Can you become addicted to sex?

It is possible for some people to become addicted to sex. This addiction is similar to substance abuse, as an addiction is caused by the powerful chemical substances that are released during sex.

Being addicted to something means that not having it causes withdrawal symptoms, or a "come down". Because this can be unpleasant, it's easier to carry on having or doing what you crave, and so the cycle continues. Often, an addiction gets out of control because you need more and more to satisfy a craving and achieve the "high" you feel.

If you think you may have a sexual addiction, there is plenty of support available to you.

What is sex addiction?

Relationship counselling service Relate describes sex addiction as any sexual activity that feels "out of control". This could be sex with a partner, but it can also mean activities such as pornography, masturbation, visiting prostitutes or using chat lines.

For most people, these habits don't cause them any problems. However, sex addicts are unable to control these urges and actions, despite the problems it may cause their relationships, finances and professional lives.

The Recovery Network says sex addiction "involves frequent self-destructive or high-risk activity that is not emotionally fulfilling, that one is ashamed of and that one is unable to stop, despite it causing repeated problems".

What causes sex addiction?

The causes of sex and love addictions are often rooted in childhood or adolescence. Early trauma, neglect or depression are potential reasons. One US study revealed that 80% of participants with a sex addiction suffered emotional trauma or sexual abuse during their childhood.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 03/04/2015

Next review due: 02/04/2017