Sexual Addiction Causes, Statistics, Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

What is Sexual Addiction?

Addiction is defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) “as a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. Sexual Addiction is one of the many subsets of this behavior.

This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. It is characterized by an inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.

Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death” [1].

Dr. Patrick Carnes of The Meadows Gentle Path Sexual Addiction Recovery Program

Sex Addiction (sometimes referred to or described as nymphomania, hypersexuality, satyriasis, erotomania, compulsive sexual behavior, Don Juanism, and Don Juanitaism) is a term used to describe a person that feels a lack of control or restraint concerning their sexual thoughts, urges, and behaviors.

It is marked by compulsive sexual thoughts and acts alongside difficulties with intimacy. It can demonstrate itself as uncontrollable compulsions with pornography, masturbation, phone sex, cybersex, escorts, prostitutes, meaningless affairs, strip clubs, voyeurism, and exhibitionism to name a few.

In some cases, it can progress to rape or pedophilia. Sex addiction is having these urges and thoughts in such a preoccupying intensity that the addict feels unable to control them and is compelled to follow through and act on these thoughts. The compulsion to act out is stronger than the fear of the inherent dangers and potential damages to the addict and the addict’s family, friends, work, moral code, and finances.

The causes of sex addiction are complex and not completely understood. Theories range from a dysfunctional family life in childhood to biochemical imbalances to being sexually abused as a child, to the misdiagnoses of Obsessive Compulsion Disorder (OCD) as sex addiction.

The proponents of the psychological theories lean towards believing that a dysfunctional family life can leave a child feeling a lack of trust in others and that they are unworthy of love. This lack of trust and feeling of unworthy of love can lead a person down the path of using sex as a temporary way to feel close to someone without intimacy or to avoid intimacy altogether with pornography or masturbation.

The supporters of biochemical imbalances tend to favor studies that show antidepressants and psychotropic medications to be an effective means of treating some patients.

The people who believe that sex addiction is not its own disorder, but is misdiagnosed Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Obsessive Compulsion Disorder or Bipolar Disorder look towards the progression and nature of sex addiction and see similarities with these other disorders. The ability to manage sexual addiction can be learned, and a normal life can be lived without these struggles.

Dr. Stephanie Carnes of The Willow House at The Meadows. Treating Love Addiction & Intimacy Issues in Women.


Sexual addiction is an addiction that is not hard to develop. It would seem that people, in general, are fixated on sex so much so that 72 Million worldwide internet users visit adult sites per month [2]. Also, about 12% of total websites are pornographic (4.2 Million websites) [2]. There are many other statistics relating to sexual addiction. Here are a few:

  • 42.7% Of internet users view pornography [2]
  • The National Council on Sexual Addiction Compulsivity estimated that 6%-8% of Americans are sex addicts, which is 18 million – 24 million people [3]
  • More than 80% of women who have porn addiction take it offline. Women, far more than men, are likely to act out their behaviors in real life, such as having multiple partners, casual sex, or affairs [4]

Causes of Sexual Addiction

There is no one reason as to why someone develops a sexual addiction. There are several theories but the most common ones appear to be:

  • Psychological – Often associated with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), bipolar disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, etc.
  • Biological – The intoxication of the sexual release are believed to create a change in brain chemicals. The neuro-pathways to the brain’s reward center for drug abuse and sexual addiction are very common
  • Social – Frequently have low self worth, insecurity, difficulty coping with painful emotions, may have been sexually abused, etc.

Unfortunately, with the explosion of pornography on the internet, sexual addiction is on the rise. Some researchers of sex addiction claim that internet sex is the “crack cocaine” for the addiction. This makes sexual addiction a difficult battle to fight with all of the sexual stimulation one could desire at the tip of their fingertips. However, help is available through the support of loved ones, a specialist trained sexual therapy and sexual addiction treatment centers.

Signs and Symptoms of Sexual Addiction

Sexual addiction, like most addictions, is one that is hidden and often the person suffering feels a great deal of shame. This person needs help, and there are various signs and symptoms that may present themselves by someone suffering from sex addiction. If these symptoms are viewed or experienced, then professional help should be contacted. Some symptoms include:

  • The inability to stop, resist or control the impulses to engage in sexual acts
  • Frequently having more sex and with more partners than intended
  • Needing to engage in sexual behaviors more often and over longer period of time
  • Excessive amounts of energy and time spent in acquiring sex, being sexual, or recouping from sexual experience
  • Obsessed with the actions or preliminary activities that are to a part of the sexual activity
  • Constantly participating in the sexual behavior regardless of the negative consequences
  • Unable to fulfill occupational, academic, domestic, or social obligations due to sexual behavior
  • The persistent need to intensify the amount, or risk of behaviors to reach the desired outcome
  • Constantly desiring and obsessed with sex

sexual addiction metaphor image

Sex Addiction Effects

Attempting to live with a sexual addiction is extremely complicated. It is difficult to live a normal life as the addict is constantly focused and obsessed with fulfilling their sexual desires. They then give in to acting on the compulsive need to alleviate the stress and anxiety that has been built-up. The ability to recognize the physical, emotional and social effects of sex addiction can help lead to recovery sooner. Some emotional signs include:

  • Shame
  • Depression
  • Low self-confidence
  • Low self-esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive tendencies
  • Guilt
  • Anger

Some of the physical effects are:

  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Hepatitis B or C

Harmful social consequences:

  • Sufferer becomes isolated
  • Can develop substance abuse addiction
  • Broken  family relationships
  • Legal troubles
  • Loss of career
  • Experience financial devastation

Sexual Addiction Treatment

Treating addiction to sex is as unique as the individual that is battling it. It is complicated and hard to manage. The person is constantly obsessed with sexual thoughts and behaviors. They become consumed with the rituals the pathological pursuit of fulfilling the sexual desires that must be performed before they can feel the release of the tension. The best treatment for sexual addiction is seeking specialized assistance from a certified counselor or sexual rehabilitation treatment center. With the proper tools, guidance, and support, virtually any addiction can be overcome and you can be in control your life again.


