Table of Contents
Sexual Addiction, Abuse and Symptoms


The Basics

This guide explains the effects, trends, and dangers of sexual addiction, as well as an unbiased analysis of the medicinal and behavioral treatment methods for sexual addiction based on current research and publicly available statistics.

Primary Sexual Addiction Dangers

  • Addictiveness: Although the word “addiction” is more commonly linked to substance abuse, it’s also used to define problem behaviors. Any repetitive cycle that includes a behavior, reward, loss of control, and negative consequences fits the definition of addiction. The person addicted to sex soon begins to lose control over their urges, causing them to choose sex over friends, family, or their job.
  • Physical Risks: Promiscuous sexual acts can result in sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies. Documented cases of STDs are rising across the nation, including syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. Although most STDs can be treated, if left undiagnosed, they can have serious effects, including infertility in women and brain damage. A sex addict with an STD can infect many individuals due to their increased sexual activities and risky behavior. An infected person is also more susceptible to HIV, which can lead to AIDS, a serious disorder of the body’s immune system that can be treated, but not cured.
  • Mental Risks: Sexual addictions are also associated with several comorbidities, such as depression, mania, psychosis, and personality disorders. The guilt that arises after a sexual encounter can cause addicts daily stress. A study, which focused on veterans, showed a link between digital sex seeking, depression, and suicide.
  • Relational Risks: The frequent viewing of sexually explicit materials often causes a problem in relationships, including satisfaction with sexual acts. In one study, cybersex addiction led to separation or divorce in over 22% of the couples
  • Legal risks: Punishments for unlawful sexual acts are quite severe and often leave a permanent stain on an individual. Sex offenders are required to register their personal information with state and local authorities.

Sexual Addiction Background Information

Psychologists place unusual sexual behavior into one of two categories: Paraphilic and non-paraphilic.

Paraphilic behaviors are outside of what is considered normal by most of society. There is a large subset of these activities, but those recognized by the American Psychiatric Manual of Mental Disorders include fetishism, voyeurism, sexual masochism and sadism, pedophilia, and frotteurism. To be classified as a disorder, the sexual addict’s need to experience sexual pleasure must cause significant problems with their daily life, either legally, socially, economically, or mentally.

Non-paraphilic behaviors include more common sexual practices, such as prostitution, strip clubs, extramarital affairs, and masturbation. However, as with the paraphilic activities, the sex addict engages in them to the detriment of their everyday life.

Punitive legal measures are applied to any sexual activity that is performed without consent upon another individual. Penalties range from years in prison to enforced castration.

  • Most states stipulate an age of consent, which can range from 14 to 18, for sexual activities.
  • The federal government has mandatory minimum penalties for sex offenses.
  • Sex offenders are required to register their residence with governmental authorities.

Other terms used for sexual addictions

  • Hypersexual disorder
  • Hypersexuality
  • Compulsive sexual behavior
  • Sexual dependency
  • Satyriasis (males)
  • Nymphomania (females)

Signs of Abuse

Behavioral Symptoms of Sexual Addiction

Addiction or compulsion

Addictive behaviors may seem similar to compulsive behaviors, as both include overpowering urges to perform certain activities. However, the sex addict is looking for pleasure (mental and physical), which is accomplished through their specific actions. Compulsive behaviors may result in pleasure, but the main reason for doing them is often unknown. They simply are something the person must do. Eventually, the elements overlap, and what started as an addictive behavior to pleasure now becomes an unstoppable compulsion.

Sexual addiction and the brain

Brain injuries and disturbances can result in hypersexuality or other sexual habit changes according to several medical studies. Doctors hypothesize that the loss of inhibitions due to frontal lobe injury may be partially to blame.

Using neuroimaging equipment, scientists can designate which areas of the brain control sexual desires, arousal, and inhibition. They’re also looking into the correlation between sensitivity to sexual cues in hypersexual men and the loss of sexual function in stressed individuals. Overall, the sexual response relies on receiving the right cues at the right time. Variations can lead to sexual problems, such as hypersexuality and addiction.

