November 18 2022

What is Sexual Compulsivity?


Sexual Compulsivity vs. Sexual Addiction

Mental health professionals who use the term Sex Addiction use the classifications of substance-related and addictive disorders in order to classify sex addiction
Sexual compulsivity typically refers to tendencies or excessive sexual behaviors, while sexual addiction refers to the idea that the individual is unable to change these behaviors while they are negatively affecting their life. Sexual Addiction is connected to greater dependence, greater risk-taking, and more rigid/ritualistic patterns. In essence, sexual compulsivity is the feeling or obsession with sexual behaviors, while sex addiction is a condition where you are unable to change or modify these behaviors. A person may experience sexual compulsivity and sexual addiction at the same time.

Due to their nature, Sexual Compulsivity is typically grouped with terms such as “hypersexuality” or “sexual addiction”. However, it’s important to note that hypersexuality, sexual compulsivity, and sex addiction haven’t officially been added to the DSM-5 or the manual for diagnosing and classifying mental disorders. 

There is an ongoing debate as to whether sexual compulsivity should be included in the DSM-5 and how it would be classified medically. Many mental health professionals, like Dr. Kevin Skinner, are comfortable with comparing sexual compulsivity to addiction and use the term sex addiction because sexual compulsivity shares many features of addiction. Other mental health professionals avoid using that terminology. For more information on Dr. Skinner’s research and approach to sexual addiction refer to his book, Treating Sexual Addiction: A Compassionate Approach to Recovery

How does Sexual Compulsivity Manifest Itself?

The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies compulsive sexual behavior disorder as “a persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive sexual behavior.” WHO describes how sexual activities become, the “central focus of the person’s life,” despite negative consequences from the behavior and little sexual satisfaction from the behavior. 

Here are several examples of sexually compulsive behavior:

  • George has been consistently masturbating since he was a teenager. Recently he’s been under a lot of stress at work and has been using it as a way to relax. The more stressed he feels, the more intense the need to masturbate and view pornography feels. After an extended period of time, he can’t go a day without viewing pornography or masturbating without feeling restless, anxious, or depressed.
  • During the last year, Janet’s habit of viewing pornography has severely impacted her relationship with her partner and her grades in her master’s program. She thinks about pornography every day and plans her day around it. Despite watching pornography for hours, she finds nothing satisfying or fulfilling in what she views. Janet is trying to reduce the amount of pornography she consumes but has been unsuccessful in this endeavor. 
  • Ryan is concerned with his habits of sleeping with prostitutes and going to strip clubs. He can’t financially afford these activities, so he is maxing out his credit card to cover the expenses. He continues to participate in these activities despite the financial and medical risks of sexually transmitted diseases. He knows this is becoming an obsession – it is all he can think about.

What Behaviors May be Connected to Sexual Compulsivity? 

Initial research has identified a few common behaviors associated with sexual compulsivity. Remember that sexual compulsivity typically refers to when these behaviors become such a big focus in your life that they interfere with your social life, education/work, and relationships. 

  • Unsafe sex
  • Pay sex workers to fulfill sexual desire
  • Compulsive masturbation
  • Pornography use that is difficult to stop

What Feelings Accompany Sexual Compulsivity?

People who experience sexual compulsivity can feel ashamed of their behavior and isolated from others. There is some initial evidence that shows sexual compulsivity can be connected to other mental health challenges like depression or anxiety. 

Other mental and social feelings include:

  • Shame 
  • Uncontrolled or regulated emotions
  • