Now more than ever, sex positivity is a hot topic in our society. Conversations about sex are less stigmatized as people begin to accept, understand and develop healthy relationships with sexuality.

But what happens when sexual experiences start to control your life? Is it sex addiction? If so, is sex addiction really a problem?

If you believe you or a loved one have a sex addiction, KeyStone Center ECU is here to answer your questions and provide appropriate treatment. Find out more about its causes, symptoms, effects and treatment options.

What Is Sex Addiction?

Sex addiction, also known as compulsive sexual behavior, is an excessive focus on and participation in sexual activities despite negative consequences.

While older literature shows that 3%-6% of the US population may experience symptoms consistent with sex addiction, more recent research finds that the number has doubled to 8.6% (7% of women and 10.3% of men).

Symptoms of sexual addiction often become more prominent around the age of 18, but start as early as childhood. Those affected by it may also experience other mental health or substance abuse addictions as well.

Is Sex Addiction a Real Condition?

The term “sex addiction” has long been controversial among psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists and sexologists. There is ongoing debate as to whether this disorder can be characterized as a real addiction.

The American Psychiatric Association does not include sex addiction as a psychological disorder in the DSM-5 (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition). This is because sex addiction does not meet the diagnostic criteria to be defined as an addiction. More research is needed. Instead, a person experiencing symptoms of sex addiction is often diagnosed as having an impulse disorder.

With that in mind, KeyStone Center ECU believes it is important to remember that those suffering from a sexual addiction do report experiencing an ‘addiction’ sensation. Just like someone with an alcohol or drug addiction, sex addicts believe that their cravings are out of control. They find themselves constantly returning to sexual behavior to experience the ‘high’ over and over again, despite the consequent negative emotions and outcomes.

Another important reminder is that ‘sex addiction’ does not condemn all sexual behavior, impulses or desires. Rather, it is when sex becomes all-consuming that it becomes an issue.

What Are the Causes of Sex Addiction?

Causes for compulsive sexual behavior may range from environmental to medical/psychological factors.

Environmental Factors

These may include:

  • Distant or rigid familial relationships
  • Childhood trauma
  • Lack of appropriate role models

Medical Factors

These may include:

  • Abnormalities in the frontal lobe. Some research has found links between sex addiction and abnormalities in the frontal lobe. However, more research is needed.
  • Imbalances in neurotransmitters. For example, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin overactivity may be associated with increased sexual desires and urges.
  • Medication side effects. For instance, Research has suggested that levodopa, a common treatment for Parkinson’s, has been associated with increased sexual behavior. Testosterone and some ADHD medication may also increase sex drive.

Behavioral Factors

These may include:

  • Substance Abuse. The misuse of alcohol and other dangerous drugs (such as cocaine and amphetamines) has been connected to increased sexual urges and addiction or to a false sense of confidence or decreased inhibitions.
  • Mood Disorders. Mood disorders can be both a symptom and a cause of compulsive sexual behavior. People struggling to control their emotions (emotional dysregulation) may be at a higher risk of developing sexual addictions.

What Are the Signs of Sex Addiction?

Although more research is needed, some of the common signs of sex addiction KeyStone Center ECU reports include:

  • Excessive fantasizing about sex
  • Excessive masturbation (multiple times per day for extended periods of time)
  • Excessive viewing of pornography (to the point of missing out on other social activities)
  • Excessive use of sexual services (to a financial or health detriment)
  • Recklessness in sexual behavior (to the point of causing harm to oneself)
  • Engagement in paraphilia/criminal activity (causing harm to others without obtaining consent, including stalking, sexual assault, incest, voyeurism, exhibitionism and pedophilia)
  • Inability to cease engaging in appropriate sexual behavior despite negative outcomes
  • To engage in the behavior more frequently or more intensely to achieve the desired effect

PATHOS Assessment

Taking KeyStone Center ECU’s PATHOS screening can help identify some of the warning signs of sex addiction. PATHOS stands for:

  • Preoccupied: Do you often find yourself preoccupied with sexual thoughts?
  • Ashamed: Do you hide some of your sexual behavior from others?
  • Treatment: Have you ever sought therapy for sexual behavior you did not like?
  • Hurt others: Has anyone been hurt emotionally because of your sexual behavior?
  • Out of control: Do you feel controlled by your sexual desire?
  • Sad: When you have sex, do you feel depressed afterward?

Saying “yes” to even one of these questions may mean it’s time to seek professional help.

What Is Harmful About Sex Addiction?

Personal Distress

Those affected by sex addictions may feel hopeless and powerless over their condition. They may feel as if they have no control over their behavior, thoughts, urges and desires. They find themselves violating their own moral, religious and spiritual boundaries. This leads to feelings such as guilt, shame and remorse.

It is not uncommon for the person to feel alone and even experience voluntary or involuntary social isolation, as it can be difficult to have conversations about sex addiction. They may also believe that they deserve to be ostracized because of their behavior.

Overall, it is not uncommon for people with sex addictions to be affected by other mental health conditions or co-occurring disorders. This includes depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and substance abuse issues.

Relationship Problems

Compulsive sexual behavior typically harms personal and familial relationships.

For example, sex addiction may lead the person to cheat or put a strain on their relationships. Family members may feel uncomfortable with their behavior, causing friction.

Overall, this can exacerbate issues of social isolation and personal distress.

Withdrawal From Education/Career

When a sex addiction becomes severe enough, the person may withdraw from activities that promote personal growth and development. They may become so consumed by their addiction that they neglect basic personal care, duty to family and work/school responsibilities.

For example, the person might start skipping school/work to engage in sexual behavior. They may be less motivated or focused, as they become more and more engaged in their sexual behavior.

In the worst-case scenario, the person may engage in inappropriate behaviors at work or school, which can lead to suspension, firing and, in some cases, legal action.

Health Complications

Compulsive sexual behavior can also lead to health complications.

By seeking out multiple partners, the person may contract sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as HIV, hepatitis, herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea or increase the likelihood of pregnancy. It may also decrease focus on self-care routines, such as bathing, taking meds, sleeping, exercising, etc..

Financial Problems

Finally, sex addiction can also lead to financial problems.

For example, the person may spend significant money obtaining sexual content or engaging in sexual activities. They may also get involved in blackmail scams or spend money on sex workers and “cam girls”.

Additionally, inappropriate sexual behavior can harm a person’s career, leading to income issues.

Clearly, sex addiction can be incredibly disruptive to a person’s life. So how do we treat it?

What Are the Treatment Options for Sex Addicts?

Sex addiction treatment options may include a combination of therapy, medication management and self-help groups.


Different types of therapy may be recommended to help an individual manage their sex addiction.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: This option teaches the affected person how to fight negative thoughts and develop a healthier understanding of their actual needs and wants.
  • Psychodrama Therapy: This option uses enactment techniques that help people recognize their problematic behavior. By engaging in psychodrama reenactments, patients explore and experience deep-rooted emotions in a safe and supportive environment.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR for sex addiction is a trauma-focused treatment approach that enables patients to process the trauma at the root of their addiction.

Therapy may be individual, in a group, or with family. This gives the patient the option to confront their addiction either in a one-on-one environment or with the support of others.

Medication Management

Although there is no official medication used to treat sex addiction, there are pharmaceutical options that may ‘dampen’ sexual urges.

  • Antidepressants: Antidepressants with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can be used to treat compulsive sexual behavior.
  • Addiction Drugs: In some cases, drugs such as Naltrexone are used to control addictive behavior (usually substance abuse) and have proved beneficial for sex addicts.
  • Stimulants: Sometimes, certain medications such as those used to treat the symptoms of ADHD and testosterone can exacerbate the issue. In these cases, it may be time to consider whether there are alternative medications that can help or whether the potential consequences of taking the medication outweigh the benefits.

When compulsive sexual disorder is brought on by another mental health condition, other medication options may be considered as well. For example, if the sexual behavior is triggered by anxiety, then anxiety medication may be used to treat it.

Self-Support Groups

Although suffering from a sex addiction may feel isolating, you are not alone. Check out these resources for sex addicts:

Recovery Is Possible

Although people with a sex addiction may feel hopeless and alone, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

As we have explored, sex addiction is more common than we think. There are a variety of treatment options out there, whether those be therapeutic, medicinal, or social in nature.

KeyStone Center ECU’s staff, in Chester, Pennsylvania, is here to help you in an empathic and nonjudgmental manner. We will answer any questions you may have about sex addiction or treatment. Learn more by getting in contact with us at 833-635-6840 or using this form.