[4]: Today’s Christian Woman, September/October 2003

  • A sexual addiction is much more than just looking at porn. There is a biological component that can help in developing a sexual addiction. This can happen when dopamine floods the brain when something pleasurable is experienced. The dopamine produces feelings of pleasure as well as aids in learning and memory. This combination can help in the development of a sexual addiction.
  • Sexual addiction affects so many people, and many of those suffering are in the church. A Real Revival is needed in the church, but this cannot happen with so many people in sexual bondage.
  • I prided myself on not competing with the father of my wife’s children and encouraging their interaction with him. I never had a negative thing to say about him. As it turns out there was much more going on while I was at work than a casual father’s visit to his children. In fact, they had been engaged in an ongoing sexual relationship since before and all throughout our marriage.
  • One of the most challenging areas of my work is helping those with sexual addiction. Just mentioning sexual addiction is often frightening. Sex is a powerful aspect of human life, full of all types of beliefs and assumptions. Sexual addiction hides in the shadows, often for years. There all types of images that are funny or even dangerously appealing about drug and alcohol use.
  • Find a breakdown of what exactly sexual addiction is. Learn common triggers for sex addiction. Finally, learn the tools to successfully recover from any type of addiction.
  • For many of us married to men who struggle with sexual addiction, this is the first suffering we endure—recurring cycles of fear, frustration, and self-doubt. We feel crazy because our hearts are telling us one thing while our husbands are busy convincing us that nothing is wrong.
  • One of the common stigmas about sexual addiction is that this is a disorder that primarily affects men. The reality, however, is that women are also impacted by sexual addiction and often ignored or overlooked.
  • Treatment for sexual addiction involves the assistance of trained professionals who specialize in working with sex addicts. Another invaluable component of recovery involves support groups, which includes other men and women who may be struggling with similar issues.
  • An addiction to sex has many similar connections to other compulsive disorders, such as a drug addiction or eating disorder. Previous research studies have documented the co-morbidity of sex addition with other addictions.
  • One population in which sex addiction has become a topic of frequent conversation is within the military. In regards to pornography alone, which is considered to be a type of sex addiction, research has shown that approximately 10% of civilians have an addiction to porn, while the percentage among military personnel is noted as being double that, at 20%.
  • If a person is in a marriage, then isn’t it normal to assume that he or she has been successfully able to form and maintain a lasting relationship? Ideally, yes. But, in reality, the answer is no.
  • With many children and adolescents having easy access to various forms of media today, our youth is increasingly exposed to sex at younger and younger ages. What are the implications of this in younger generations?
  • One of the many aspects that strike confusion about sexual disorder is in regards to what sexual addiction involves and how it differs from a “love addiction”. Let us take a look at these two different disorders to better understand a love addiction versus a sexual addiction among women and how these are different from one another.
  • For those servicemen and women who are deployed and spend their days on the frontlines of war, the levels of stress, anxiety, and fear have to be monumental. Being in a place that they are not familiar with, in a constant state of heightened alertness, all the while knowing that they are in physical danger can understandably lead to a desire to find some sense of relief, however fleeting it may be. For some, this relief may come in the form of sexual thoughts or acts.
  • The expansion of research in the field of sexual addiction is important to advance the cause of the countless number of individuals who suffer with this disorder. Through research efforts, the various components of sexual addiction are better understood, such as biological, psychological, and emotional factors that may be attributed to this disorder.
  • With a culture that has so often blurred the lines of sexuality, how can a more serious sexual addiction or hypersexuality be identified? What behaviors distinguish compulsive sexual behavior from other intimacy disorders? Sexual addiction can be identified and characterized by certain patterns and behaviors.
  • Like drug addicts, sex addicts become addicted to the feelings they experience, however unlike drug addiction, sex addicts are not always asked to abstain completely. Rather, they are often asked to associate sex with positive relationships and are taught techniques to control their behaviors, which can involve individual and group treatment programs.
  • With the increased exposure to explicit sexual content throughout media sources today, one must ponder the impact of such material on children and young adolescents. Unfortunately, with the easy access to the internet, many children are overexposed to a myriad of inappropriate sexual content.
  • Newer research in the field of sexual addiction has separated this disorder from the many myths and stigmas that surround this mental health disorder. As a condition that impacts countless individuals across the world, it is important to increase understanding by distinguishing myth from truth.
  • Contrary to the way society and mass media portrays sexual behaviors, sexual addiction is a serious disorder that involves many complex factors. Men and women, who suffer with compulsive sexual behaviors, or hypersexuality, have similar characteristics that define their patterns and choices.
  • That complicated organ above our necks is the biggest and most powerful sex organ in the body. It governs the sexual response cycle and oversees everything from desire to arousal to orgasm and the refractory period.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 29, 2019
Published on, Drug Addiction & Abuse Resources