Is Sex Addiction or Sexual Addiction Real?

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I recently received the following response to a recent retweet “Scott there is no such thing as sexual addiction according to the *DSM IV”

Is Sex Addiction Real

The author of the comment is 100% correct. At the time of this post and the comment, there is in fact no official diagnosis for sex addiction or sexual addiction. Clinicians and researches generally define the addiction is a way that is much like the definition for those addicted to drugs or alcohol.

In speaking with Dan Rowlands, Interventionist and CSAT (Certified Sex Addiction Therapist) he reminded me before the DSM IV existed, no diseases were listed. Every 2-3 years a new DSM is published and with it new diseases are added.  Alcoholism was not considered a disease before 1956, and was later added to the DSM.  Alcoholics Anonymous started in 1935, but it took a while to be considered a disease, even though many respected doctors such as Dr. Silkworth and Carl Jung considered Alcoholism a disease before it was defined as such

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) released a draft of preliminary criteria that aimed to define sex addiction. The APA formally called it Hypersexual Disorder and according to the draft, it can be diagnosed in adults 18 years of age or older. The symptoms of Hypersexual Disorder or sex addiction are as follows: 

  1. Excessive time is consumed by sexual fantasies and urges, and by planning for and engaging in sexual behavior.
  2. Repetitively engaging in these sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior in response to dysphoric mood states (e.g., anxiety, depression, boredom, irritability).
  3. Repetitively engaging in sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior in response to stressful life events.
  4. Repetitive but unsuccessful efforts to control or significantly reduce these sexual fantasies, urges and behavior.
  5. Repetitively engaging in sexual behavior while disregarding the risk for physical or emotional harm to self or others. 

The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health defines sex addiction as “Sexual addiction is a persistent and escalating pattern or patterns of sexual behaviors acted out despite increasingly negative consequences to self or others,”

With drugs and alcohol the addict is addicted to a substance, with sex addiction and sexual addiction the addict is addicted to a behavior. 

The society provides what they consider behaviors that the sex addict engages in to a point of total loss of control to stop those behaviors: masturbation, pornography, numerous  anonymous partners, unprotected anonymous sex, objectification of others as sex objects, exhibitionism,  simultaneous or repeated sequential affairs, cyber sex, chat rooms and phone sex, unsafe sexual activity, strip clubs, adult bookstores and prostitution.
So, while sex addiction and sexual addiction my not be yet defined in the DSM IV, ask a struggling sex addict who can’t stop their life from spiraling out of control if it’s real and a disease.  They will tell you it is and in the near future, we will most probably see the disease of sex addiction and sexual addiction included in the DS
Some might say many of those activities above can be considered normal sexual behavior and they would be correct. The difference is the sex addict feels the need to participate in those activities above all other activities in their lives. They become obsessed with the behaviors and can’t stop themselves no matter what the consequence to their healthy, finances, relationships or overall well-being. 
M IV

* The DSM IV is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It is published by the American Psychiatric Association and covers all mental health disorders for both children and adults. Mental health professionals use this manual to better understand patient illnesses and treatments. 

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3 Responses to Is Sex Addiction or Sexual Addiction Real?

  1. John Wilder on at

    I agree that there are people who are heavily into sex, but it is not addition. It would be better characterized as obsessive compulsive behavior where the behavior is fixated on sex. Calling it sexual addiction is pseudo science. Addiction is characterized by extreme withdrawal symptoms when the addictive substance is removed.

    • Not all addictions are characterized by extreme withdraw. For example, individuals who report being addicted to cocaine do not go through a difficult withdraw if any at all. I have had many patients report withdrawal symptoms when abstaining from compulsive addictive sexual behavior.

  2. Valorie Fischer on at

    “Addiction is characterized by extreme withdrawal when the addictive substance is removed.” I can state emphatically, that the craving, the withdrawal, the physical withdrawal symptoms are similar to someone going through withdrawal from alcohol or drugs. To claim that the sex addict is merely “heavily into sex” is a rationalization that just does not hold up. Regardless of the “psuedo science” term. Sex addiction is a real problem for those who live with it. And finding a solution for this life debilitating problem is the greatest gift I have ever been given.

    One may not have experienced sex addiction. There are those who may never understand nor relate. However by your definition, Mr. Wilder, Sex Addiction is the appropriate terminology. I am hoping that it is just a lack of experience and knowledge that led to your uninformed comment.

    It is my hope that the American Psychiatric Association opens their minds and does some research. This problem is REAL, and it is devestating to so many lives in this country and around the globe. I hope it doesn’t take as many years as it took the APA to decide alcoholism was truly a disease.

    Finally, in Alcoholics Anonymous, under “The Doctor’s Opinion” it states, “the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class.” If one has not experienced this craving — for alcohol, drugs, food or sex, they will not understand addiction outside of a possible logical explanation. Those of us who live with that craving; we don’t care what term you wish to give us, but please do not make light of our plight.

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