Compulsive Sexual Behavior
Compulsive sexual behavior is sometimes called hypersexuality, hypersexuality disorder, or sexual addiction. Excessive preoccupation with sexual fantasies, urges, or behaviors that are difficult to control cause you distress or negatively affect your health, job, relationships, or other parts of your life.
Compulsive sexual behavior may involve a variety of commonly enjoyable sexual experiences. Examples include masturbation, cybersex, multiple sexual partners, use of pornography, or paying for sex. When these sexual behaviors become a significant focus in your life, are difficult to control, and are disruptive or harmful to you or others, they may be considered compulsive sexual behavior.
No matter what it is called or the exact nature of the behavior, untreated compulsive sexual behavior can damage your self-esteem, relationships, career, health, and other people. However, with treatment and self-help, you can learn to manage compulsive sexual behavior.
Treatment for compulsive sexual behavior typically involves psychotherapy, medications, and self-help groups. A primary goal of treatment is to help you manage urges and reduce excessive behaviors while maintaining healthy sexual activities.
If you have compulsive sexual behavior, you may also need treatment for another mental health condition. People with compulsive sexual behavior often have alcohol or drug abuse problems or other mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression, which need treatment.
People with other addictions or severe mental health problems or who pose a danger to others may benefit from inpatient treatment initially. Whether inpatient or outpatient, treatment may be intense at first. Furthermore, you may find periodic, ongoing treatment through the years helpful to prevent relapses.
Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, can help you learn how to manage your compulsive sexual behavior. Types of psychotherapy include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps you identify unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with more adaptive ways of coping. You learn strategies to make these behaviors less private and interfere with being able to access sexual content so easily.
Acceptance and commitment therapy, which is a form of CBT that emphasizes acceptance of thoughts and urges and a commitment to strategies to choose actions that are more consistent with important values.
Psychodynamic psychotherapy, which is therapy that focuses on increasing your awareness of unconscious thoughts and behaviors, developing new insights into your motivations, and resolving conflicts.
Some indications that you may be struggling with compulsive sexual behavior include:
You have recurrent and intense sexual fantasies, urges, and behaviors that take up a lot of your time and feel as if they are beyond your control.
You feel driven to do certain sexual behaviors, feel a release of the tension afterward, and feel guilt or remorse.
You have tried unsuccessfully to reduce or control your sexual fantasies, urges, or behavior.
You use compulsive sexual behavior to escape other problems, such as loneliness, depression, anxiety, or stress.
You continue to engage in sexual behaviors that have serious consequences, such as the potential for getting or giving someone else a sexually transmitted infection, the loss of meaningful relationships, trouble at work, financial strain, or legal problems.
You have trouble establishing and maintaining healthy and stable relationships.
When to seek help
- Seek help if you feel you have lost control of your sexual behavior, especially if your behavior causes problems for you or other people. Compulsive sexual behavior tends to escalate over time, so get help when you first recognize there may be a problem. As you decide whether to seek professional help, ask yourself:
- Can I manage my sexual impulses?
- Am I distressed by my sexual behaviors?
- Is my sexual behavior hurting my relationships, affecting my work or resulting in negative consequences, such as getting arrested?
- Do I try to hide my sexual behavior?
Seeking help for compulsive sexual behavior can be difficult because it is such a deeply personal matter. Try to:
Set aside any shame or embarrassment and focus on the benefits of getting treatment.
Remember that you're not alone — many people struggle with compulsive sexual behavior. Mental health professionals are trained to be understanding and discreet. However, not all mental health professionals are experienced in treating compulsive sexual behavior, so make sure you find a competent therapist in this area.
Keep in mind what you say to a doctor or mental health professional is kept confidential, except in cases where you report that you are going to hurt yourself or someone else, you report sexual abuse of a child, or you report abuse or neglect of someone in a vulnerable population.
Seek treatment right away
Seek immediate treatment if:
You think you may cause harm with uncontrolled sexual behavior
You have other problems with impulse control, and you feel like your sexual behavior is slipping out of control
You are suicidal — if you're thinking of attempting suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (in the United States) at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
Compulsive sexual behavior can occur in men and women, though it may be more common in men. It can also affect anyone, regardless of sexual orientation. Factors that may increase the risk of compulsive sexual behavior include:
Ease of access to sexual content. Advances in technology and social media allow access to increasingly intensive sexual imagery and information.
Privacy. Secrecy and privacy of compulsive sexual activities tend to allow these problems to worsen over time.
Also, an increased risk of compulsive sexual behavior may occur in people who have:
Alcohol or drug abuse problems
Another mental health condition, such as a mood disorder (such as depression or anxiety) or a gambling addiction
Family conflicts or family members with problems such as addiction
A history of physical or sexual abuse
Compulsive sexual behavior can have many negative consequences that affect both you and others. You may:
Struggle with feelings of guilt, shame and low self-esteem
Develop other mental health conditions, such as depression, suicide, severe distress and anxiety
Neglect or lie to your partner and family, harming or destroying meaningful relationships
Lose your focus or engage in sexual activity or search internet pornography at work, risking your job
Accumulate financial debts buying pornography and sexual services
Contract HIV, hepatitis or another sexually transmitted infection or pass a sexually transmitted infection to someone else
Engage in unhealthy substance use, such as using recreational drugs or drinking excessive alcohol
Be arrested for sexual offenses
Because the cause of compulsive sexual behavior is not known, it is not clear how it might be prevented, but a few things may help keep this type of behavior in check:
Get help early for problems with sexual behavior. Identifying and treating early symptoms may help prevent compulsive sexual behavior from worsening over time or escalating into a downward spiral of shame, relationship problems, and harmful acts.
Seek treatment early for mental health disorders. Compulsive sexual behavior may be worsened by depression or anxiety.
Identify and seek help for alcohol and drug abuse problems. Substance abuse can cause a loss of control and unhappiness that can lead to poor judgment and may push you toward unhealthy sexual behaviors.
Avoid risky situations. Don't jeopardize your health or that of others by putting yourself into situations where you'll be tempted to engage in risky sexual practices.