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Compulsive sexual behavior

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From MayoClinic.com

The disorder is most common among men. Sexual addiction is an overwhelming desire to have sex.

Sexual behavior becomes a problem and is considered an addiction when it is repeated often enough to interfere with normal daily living. Addictive sexual behavior interferes with relationships, work, friendships, and lifestyle.

Its used a number of labels for this potentially serious condition. It's sometimes called hypersexuality, nymphomania, erotomania or perversion. Some doctors call it sexual obsession. Others use the term sexual addiction, comparing it with the uncontrolled use of a drug.

While it's difficult to accurately assess the number of people with this disorder, experts estimate that as many as one in 20 people exhibits compulsive sexual behavior.

Signs and symptoms

Sexual behavior becomes a problem and is considered compulsive when it's repeated often enough to interfere with your normal daily living and with your relationships. If your sexual behavior is compulsive, you may display it in a number of ways, including:

  • Having multiple sexual partners or extramarital affairs

  • Having sex with a succession of anonymous partners or prostitutes, and treating them as objects to be used for sex

  • Using commercial sexually explicit phone lines and Internet chat rooms

  • Engaging in excessive masturbation, as often as five to 15 times a day

  • Using pornographic materials frequently

  • Engaging in masochistic or sadistic sex, such as experiencing sexual excitement by inflicting or receiving pain during sex

  • Exposing yourself in public

  • Feeling compelled to engage in sexual activity when you're stressed, anxious or depressed

Many people who are sexually obsessed are married and appear to live otherwise normal lives. They often lead double lives and may have difficulty establishing and maintaining emotional intimacy.

Sexually obsessive behavior tends to be chronic, intense and beyond your control. Although you may seek gratification through sexually compulsive behavior, you're unlikely to achieve fulfillment over the long term. In fact, you may feel that your life is becoming increasingly empty. People with compulsive sexual behavior often use sex as an escape from other problems, such as loneliness, depression, anxiety or stress.


Many experts believe that other psychological disorders underlie sexual obsessions and compulsions. Sexual obsession may be a maladaptive coping mechanism for other emotional problems, including mood and personality disorders.

For example, if you grew up in a dysfunctional family or were sexually, emotionally or physically abused as a child, you may have developed an unhealthy attitude toward sex. These early traumatic experiences may lead you to feel shameful and unworthy, emotions that can inhibit normal sexual expression and intimacy and can result in extremes in sexual activity.

If you're feeling lonely and depressed, you may perceive your sexual compulsions as a way of filling the voids in your life. But even if compulsive sexual behavior brings you short-term relief, your negative feelings are likely to return, often at an intensified level.

In some cases, compulsive sexual behavior can be caused by a neurologic disorder, such as epilepsy or Alzheimer's disease.

When to seek medical advice

Most people with compulsive sexual behavior need professional treatment. Attempts at self-care are usually unsuccessful because, by definition, a sexual compulsion tends to be beyond a person's control.

Some questions you can ask yourself are:

  • Can I control my sexual behavior?

  • Is my sexual behavior hurting my relationships with friends and family, affecting my ability to work, or resulting in negative consequences, such as getting arrested?

  • Is sex constantly on my mind, even when I don't want to be thinking about it?

If you're concerned that you're obsessed with sex, look for a doctor who specializes in treating sexual behavior disorders. Your family doctor may be able to give you the name of such a specialist, or you can contact a nearby major medical center and ask for a referral.


If you experience sexual obsessions and compulsions, you run the risk of wide-ranging negative consequences. For example, you may:

  • Neglect your partner or become deceitful in your marriage or other primary relationship. This can jeopardize or destroy the relationship.

  • Accumulate large financial debts in pursuing your sexual impulses by spending money on prostitutes, pornography and phone-sex lines.

  • Contract sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and place other partners at risk.

  • Be arrested for sexual offenses, such as exhibitionism or solicitation of prostitution.

  • Lose your focus at work, risking your job.

  • Cause an unwanted pregnancy.

  • Engage in other high-risk behaviors, such as abuse of drugs or alcohol.

  • Feel shame and guilt over your inability to control socially unacceptable behaviors that interfere with normal relationships.


A number of treatments are available for compulsive sexual behavior:

  • Psychological treatment. Individual or group therapy helps many people manage their sexual obsessions. In therapy you can begin to acknowledge that sex should be part of a loving relationship. You also can start to deal effectively with developmental or interpersonal issues instead of acting out in a sexual manner. Doctors sometimes recommend inpatient treatment, but most people do well in outpatient settings. Support from family and friends can help in the recovery process. 

  • Marriage counseling. Marriage counseling is often necessary to help resolve the relationship problems that arise from sexual obsession.

  • Antidepressant medications. Your doctor may prescribe a drug such as fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil) or sertraline (Zoloft) to reduce the anxiety or depression that are often associated with sexual obsession.

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