Although most people know sex addiction exists, many don’t know exactly what it means. Sexual addiction refers to sexual behavior that has become compulsive – no longer just for the sake of pleasure itself – and leads to negative repercussions that seriously disrupt a person’s relationships and work. While sex addiction often involves sexual contact with one or several people, people might be considered addicted because of the extreme use of pornography, using internet channels like chat rooms, or sexting with strangers. For example, if a man starts to view pornography for hours a day, he begins to believe that porn truly represents the way real people make love. As his expectations soar, he finds himself losing interest in the wife whom he had previously found sexually alluring. His quest for sexual excitement makes work and family seem dull by comparison.
To be clear, sex addiction is not exclusively a man’s problem. A small percentage of women also experience sexually compulsive behavior.
Women typically experience sex addiction a bit differently than men, so for this post, we’ll focus only on men.
Here are 5 behaviors that can indicate sex addiction in men:
- Loss of interest in current sexual partner. When a male suddenly stops wanting sex, it can deeply disturb the relationship. Certainly each partner has differing levels of desire, and the struggle to align those can be difficult. But a complete withdrawal from the sexual relationship for an extended period can be a warning sign that his sexual energy is going in a different direction.
- Loss of sexual functioning. In my practice, many young male patients who entered therapy to address erectile dysfunction and delayed ejaculation during intercourse are experiencing those issues because of their pornography habits. When a man views heavily erotic content before reaching climax, his dopamine rises to an excitement level that cannot be matched in sex with his partner. Essentially, he starts to condition his body to need these high levels of arousal, and his ability to function with a partner may decline.
- A large amount of time spent on sexual activities. When a man’s pornography habit begins to take up large amounts of time, consuming sleep or working hours, it’s likely he has a compulsion. The behavior could be rooted in something other than sex addiction – he could be compensating for depression, for example. Whatever the reason, at this stage he needs help.
- He neglects responsibilities. If his time involved in sexual activity interrupts relationships with spouse and family or work, sexual behavior has likely become compulsion. And if he takes risks that would alert his employer’s HR department (flirting with colleagues, masturbation at work, view of pornography on work servers), the danger of the compulsion has increased to jeopardize his livelihood.
- An escalation of sexual danger. While I don’t believe pornography is like a “gateway drug”, if a man senses that his use of porn is out of control, he needs therapy. When the need for sexual thrills has escalated from a dirty book, to a porn habit, to live chat rooms, to stranger pick-ups, escorts and/or prostitutes, the level of his risk-taking has exceeded his control. Any behavior considered illegal – exposure, peeping, up-skirting, child pornography, or paid-for sex warrants immediate action. Break the denial – these activities are not about sex.
What to do about this? If any of these signs are present it is time to consult a sex therapist or a psychiatrist and potentially consider inpatient treatment.