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Is Sex Addiction a Real Thing?


Sex addiction is a subject of much controversy within the medical community. While some doctors and researchers accept it as a valid disease, it is not a formally recognized medical diagnosis. However, there is much evidence that sex addiction, like other types of behavioral addiction, is a very real, devastating, and treatable disease.

Defining addiction

The term “addiction” is most commonly used to describe alcoholism and other substance abuse disorders. However, many forms of behavioral addiction are recognized by the medical community, including addiction to gambling or exercise. Addiction is a chronic medical condition that causes repetitive, compulsive behaviors that have negative consequences. The underlying cause of addiction is not fully understood but is believed to center around how circuits in the brain process rewarding—or enjoyable—behavior.

When otherwise enjoyable and productive activities such as sex or eating become compulsive behaviors, they can become a source of stress, guilt, and shame rather than pleasure. Addicted individuals will continue engaging in compulsive behaviors even though they are causing physical or psychological harm, damaging relationships, or interfering with normal life. Compulsive behavior can also be a sign of other psychiatric illnesses or medical conditions, not just addiction.

Addiction is a disease

Addiction is a chronic disease, like type 2 diabetes. Both addiction and type 2 diabetes are treatable conditions caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Both addiction and diabetes can be managed with medication to a certain extent, but long-term control requires making consistent, conscious decisions to avoid behaviors that have become unhealthy. Being an addict—like being diabetic—is not a choice, but successful recovery requires that you make healthy choices.

What is sex addiction?

Sexual addiction is an addiction to sexual behaviors that can include intercourse, masturbation, pornography use, or other sexual activities that result in compulsive, repetitive behavior that is harmful and cannot be stopped. Hypersexual behavior (having an increased sex drive) can be part of sexual addiction, but it can also be caused by physical or mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder.

Sex-addicted individuals are not simply people who want to have sex all the time. It is not a matter of sexual appetite, promiscuity, or infidelity. Sex addiction occurs when the urge to engage in sexual behavior overwhelms common sense and logic, driving a person to repeatedly engage in behaviors that they know are risky or harmful.

Sex addiction is controversial

Sex addiction is a behavioral addiction, similar to gambling addiction, but it is not considered a real disease by the entire medical community. Compulsive Sexual Behaviour Disorder is listed as a diagnosis under the International Classification of Diseases, Eleventh Revision (ICD-11), and is widely accepted as a diagnosis for sexual addiction. However, the American Psychiatric Association does not include sexual addiction as an accepted diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the standard for defining psychiatric and psychological diagnoses. Despite this disagreement, research estimates that 3 - 6% of the population suffer from some sort of sexual addiction.

Addiction versus dependence

Chronic use of certain drugs such as alcohol and opiates can lead to physical dependence. People with physical dependence on alcohol and other substances will have withdrawal symptoms if they stop using them. Dependence and addiction often go hand-in-hand. Sex addiction sometimes occurs alongside substance abuse and may contribute to it.

Treating sex addiction

Like other types of addiction, sex addiction can be treated with medication, psychotherapy, and participation in self-help programs or support groups. People with sex addiction can have additional mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and alcoholism or other substance addiction. Properly treating sex addiction involves addressing these other conditions.

Everyone is different, so treatments that work well for some may not work for others. The important thing to remember is that you cannot expect to recover without first seeking treatment.

Conclusion

The medical community is still divided on whether sex addiction is a “real” disease. However, people do suffer from compulsive sexual behavior disorder, which leads them to engage in sexual activity that has a damaging effect on their lives and the lives of those around them. Addiction is a disease that is not fully understood, but it is treatable. If you or someone you care about is engaging in compulsive sexual behavior, then discuss it with your healthcare provider.

Key takeaways

Addiction is a chronic disease that involves a combination of genetic and environmental factors that affect how the brain processes pleasure. Addiction results in the continuation of compulsive behaviors despite the harm they cause.

Sexual addiction (compulsive sexual behavior) is a type of behavioral addiction, like gambling addiction and other non-substance addictions.

There is no professional consensus as to whether sex addiction actually exists or how it should be defined. However, compulsive sexual behavior disorder fits within the current scientific understanding of addiction.

Resources:

International Journal of Preventive Medicine. Behavioral Addiction versus Substance Addiction: Correspondence of Psychiatric and Psychological Views.

American Society of Addiction Medicine. Definition of Addiction.

Mayo Clinic. Type 2 Diabetes.

Current Pharmaceutical Design. Sexual Addiction or Hypersexual Disorder: Different Terms for the Same Pproblem? A Review of the Literature.

World Health Organization. ICD-11 for Mortality and Morbidity Statistics: 6C72 Compulsive Sexual Behaviour Disorder.

World Psychiatry. Compulsive Sexual Behaviour Disorder in the ICD‐11.

Addiction. Diagnosis of Hypersexual or Compulsive Sexual Behavior Can Be Made Using ICD-10 and DSM-5 Despite Rejection of this Diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Is There a Difference between Physical Dependence and Addiction?

Mayo Clinic. Compulsive Sexual Behavior.

Mayo Clinic. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Neurotherapeutics. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: A Transdiagnostic Behavioral Intervention for Mental Health and Medical Conditions.

American Psychological Association. Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Brings Lasting Benefits through Self-Knowledge.

Social Work in Public Health. 12-Step Interventions and Mutual Support Programs for Substance Use Disorders: An Overview.

Journal of Behavioral Addictions. Compulsive Sexual Behavior: A Twelve-Step Therapeutic Approach.

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