While sexual addiction is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), many experts refer to the disorder as Hypersexual Disorder. While there is no consensus in the mental health field about the diagnosis of sexual addiction, those attempting to classify it as such have outlined a number of signs and symptoms.
The Signs of Hypersexuality
A recent study suggested hypersexuality is not a true addiction based on what happens in the brain. However, many experts agree that certain patterns of behavior may be indicative of hypersexuality.
Preoccupation with Sex
People with sexual addiction may experience a pattern of sexual preoccupation including sexual thoughts, fantasies, and pornography use. Other issues related to a preoccupation with sex surround trying to control sexual behaviors, including:
- Multiple unsuccessful attempts to control sexual thoughts and behaviors
- Breaking promises to self or others regarding sexual behaviors
- Persistently thinking about sex over other important things in your life such as work, family, or school
- Feeling angry or irritable when trying to change sexual behaviors or when unable to engage in sexual behaviors
- Experiencing feelings of guilt and shame associated with compulsive sexual behaviors
Likewise, a person with sexual addiction may display a number of sexual behaviors, including:
- Engaging often in sexual activities with more partners than intended
- Sexual activities taking over a significant portion of your life to the detriment of your other activities or obligations
- Continuing sexual behaviors in spite of negative consequences that may be associated with them such as broken relationships or sexually transmitted diseases
- Engaging in more or riskier sexual behaviors to satisfy desire for sexual fulfillment
- Spending an increasing amount of time pursuing sex
- Need for more frequent sexual behavior or more sexually intense experiences to achieve the desired effect
Like other addictive behaviors, someone with hypersexual disorder may experience a "high" when engaging in sexual activities or fantasies. The behavior is then driven in search of the "high."
Unfortunately, once the euphoria fades, the person struggling with a sexual addiction will start the cycle anew, seeking another experience. In some cases, the need for the euphoria is progressive, so what once caused the high no longer does and the addict may need to seek more intense, frequent, or riskier encounters to achieve the same result.
Additional compulsive behaviors may be signs of sexual addiction, including:
- Compulsive self-stimulation/masturbation
- Having multiple extra-marital affairs
- Having sex with commercial sex workers
- Engaging in cybersex
- Having many one night stands or multiple sex partners simultaneously
- Compulsively watching pornography
- Excessive amount of time spent preparing for sexual activities, recovering from sexual activities, or engaging in sexual activities
- Diminished effect from normal sexual activities
- Emotional detachment from sex partners
- Frequent unprotected sex
- Regularly engaging in sexual behaviors that are counter to one's values, religious beliefs, or morals
- Sexual fixation on an unobtainable person
Proposed Diagnostic Criteria
The American Psychiatric Association created a draft of diagnostic criteria for hypersexuality in 2010. The criteria are as follows:
- Recurring pattern of intense sexual urges, behaviors or fantasies that last six months or more not caused by other illnesses or issues
- Repeated use of sexual activity, urges, or fantasies to cope with stress or negative moods such as sadness or boredom
- Multiple unsuccessful attempts to curtail or reduce negative sexual behaviors
- Engaging in sexual behaviors, urges, and fantasies without regard for the risk of negative consequences to self or others
- Significant impairment or distress in one or more areas of everyday life including family, work, or other activities as a result of frequent sexual urges, fantasies, and behaviors
- Sexual fantasies, urges, and behaviors are not a result of other medical or mental health issues such as bipolar disorder or medications
Sexual addiction can have very real consequences in all areas of one's life. Those concerned about sexual addiction should seek help through a reputable therapist, or an organization such as Sex Addicts Anonymous. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of sexual addiction is the first step.