Behavioral signs of sexual addiction

Many times, people can hide their sexual addiction, even from friends and family. Eventually, the desire to fulfill their sexual fantasies outweighs common sense, and they start to depart from their normal behavior. Close family members and relationship partners may be the first to notice changes. Some indications of a sexual behavioral problem include:

  • Spending a lot of time alone
  • Frequenting places prone to sexual activities, i.e., strip clubs, pornography shops, hook-up bars
  • Keeping internet activity private
  • Experiencing emotional swings and depressive episodes
  • Excessive masturbation
  • Signs of anxiety
  • Beginning or increasing alcohol and/or drug use
  • Dysfunctional relationships, including abusive situations and violence
  • Loss of financial stability

Physical Symptoms of Sexual Addiction

How sexual addiction affects the body

While most of the symptoms commonly seen among those with hypersexuality are behavioral in nature, some physical ailments do occur as well.

  • Sex addicts may experience frequent and reoccurring infections of STDs, including gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and HIV.
  • Females may report unplanned pregnancies with or without abortions.
  • Individuals may sustain injuries to the genital areas due to overactivity or unusual sexual practices.

Severe and long-term effects of sexual addiction

Over time, sexual addiction can ruin lives, including those of the individual and their family and friends. Time spent focused on sexual behaviors, whether it’s trolling the internet or engaging in risky hook-ups, leaves less time for beneficial activities, such as work and real-life relationships.

Addicts may feel burdened by the guilt and shame that accompanies their sexual inclinations, which often leads to depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. Sores and rashes from STDs leave a person more vulnerable to HIV, and all these negative consequences are intensified when the patient is addicted to other substances, such as street drugs, prescription medications, or alcohol.

This table illustrates the possible long-term physical effects associated with sexual addiction
Long-term Physical Symptoms
Casual Genital injuries
STDs, including HIV
Chronic Including all of the above effects for casual use Depression
Suicidal thoughts
Withdrawal Increased use of:

  • Food
  • Cigarettes
  • Alcohol
  • Mind-altering substances

Further Resources

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offer in-depth information on drug and alcohol addiction and behavioral health disorders, such as sexual addiction.

Sexual Disorders Are on the Rise in the U.S.

Sexual health is also of paramount concern in the United States, including the increasing risky behavior of adolescents. According to the Center for Disease Control, 10% of high school students have had more than four sexual partners, and 19% used drugs or alcohol during their last sexual experience.

In 2017, the birth rate for women, aged 15-19, was 18.8 per 1,000. Further evidence shows that only 50% of teen mothers will graduate from high school before they’re 22 years of age, leaving them economically challenged.

  • A study of college students in 2006 documented 3.66% with compulsive sexual disorders.
  • Similar findings in 2013 showed compulsive sexual behavior in 2% of young adults.
  • Men who have sex with men show a much higher frequency of sexual compulsions and risky sexual behavior.
  • A 2011 report by the Attorney General notes that child pornography is increasing in scope and becoming more violent in nature.

Violent pornography viewing has been linked to teen dating violence, especially in males (who are over three times more likely to engage in TDV).

How to Find Help

Sexual addiction’s taboo subject matter often causes those involved to suffer in silence. Unfortunately, long-term risky sexual behavior can lead to serious physical harm and legal consequences. Furthermore, the mental stress associated with poor impulse control can result in depression and thoughts of suicide.

Since the American Psychiatric Association added the disorder of hypersexuality to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, treatments and therapies are more prevalent. Rehab clinics and outpatient support groups that specialize in sexual addiction, such as Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), can help individuals find relief. To learn more about the options available, see our Sexual Addiction rehabilitation guide and start your path to recovery.

Staging an Intervention

If you have a loved one who’s struggling with addiction, staging an intervention is often the first necessary step towards sobriety, but it’s important to be strategic and loving in your approach. Even the most well-meaning of interventions can have a negative effect if they aren’t handled correctly.

5 Tips for Staging an Intervention

1. Don’t Do It Alone. A professional interventionist is always the most qualified to guide a successful intervention. Also, rely on non-addict family and friends – especially those who have a close relationship with you or the addict.
2. Research Ahead of Time. It’s best to do plenty of research ahead of time to gather insight on the addiction and how it affects the addict. Also, be prepared with local resources for getting help.
3. Write Out Your Statement. During the actual intervention, emotions will likely be running high, so it’s best to have a statement of how the person’s addiction has impacted you and your relationship with him or her. These statements should be honest, yet written from a place of love – no personal attacks.
4. Offer Help. It’s important for everyone attending the intervention to offer tangible help and support as the person works through detox and rehabilitation.
5. Set Boundaries. If the person refuses to seek help and take the next steps outlined, it’s important that they understand that everyone present will end codependent and enabling behaviors.