Overview of Sex Addiction

An addiction is a dependence on a certain substance, activity, or behavior. There are many different types of addictions, including dependencies on over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications, illegal drugs, alcohol, and tobacco products. Sex addiction is a psychological disorder that involves an unhealthy preoccupation with sexuality or an obsession with sexual activity and/or romantic love.

Sex addiction also is called

  • sexual addiction
  • love addiction
  • hypersexuality
  • compulsive sexual behavior
  • sexual compulsion
  • nymphomania

The term erotomania is used to describe a delusion (false belief or expectation) of being loved by a particular person.

Sexual addiction usually begins as normal, healthy sexuality; however, sex addicts experience chemical and physical (i.e., physiological) changes in the brain that result in an inability to control sexual urges and behavior. For people who are addicted to sex, sexual desire (arousal) and sexual pleasure often replace close, loving (i.e., intimate) relationships. In many cases, sex addicts use sexual behavior to avoid dealing with painful feelings, such as loneliness, low self-esteem, and fear of rejection.

Differences in the way human sexually is viewed in various cultures, societies, and religions throughout the world make it difficult to develop a universal definition of sex addiction. Therefore, overall incidence and prevalence of the condition is not easy to determine.

It is estimated that about 5 percent of sexually mature adults in the United States have a sexual addiction. Many mental health providers recognize sex addiction as a major social problem worldwide.

Sexual addiction occurs in both men and women. It is diagnosed more often in men, but this may be because women seek treatment for sex addiction less frequently. Sex addiction may be more common today than in the past. This may be related to the widespread availability of the Internet, which provides easy access to pornography (i.e., pornographic websites) and opportunities for cybersex (i.e., virtual sexual relationships conducted through computers), and sexual images in the media (e.g., television, movies, music videos).

Sexual addiction can occur in people of any sexual orientation (also called sexual preference). People who have sexual relationships with members of the opposite gender (i.e., heterosexuals), people who have sexual relationships with members of the same gender (i.e., homosexuals), and people who have sex with members of both genders (i.e., bisexuals) may develop an addiction to sex.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 06 Jan 2009

Last Modified: 05 Oct 2015