Is sex addiction real, a joke, or a convenient cover-up?

Sex addiction is a topic that we hear about more and more these days. “If I were going to develop an addiction, I’d go for sex addiction,” is a common joke about sex addiction. This begs the question of whether or not sex addiction is real.

Many people consider sex addiction a fruitless attempt to legitimize what is essentially reckless or greedy conduct. Others claim that those individuals are either uninformed of or unconcerned about the emotional suffering experienced by both sex addicts and their loved ones.


The concept of sex addiction is not new. Excessive sexuality, also called hypersexuality or hyperaesthesia, and nymphomania, or uterine wrath, among women, have been documented in historical records dating back to ancient Rome and second-century Greece.

Dr. Patrick Carnes, author of Out of the Shadows: Getting Sexual Addiction, popularized the modern notion of sex addiction (first published in the mid-1980s, revised in 2001, and revised again in 2014). Carnes and his colleagues have produced multiple books on the issue, and their ideas about sex addiction are widely accepted. Others, including experts and people who believe they have suffered from sex addiction, have written extensively.

Although sex addiction contains characteristics of both an obsessive-compulsive and an impulse control illness, it has been suggested that it does not fit cleanly into either category. Although most clinicians, even those specialized in sexual disorders or addiction medicine, have little to no experience in treating sexual compulsivity and cybersex addiction, a wide spectrum of experts believe the behavior is best described as an addiction.

This reveals a bias that prevents excessive sexual desire or expression from being recognized as a problem. In other words, both sexes are expected to have regular sexual desire, physical, sexual arousal, sexual interactions, and climax, even though persons who never have difficulty at any of these stages of the sexual experience are in the minority. Having less sexual desire and activity is generally more serious than having more sexual desire and action.

Society has become rapidly liberal over the last century, with diverse facets of sex and sexuality serving as the foundation for a wide range of entertainment. The pharmaceutical industry has backed this up in recent decades, with medications like Viagra reinforcing the notion that one cannot live a whole and happy life without regular, non-problematic sex.

It’s not surprising that so many individuals become fascinated with sex and that many who would previously have succumbed to other pleasures are now developing compulsive sexual practices.

In the News: Sex Addiction

In 2009, actor David Duchovny, who appeared to be happily married with a family, shocked the world by publicly admitting to being a sex addict and entering rehab. After multiple women claimed to have had extramarital affairs with Tiger Woods, many people wondered if he was a sex addict by the end of the year.

Simultaneously, there is growing concern over online porn addiction, a sort of online sex addiction that far outnumbers the resources available to help those who believe their porn use is excessive, unmanageable, or causing them difficulties.

Without enough specialized therapy options, partnerships and families will continue to battle, sometimes in secret, with issues for which they are unprepared.

The sex industry’s semi-underground and often evil character has rendered it ineffective in sponsoring research, treatment, and other forms of support for those whose products have been injured. This is in contrast to the gaming business, which has financed therapy and service research.

The Case Against Sex Addiction

According to research, sex addiction activates the same reward system in the brain as many other addictions, including drug addictions. This lends credence to the concept that sex addiction follows a physiological and psychological pattern similar to other habits.

Some authors claim that the occurrence of crossover addictions supports the legitimacy of sex addiction as a real addiction. Once recognized, the danger of cross-over can be treated directly to prevent it from occurring following treatment for other addictions.

Those who are affected by sex addiction, as well as their loved ones, suffer greatly. Sexual desire and expression in people with sex addictions are frequently regarded as uncontrollable and unpleasant, in contrast to how healthy sexual encounters are described, which are typically described as physically and emotionally rewarding and satisfying. Recognizing sex addiction allows these individuals to seek the support they require to overcome their addiction and resume satisfying sexual relationships.

There are currently few widely available addiction services to help persons with sex addiction. When sex addiction is recognized, it may be possible to include sex addiction treatment in community addiction programs. Many more people might readily seek help for sex addictions if addiction services workers received specific training in sex addiction.

Sex Addiction: The Case Against It

One major criticism is that the sex addiction concept fails to distinguish between similar conditions that may appear to be sex addiction, such as hypersexuality associated with mania or hypomania in bipolar disorder, personality disorders; some forms of depression; and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Sex addiction, according to critics, arose from a cultural preoccupation that equates sex with danger, weakness, and victimization and is nothing more than a new means of passing moral judgments on those who like sex. As a result, those with a political or religious purpose can utilize the concept of sex addiction to be negative about sex.

The assumption that some sexual experiences, such as intimate relationship sex, are better than others has also been critiqued regarding the concept of sex addiction. These are moral rather than therapeutic arguments, according to the authors.

On the other side, few people believe that a term like sex addiction can be used to justify reckless sexual activity like rape and child molestation. People who commit sex crimes, according to this argument, can hide behind the label of sex addiction and avoid taking responsibility for their acts.

Finally, there’s the idea that all behavioral addictions are about chemical dependency. No matter how similar the behavior patterns are, addictions are caused by addictive chemicals rather than actions.

Where It Is Now

In the media and popular culture, sex addiction, or at the very least excessive sexual behavior, is widely known. The rise of the internet has resulted in an unquantified rise in “cybersex addiction,” which encompasses both pornographic and online sexual encounters with partners, including sex workers.

The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH) has given up-to-date research to the public and professional members who work with sex addictions since its founding in 1987. The society publishes Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention and hosts an annual conference to share sex addiction research findings.

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