Sex Addiction Symptoms, Causes and Effects

Definition of Sex Addiction

Sex addiction can refer to a range of behaviors that are done in excess and significantly impact one’s life in a negative way.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-V (DSM-5) does not list sex addiction as a diagnosable condition yet, but research indicates that there is a clear prevalence of adverse sexual behavior that is similar in development to a “chemical” addiction. Although there is no formal Sex addiction diagnosis in the DSM 5, sex addiction will be included as a diagnosis sometime in 2019.

Is Porn Addiction the Same as Sex Addiction?

Porn addiction and sex addiction are not the same disorder. Addiction to porn is considered to be a type of sex addiction and can manifest itself differently than other types of sex addiction. Like “sex addiction,” “porn addiction” is not an official diagnosis in the DSM-5 yet. However, an addiction to porn can lead to serious distress and consequences in many facets of life.

What Are the Different Types of Sexual Addiction?

There are no distinct categories, but sexual addictions can come in different forms, including addiction to:

Masturbation or fantasy
Sadistic or masochistic behavior
Other excessive sexual pursuits
Anonymous sex
Phone sex

What are the Signs, Symptoms, and Effects of a Sexual Addiction?
Several signs can serve to indicate whether someone is addicted to sex. These can be emotional or physical. Furthermore, it’s important to know the debilitating effects of sexual addiction.

Emotional Symptoms of Sex Addiction

If you or someone you love suffers from a sex addiction, you might not have healthy boundaries. If your husband is addicted to porn or sex, you may feel alienated, isolated, depressed, angry, or humiliated and need treatment yourself. If you are addicted to sex, you might become easily involved with people sexually or emotionally regardless of how well you know them, according to Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. Because most sex addicts fear being abandoned, they might stay in relationships that aren’t healthy, or they may jump from relationship to relationship. When alone, they might feel empty or incomplete. They might also sexualize feelings like guilt, loneliness or fear.

Physical Symptoms of Sex Addiction

Although a sex addiction or pornography addiction can create many physical side effects, few physical symptoms of this disorder exist. However, the most common physical sex addict symptoms you might notice from having a sexual addiction is feeling immobilized due to sexual or emotional obsessions.

Effects of Sex Addiction

The effects of a sex addiction can be severe.

According to Departmental Management of the USDA, about 38% of men and 45% of women with sex addictions have a venereal disease as a result of their behavior.

Pregnancy is also a common side effect that can occur due to risky behavior. In one survey, nearly 70% of women with sex addictions reported they’d experienced at least one unwanted pregnancy as a result of their addiction.

Additionally, sex addiction likely has a negative impact on several areas of one’s life. It can lead to:

A decline in personal relationships, social, and family engagement.

Decreased concentration and productivity at work.

Physical consequences like sexual dysfunction or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

It can have profound psychological effects, like generating feelings of shame, inadequacy, and emotional distress. It can lead to, or stem from, comorbid psychological disorders like:

Substance abuse
Problems related to impulse control and emotion dysregulation
Obsessive-Compulsive type symptoms
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Higher levels of stress
Increasing tolerance which then increases frequency of use.
Weight and appetite changes

It is important to know that addressing co-occurring problems in one’s life, like depression, social anxiety, or social isolation, can make it easier to recover from sexual addiction.

Am I Addicted to Sex?

It is best to consult with a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist for further information, however, you may also want to look out for the following signs:

You feel powerless over how you act sexually
Your sexual choices are making your life unmanageable
You feel shame, embarrassment or even self-loathing over your sexual acts
You promise yourself you’ll change, but fail to keep those promises
You’re so preoccupied with sex it becomes like a ritual to you

If you’re exhibiting any of these symptoms, it might be time to seek sex addiction treatment. If you also have a co-occurring substance addiction (e.g., alcohol, cocaine), call to learn more about treatment options.

Get Help For Sex Addiction

It is important to understand that although sex and porn addiction are not “formally” diagnosable, these conditions exist and often present with very adverse consequences and high levels of distress, guilt, and emotional turmoil. If you can relate to the symptoms mentioned above, or know somebody who meets these criteria, do not hesitate to ask for help. Call to speak to a treatment support specialist who can provide you with more information.

What Causes an Addiction to Sex?

Sexual addiction, like porn addiction, can develop due to factors that encompass all aspects of an individual’s life. These include:

Genes: You may have a genetic predisposition to emotional dysregulation, impulsivity, or sensation-seeking behavior. You may also have a predisposition to other traits that are commonly associated with sexual addiction, like anxiety or depression.

As one might expect, higher levels of sex hormones like testosterone or estrogen can affect libido. If you are inclined towards impulsive behavior and have high levels of sex-related hormones, you may be more likely to engage in excess sexual activities.

Environmental influences: Early-life environmental factors, including adverse events like abuse or exposure to sexual content, can contribute to some of the underlying characteristics that drive hypersexual behavior.

Mental health:
Anxiety, depression, personality disorders, poor impulse control, and performance anxiety might be simultaneous issues that one struggles with alongside sex addiction. Those that have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, or have a tendency toward “manic” states, are much more likely to engage in excessive or risky sexual behavior.

Rejection in relationships and social circles can lead to other, less healthy ways to find sexual gratification.

Social isolation:
Not only does social isolation increase one’s likelihood of seeking inappropriate ways of being sexually gratified, it also leads to a host of other problems–like depression and physical maladies–that can contribute to sex addictions or unhealthy sex behaviors.

Social learning:
Watching others perform a behavior, or “modeling,” is one way to learn something new–especially when you “like” or “identify” with that person. So having a friend, or a group of friends, who engage in excessive sexual activities or porn viewing can influence you in a very subtle, yet powerful, way.

Can Sex Addiction Be Treated?

Yes, you will typically want to talk to and be treated by a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) or Psychologist. They will help you address some of the underlying factors that are maintaining your sex or porn addiction, and teach you to cope with your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a healthy way.

Some treatment options include:

Individual therapy with a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT)
30-60 minute sessions focused on your sexually compulsive behaviors and any co-occurring disorders.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Focuses on the idea that our behaviors, emotions, and thoughts are all interrelated and works to change negative thoughts to positive thoughts and self-talk.

Psychodynamic Therapy
Built around the premise that unconscious memories and conflicts affect our behavior, Psychodynamic therapy uncovers early childhood influencers of current habits or present factors that contribute to the current sex addiction.

Dialectical-Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
Contains four components: skills training group, individual treatment, DBT phone coaching, and consultation team and these four components are designed to teach four skills: mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotion regulation.

Group Therapy
Led by qualified therapists, group therapy is designed to replace negative and detrimental behaviors with pro-social and positive ones. It provides the addict with assurance that he or she is not alone in his or her experiences.

Couple’s Counseling or Marriage counseling
This can be very beneficial for the sex addict and his or her partner. Couple’s counseling can help to improve communication skills, trust, and healthy sexual functioning between partners.

12-Step Recovery
Sex Addicts Anonymous imitates the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous and is a group-based model focused on acknowledging one’s powerlessness and willingness to live a life free of addiction.

Inpatient Therapy
There are some inpatient recovery centers designed to treat sex and porn addiction. The patient resides at the recovery facility for the duration of treatment so that he or she can focus on the healing process without the distractions and temptations of everyday life.

Medication: Are There Sex Addiction Drug Options?

There are currently no US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medications for the treatment of sex addiction.

Although some research has been conducted, conclusive recommendations cannot be made because of a lack of randomized controlled trials.

Sex addiction and related sexual dysfunctions frequently co-occur with conditions such as anxiety and depression and can be treated with medications such as antidepressants.

Antidepressants called SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) can decrease intense sexual urges and cravings that characterize sexual addictions by mitigating the brain’s response to rewarding behaviors. Strattera, Lexapro, Paxil, Prozac, Effexor, Celexa. These are all SSRI’s and those help Sex Addicts with depression, anxiety, and Sex addiction. These medications help the recovering sex addict gain traction in his/her treatment program.

Medication Overdose
If your doctor prescribes you medication, be sure to read the label carefully and follow the doctor’s dosage instructions in order to avoid an overdose. If you feel tempted to overdose on your medication, call for help immediately.

