It seems like almost every day another celebrity – actor, professional athlete, or politician – holds a press conference or has a publicist send an announcement to the press stating that he or she is a sex addict. But what exactly is a “sex addict”? Is it just a blanket term for someone who enjoys having sex with strangers, or is it more clinical than that?

Actually, it’s neither of those. Having an “addiction” to sex is like any other “true” addiction. When trying to understand the term addiction it is important to realize that sometimes addicts are called or call themselves addicts when, in fact, what they have is not truly an addiction. To be a "true" addiction it requires tolerance and/or withdrawal from whatever substance or activity they are doing. In some cases this can be related to sex, but in most cases it is not. As a result the term out-of-control sexual behavior (OCSB) is another term frequently used when one's behavior is out of control but not truly an addiction.

In the case of substances such as alcohol, frequently Alcoholics not only enjoy drinking, but they also have an obsession with their drink of choice and, if necessary, will hide the proof of their drinking from loved ones; drug addicts cannot stop thinking about their drug of choice, and will physically crave that drug, even if they have smoked, shot up or used that drug just moments before. True Sex addicts are obsessed with sex to the point their relationships with their loved ones disintegrate in their pattern of behavior usually increases in frequency, intensity, style or duration or, as mentioned earlier go through withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop. Unfortunately, some turn to illegal means, such as molestation and rape to try to fulfill their desires, while others will chronically masturbate or exhibit themselves in public.

In order to properly treat a sex addiction or even an OCSB, first one has to admit that they have a problem. Until this occurs, any possible treatments will likely not work. Next, a psychological evaluation may be done in order to find any underlying causes. Many addicts have obsessive-compulsive disorders or other issues that are impacting their behavior. Frequently issues from their childhood, histories of sexual abuse or avoidant coping styles tend to be related to this type of behavior. Typically, the next course of treatment consists of counselling, preferably with both the family members of the addict, as well as with the “addict” him or herself. Ultimately, the addict will not be “cured” overnight (although addicts are never exactly cured and remain in a constant state of recovery) and there is a process involved in order to introduce the addict to a state of normal sexuality.

It may seem as though more and more people are coming out of the woodwork and proclaiming themselves to be sex addicts. And while it is true that some of the may be due to the constant availability of pornography on computers and cell phones, the fact is that the more open people have become with their sexuality, the more comfortable they are admitting that they have a sexual addiction.

Be aware that sometimes people believe that their or others porn use or sexual behavior has placed them into the addict category when in fact their behavior is ultimately non- problematic and sometimes even within the norm. Make sure to ask the therapist to evaluate the level of use, which frequently involve exploring the frequency, style, duration and intensity of the sexual behavior in order to determine the overall level of out-of-controless that is occurring, especially considering that it is been estimated that approximately 80% (5% of women and 13% of men reported some problematic use related to online porn)[Michael, Månsson, and Daneback,2012] and that most users are at a non non-problematic level. As an additional point, even though the behavior may not be an addiction. It could be a breach of the agreed-upon rules of the relationship and therefore still can cause problems within the relationship and, especially if there is insecurity in the relationship and/or lack of transparency for the behavior can lead to mistrust in the relationship.

Start yourself or a loved one on the right path to dealing with a sexual addiction by meeting with a sexual therapy counsellor here at Insight Psychological.

Author's Bio: 

Cory Hrushka, M.A., R. Psych., C.S. D.S.T. is a Registered Psychologist, Diplomate of Sex Therapy/Sex Therapist and is the Executive Director of Calgary, Edmonton, and Red Deer Alberta based Insight Psychological.

Michael, r. Månsson, S.A., Daneback, K. (2012). Prevalence, Severity, and Correlates of Problematic Sexual Internet use in Swedish Men and Women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41(2) 459-466.