What is Sex Addiction?

Understanding sex addiction is the best place to start fighting it.

Defining Sex Addiction, Sex Addicts, & Love Addiction

What is Sexual Addiction?

Sexual Addiction is hard to define. One of the best definitions comes from the late Jon Marsh of Recovery Nation. He defined sex addiction with the following criteria in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Sex addiction is often a very misunderstood term in the area of behavioral health. To understand what sexual addiction is exactly, we must first examine what it is not to narrow down the focus.

What Sex Addiction Is Not

Sexual Addiction is not really a disease by American Medical Association (AMA) standards. It was deemed a diagnosis as hypersexuality or compulsive sexual behavior, but the topic of sex addiction is still unclear. Sex addiction is not an excuse for having extramarital affairs or illicit sex. It is also not a defense in criminal proceedings involving sexual behavior.


Sex addiction is neither a rare disorder, nor is it an incurable disease. Sexual addiction is not found in or related to most of cases involving rapists and stalkers. The vast majority of sex addicts are no more likely to engage in or seek out child molestation or rape than a randomly-selected stranger on the street. In fact, often times, the sex addict is actually less likely to engage in such offensive behaviors due to the sex addict's skewed value system.


That information scratches the surface about what sex addiction is not. Then we must ask, what really is sex addiction?

What Sex Addiction Truly Is

I would like to point out that sex addiction is actually nothing more than a continuing pattern of unwanted compulsive sexual behavior. This part of why being a sex addict is now a diagnosis. Yes, you can be diagnosed as being addicted to sex. This acting out with sexual behavior has a negative impact on an individual's personal life, social connections, and economic status or standing. Let's break the most important parts of that sentence down to further assess sex addiction.

Components of Sex Addiction

We can gain a better understanding of what sex addiction is and what defines a sex addict by analyzing the parts of what sex addiction truly is.

Sex Addiction Has "A Continuing Pattern"

The continuing pattern defines the sex addiction. An occasional session of masturbation is not a defined pattern unless it happens regularly or on a schedule. A single affair is usually an isolated event unless there is a pattern of affairs. Even a past series of date rapes may not constitute a continuing pattern of sex addiction.


The pattern must be defined and definite with a noted series of related sexual events. This is the pattern displayed by sex addicts. Sexual addiction is defined by an ongoing series of sexual behaviors, including the preoccupation with sexual behaviors and the planning of those sexual behaviors. The preoccupation becomes something the addict plans around and looks forward to. The sex addict needs the fix and keeps coming back to it.


Usually, these patterns of sexual events become more and more ritualized by the sex addict, and this ritualization usually serves as a measurement for the extent and duration of their addiction.

The Sexual Behavior Is "Unwanted"

Unwanted is a key part of sex addiction. If someone is engaged in sexual behavior of their own free will and of their choosing, it may not be sex addiction. This is the case even when this sexual behavior brings about significant negative consequences. Again, this does not in and of itself warrant a definition or diagnosis of sex addiction or being a "sex addict".  To be addicted to sex or the sexual behavior, the person in question must have (a.k.a sex addict), at some point, felt the desire to stop (even if that desire no longer exists presently).


The addiction part of the sexual behavior keeps the person coming back to the same sex-related behaviors over and over again. These patterns develop with the behavior. They are also sometimes separated by periods of "trying to stop". This is often referred to as the sex addiction cycle. Sex addicts are simply people stuck in this cycle and unable to escape from it by their own willpower. These people often need professional counseling help, workshops, and support groups and to overcome the sex addiction.

What Is "Compulsive Sexual Behavior"

You may also ask yourself, "how does sex addiction differ from compulsive sexual behavior?" The key to this difference is the term "sexual behavior". This term should be interpreted somewhat loosely. Sexual behavior involves any type of sexual behavior. This includes sexual preoccupation, rumination, and fantasy.


Someone who constantly thinks about finding sex or can't stop thinking about the act of sex can incur similar consequences that are just as significant as someone actually engaged in the sexual behaviors themselves. A victim is also not needed. The overwhelming majority of compulsive sexual behavior comes from "victimless" behavior. These sexually related behaviors include masturbation, prostitution, pornography, promiscuity, and other lascivious behavior. I am sure we could name more behaviors if we tried.