Medication Side Effects
Although there are no FDA-approved medications for sex or porn addiction, antidepressants are one of the most common medications prescribed to treat sex addiction. Antidepressants are very safe to take but can have some side effects:

Gastrointestinal disturbances
Weight gain
Sleep disturbance

Similarities Between Being Addicted to a Drug and Addicted to Sex

Effects on the Brain

Drug addiction and sex addiction have similar effects on the brain–both primarily influence the brain’s reward system through a neurotransmitter called dopamine. When a person satisfies a need or desire that is vital to survival or reproduction, dopamine is released, causing the person to experience pleasure or euphoria. This reinforces the expectation of reward and increases the desire to engage in the underlying behavior.

The use of a drug stimulates the release of dopamine and mimics those behaviors necessary for survival, causing a person to become increasingly reliant on drugs for the release of dopamine.

Sex addiction works in a similar manner; each time a sex addict partakes in sexual behaviors, he or she experiences a rush of endorphins, creating a powerful incentive to engage in the behavior again.

This perpetuates a vicious cycle and the person finds that he or she is driven and controlled by the desire for reward.

This is what makes it so difficult for addicts to quit and why professional help should be sought.

Many sex addicts believe that they are in control of their behaviors, but without proper treatment, they can develop dependence. It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of dependence, so that you can seek help immediately. A few signs include:

Loss of control around sexual activity
Development of withdrawal symptoms
Preoccupation with desire for sexual behavior
Avoiding responsibilities and/or enjoyable activities in favor of sexual behavior

Perhaps the most important sign that one is dependent on sex is that the person continues to partake in sexual behavior despite negative consequences caused by the behavior, such as:

Failing marriage
Missing work
Ruining friendships
Health problems
Financial problems


Withdrawal is a characteristic feature of chemical addictions and reports indicate that individuals struggling with sexual addictions frequently report experiencing withdrawal after a reduction in sexual activity. Withdrawal symptoms can include but are not limited to:

Guilt or shame

It is important to note that no two sex addicts are the same and that withdrawal symptoms may vary.

Sex Addiction and Substance Abuse

There is a significant correlation between sexual addiction and substance use disorders:

Research shows an estimated 40-64% of sex addicts also have a substance abuse disorder.

Alcohol abuse is most common, present in 30-40%, followed by marijuana abuse, present in 18-21.7%.

Treating co-occurring addictions is a complex process. Medical professionals must assess the pattern of drug use and sexual behaviors and how they relate to each other. Research indicates that there are two important things to consider when evaluating the relation:

Whether the addictions are alternating or parallel
Whether they interact in an escalating manner
Once the interaction of multiple addictions is assessed, then proper treatment can be administered

While some sex addicts use substances in order to cope with the pain and guilt caused by their sexual behaviors, others use them to enhance the sexual experience. If you think that you have issues with both sex addiction and substance addiction, it is critical to your recovery that you find a treatment center that can cater to both of these addictions.

Sex Addiction and Mental Health Disorders

There seems to be a high correlation between sex addiction and psychiatric conditions, particularly mood, anxiety and personality disorders.

According to some research, around 40% of individuals struggling with a sexual addiction or compulsion also have a history of mood disorders such as depression.

The correlation between depression and sex addiction is one of the reasons that antidepressants can be useful when treating sex addiction.

Clinical depression, which is often co-occurring with sex addiction, is a serious mental health illness that, if left untreated, can be life-threatening.

Typical symptoms include:

Persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood
Feelings of hopelessness
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
Difficulty concentrating on tasks
Sleeping too much or too little
Restlessness, irritability
Suicide thoughts or attempts

Again, if you are a sex addict and believe that you suffer from depression, contact your medical provider immediately. It is pertinent that your treatment plan addresses both your depression and sex addiction.

By Psych Guides

Jennifer Josey LPC LMFT CSAT of Intuitive Pathways Recovery specializes in Sex Addiction Counseling Houston Texas, love addiction, recovery for couples from sex and love addiction, trauma resolution for partners of sex addicts and group therapy. Sexual addiction is a serious problem that affects people of all socioeconomic status, educational status, both males and females and even teenagers and preadolescent children.