Sex is a basic part of human nature, and it’s perfectly normal (and healthy) to have a vigorous libido. But there’s a tipping point, when sexual desire can go from being healthy to out of control.
Usually, the difference between enjoying sex and being addicted to sex is apparent. A healthy sexual appetite can be controlled. If sex is unavailable, it is disappointing but not devastating. With a sexual addiction, the addict feels desperate to have his or her sexual outlet, no matter the cost.
While the DSM has yet to describe specific diagnostic criteria for nonparaphilic sex addictions, some researchers have suggested symptoms and signs that are similar to other addictions for both paraphilic and nonparaphilic sex addictions. Specifically, sex addicts have been described as suffering from a negative pattern of sexual behavior that leads to significant problems or distress that may include the following:
- A need for more amount or intensity of behavior to achieve the desired effect (tolerance)
- Physical or psychological feelings of withdrawal when unable to engage in the addictive behavior
- The person making plans for, engaging in, or recovering from the behavior more or longer than planned
- Desire or unsuccessful attempts to decrease or stop the behavior
- Neglecting important social, work, or school activities because of the behavior
- Continuing the behavior despite suffering physical or psychological problems because of or worsened by the sexual behavior.
A sexual addiction can manifest itself in many ways, so you will need to look for a variety of possible warning signs that you or your spouse or partner is a sex addict.
- Sex dominates an individual’s life to the exclusion of other activities.
- The individual engages in phone sex, computer sex, and use of prostitutes, pornography, or exhibitionism.
- The person habitually masturbates.
- The individual has multiple sexual partners or cheats on partners.
- In extreme cases, the person engages in criminal activities, including stalking, rape, incest, or child molestation.
The challenging thing about a sexual addiction is that some “obsession” with sex is healthy. We should have a libido that makes us desire sex. But it goes too far when the person cares more about the act itself than the other person involved.
Being the loved one of a sex addict is especially difficult because you often become the addiction. Setting your own boundaries and comfort limits is very hard to do with a sex partner, but you have the right to do what is best for you, so you need to risk telling them how you feel and what you need also. Share your feelings and talk about what you are and are not willing to do. Always act in ways that make you feel comfortable, good about yourself, and safe.
If the relationship is healthy, a person will respond to the needs of his partner or spouse with a sex addiction. So be clear about expressing what you need, how you feel, and how the addiction is impacting you.