Signs and Symptoms of Sex Addiction

Signs and symptoms of sex addiction or love addiction vary from person to person and often develop in stages over time. In people who have a sexual addiction, relationships lack intimacy (closeness) and sex becomes obsessive, demanding, and controlling.

Sex addiction usually begins with a preoccupation with sexual thoughts and fantasies, which leads to an inability to control sexual behavior (called sexual compulsion). Sex addicts cannot control their sexual impulses in spite of negative consequences (e.g., loss of job, damage to a monogamous relationship) or a desire to do so. Their inability to control sexual behavior often results in feelings of guilt, shame, and despair.

People who are addicted to sex often develop a need for sexual behavior that is more and more risky. High-risk sexual activity may include unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners, prostitution, and extramarital affairs.

Other signs of sex addiction include regularly engaging in the following:

  • Excessive (compulsive) masturbation (self-stimulation to produce sexual pleasure) or use of pornography
  • Obsessive dating (e.g., through personal ads)
  • Phone sex or sex via the Internet (cybersex)
  • Sex with anonymous partners (e.g., one-night stands)

Complications of Sex Addiction

Sex addiction affects every aspect of life. In many cases, sexual activity becomes more important than everything else in the sex addict's life, including his or her health and safety, relationships (e.g., marriage, family, friends), social activities, career, and work performance.

Sex addiction increases the risk for health problems, such as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs; e.g., genital herpes, genital warts/HPV, HIV/AIDS) and unintended pregnancy. Sex addicts also are at increased risk for developing depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders.

People with sexual addiction often experience higher than normal rates of separation, divorce, and job loss, especially when the condition is not promptly diagnosed and properly treated. Sex addicts also may acquire large amounts of debt from purchasing sexual services (e.g., phone sex) and pornographic materials.

In severe cases, sex addiction can compel a person to commit illegal acts. These activities may include the following:

  • Exhibitionism (exposing the genitals to another person in public) or public masturbation (touching the genitals to produce sexual pleasure)
  • Making harassing or obscene phone calls
  • Sending harassing or obscene e-mails or instant messages
  • Committing sexual abuse (e.g., sexual assault, child molestation, rape)
  • Prostitution
  • Sexual harassment (undesired and unwelcome sexual advances or innuendo directed towards another person, often an employee or co-worker)
  • Stalking (following or observing a person persistently out of an obsession)
  • Voyeurism (watching other people without their knowledge to produce sexual arousal)

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

Published: 07 Jan 2009

Last Modified: 13 Oct 2011