–365, 375.
  2. Augustine Fellowship (June 1986). Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. Augustine Fellowship.