Sex addict. It’s a term that’s widely used – and wildly misunderstood.
We might call someone a sex addict as a joke – but increasingly, mental health experts are saying that a compulsion to act out sexually is a symptom of addiction.
If you’ve ever wondered whether sex addiction could be a problem for you, consider whether any of these scenarios sound familiar …
1. Your sexual behaviour is out of control
You go out for the night, vowing it’s just to see your friends and to have a good time, but end up hooking up with someone.
Instead of feeling happy about the encounter afterwards, you simply feel anger and even repulsion at yourself for your inability to curb your libido.
Psychiatrist Dr Dmitri Popelyuk says: “Repetitively engaging in sexual behaviour while disregarding the risk for emotional harm to yourself self or others is potentially a red flag for sex addiction.”
2. Your sex life gets you into trouble at work
Whether you’ve come on to your boss, or your colleagues are sick of your behaviour, a voracious sexual appetite can cause all kinds of problems. “Those with sex addiction often seek out help when there are occupational and financial consequences such as job loss or loss of productivity,” comments Dr Popelyuk. “These could include acting out sexually while at work (such as surfing the web for pornography) or obsessing about acting out sexually while at work.”
3. You think about sex all of the time
If you’re a teenager, it’s probably normal for sex to be on the brain constantly. However, if you're older, and find every waking moment is spent obsessing about your next conquest or pornography, it might be time to get help. Dr Popelyuk says those with sex addiction often use sex as a way to ameliorate unpleasant or difficult thoughts. He says: “Sex addiction is often characterised by excessive time consumed by sexual fantasies and urges and repetitively engaging in these sexual fantasies, urges and behaviour in response to anxiety, depression, boredom and irritability.”
4. You’ve put yourself in danger pursuing sex
Perhaps your desire for sex has made you forget about safe sex, and keeping yourself safe. Maybe you have brought home strangers who have been threatening, or who have tried to hurt you or rob you. “Physical consequences such as increased risk for various sexually transmitted infections, including HIV is a danger of sex addiction,” comments Dr Popelyuk.
5. You break the law
According to Dr Popleyuk, sex addiction often has to be confronted when behaviour steps outside what is socially and legally acceptable. He says, “Legal consequences if the person’s compulsion involves activities such as voyeurism, exhibitionism or public sex can indicate there is a problem with sex addiction.”
6. You’re wasting your time obsessing about sex
So, you really want a promotion. Or a relationship. Or to be a better friend. Or whatever it is you’re secretly hankering after. But you never achieve these aims because you’re too busy embroiled in your complicated sex life, which somehow doesn’t feel as fun as it should. It can make you feel lonely too: “There are social consequences such as peer and familial isolation to sex addiction,” says Dr Popleyuk.
7. You’ve let down your loved ones
Perhaps you’re in a relationship with someone you really care for. But your inability to remain faithful is a source of pain for both of you. Dr Popelyuk comments: “Multiple sexual partners and frequent sexual activity are used as a remedy to traumatic experiences and is a way to relieve emotional pain.” This pain needs to be addressed before you can feel at one with yourself.
What sex addiction is NOT
It’s worth remembering that sex addiction isn’t simply enjoying lots of sex, or using apps like Tinder or Grindr to meet people for encounters. The label sex addiction shouldn’t be used to shame or control people. Sexual morality has changed over the years, and different people have different ideas on what is a problem.
However, the bottom line is, if your sex life is making you unhappy, it’s time to seek help.