What is Sex Addiction?

The term “Sex Addiction,” despite its popularity, is not recognized by mental health professionals. So, what exactly is “sex addiction?”
Amy Howard

Amy Howard

Despite its popularity in the media and on the internet, sex addiction is difficult to define.

We throw the term around so easily. Thanks to its media popularity, some of our favorite screen personalities are afflicted including Mad Men’s troubled leading man, Don Draper.

Sex addiction is one of the most popular psychological terms we use, yet even mental health professionals have difficulty defining it.

Sex Addiction is a de-personalization of sex

Sexual addiction has many popular forms in the media and our culture. For instance, those who pursue sexual “conquests” are often referred to as sex addicts. The term also refers to people who, during their sexual encounters, have difficulty acknowledging their partner’s personal agency or individual human value.

Sex addiction is such a compelling concept that you can find many television series to stream focusing on the subject. Sex addiction is a part of our culture, if not a part of our official medical language.

Still, mental health professionals disagree about what “sexual addiction” is. The term first came about during the 1970s, when alcohol and drug treatment programs became effective and compelling for many Americans. Since then, it’s been used as fodder for drama – televised and between friends in real life.

Common Clues for Sex Addiction

Behaviors commonly identified as “sex addiction” include:

  • preoccupation with having sex to the point that it interferes with other areas of life
  • perceived inability to control or stop a sexual behavior
  • lying about sex
  • experiencing remorse or guilt after sex
  • negative personal or professional consequences of sexual behavior

Sexual addiction is not a clinically recognized disorder. In fact, the term “sex addiction” is excluded from the mental health field’s most popular reference used to identify psychological disorders, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5).

Sex Addiction is not a clinical term

A growing number of Certified Sex Therapists reject the term “sex addiction” and its loaded moniker “sex addict.” They prefer “Out of Control Sexual Behavior” or OCSB for short. The newer and more accurate term was first used by clinical researcher Doug Braun-Harvey, LMFT, CST (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Sex Therapist).

Out of control behaviors, including sexual behavior, can look a lot like addictions to alcohol, gambling, and drugs. One of the fundamental principles of alcohol addiction, an acknowledgment that the alcoholic is “powerless” over their addiction, is often used to draw a connection between sexual behavior and alcohol dependency.

Think “sexual compulsion” not “sex addiction.”

One of the tools an effective sex therapist uses to treat harmful behaviors is language. By shifting the source of the problem from an addiction a person is “powerless” to change to a “compulsion” a person can manage, the behavior can be isolated and addressed.

What impact is the behavior having

If sexual behaviors are negatively impacting one’s career, finances, sleep or intimate relationships, calling it an “addiction” may be the catalyst needed to seek help.

Rather than defining a sexual behavior as “good” or “bad,” “healthy” or “unhealthy,” a Certified Sex Therapist encourages the client to define sexual health for themselves. As a starting point for that discussion, it can be helpful to introduce the generally understood principles of sexual health.

The six principles of sexual health

There are six principles sex therapists use to foster a more nuanced definition of sexual health. Those principles are:

  • Consent
  • Non-exploitation
  • Protection
  • Shared values
  • Honesty
  • Pleasure

These principles have been adopted by the World Health Organization and are generally accepted as the foundation of sexual health.

My next post will go into detail about each of the six principles.

An effective Sex Therapist is trained to help people understand their behaviors and determine if they have a problem. If you or someone you care about feels out-of-control about sex, I can help.

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Amy Howard makes it easy to start the process of fixing your relationship. Schedule a free 10-minute phone consultation today and begin your journey toward a healthier, more loving and satisfying life.

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