Victimless sexual behavior still has an impact. It impacts the sex addict and the world of the sex addict including their lifestyle, personal interests, family, and relationships. Because of this, compulsive sexual behavior without a specific victim should never be misconstrued to think that the sex addiction isn't as severe.


Compulsive sexual behaviors can be just as potentially devastating as those involving the more rare predatory sexual behaviors involving a specific victim. These aggressive, predatory sexual behaviors are often criminal acts such as rape, stalking, and molestation.

Sex Addiction Has A "Negative Impact"

Sex addiction has a negative impact which refers to the consequences resulting from the sex addiction in the life of the sex addict. Add to this self-explanatory phrase, "or the potential for a negative impact if the sexual behavior was discovered." Just because things are going well now, doesn't mean they would be if the sexual behavior(s) were to be discovered. The negative impact does not have to be realized. It can be future negative impact. Just the potential for it has to be present when combined with the sexual behaviors.

Sex Addiction Affects The "Personal Life, Social Connections, and Economic Status or Standing"

The impact of sex addiction is real. It is felt very heavily. You might ask, "What constitutes a 'negative impact' in relation to sex addiction?" Just about anything can have a negative impact on a person's life while dealing with sex addiction. Most often, sexual addiction negatively impacts people in the following ways:

  1. Personal life
  2. Social connections
  3. Economic status or standing

1. The Negative Impact of Sex Addiction on Personal Life

Personal life is hugely affected by sex addiction. The personal negative impact brought on by sex addiction can be significant. Negative feelings frequently are exhibited through guilt and shame brought on by the sexual behaviors, low self-esteem, depression, thoughts of suicide, and self-mutilation. These last ones stem from the self-loathing feelings some sex addicts experience in the aftermath of engaging in sexual activity.


Frequently, sex addicts can have a dependence on other targets or addictions. Things such as drugs and alcohol dependency or gambling stem from the same addictive processes that trigger the sexual behavior. One's self-identity can become distorted, and they lose track of themselves. This usually happens either through delusions of sexual grandeur or through self-loathing. Both feelings can be devastating to maintaining balance and satisfaction in one's life while facing sexual addiction.

2. The Social Negative Impact of Sex Addiction

Social connections can also bear a burden when it comes to the impact of sex addiction. Sex addiction can negatively impact social aspects of a sex addict's life as much as their personal life. When this happens, existing interpersonal relationships become neglected, strained, or destroyed. The need for secrecy inhibits the development of intimacy in the sex addict's lives.


This need for secrecy is especially evident with long-term romantic partners, friends, and family. The sex addict will close themselves off from connections to focus more on the addictive sexual behaviors. Over time, few new long-term relationships are built. The sex addiction continues to grow. The longer the addiction progresses, the more social interactions fall away or become intertwined with the behavior. They become either an active part of the sex addiction or a means of distraction competing with the addiction for attention.

3. The Economic Negative Impact of Sex Addiction

Sex addiction usually involves monentary and economic factors or elements. Often, the discovery of one's involvement in socially deviant and/or criminal behavior can have a devastating effect on one's career. Overtly, behaviors such as sexual harassment, an arrest for statutory rape, or a child molestation conviction can mean not only the immediate loss of employment, but the exclusion of certain types of careers.


Subtly, even constant ruminations and fantasies can keep people from reaching their full professional potential by using up their time, energy, and resources. The noted exception to this is the dual sexual addict/workaholic -- who tends to excel in just about all areas professionally while keeping the sexual behaviors satisfied. In this case of a workaholic sex addict, the success usually drives the addictive behavior in some shape or form. An example would be using the deviant sexual behavior as a reward.

Find A Sex Addiction Counselor or Therapist

You can gain the upper hand over sex addiction. If you feel like you cannot do this on your own, you may need to find a sex addiction counselor or therapist. You can find one near you here.

Learn More About Recovery Nation

You can learn more about free sex addiction treatment and support groups at the Recovery Nation. They focus on health-based recovery with many resources you can use to recover from sex addiction. Visit their website below.

There is hope of recovery from sexual addiction

Sex addicts can recover by learning the right information, seeking to change their behaviors, participating in individual and couples counseling sessions, and joining recovery workshops and groups.


This includes following the proven step-by-step process for gaining a functional awareness of sex addiction's destructive patterns, identifying weaknesses in addiction management and coping strategies, and wanting to get better.

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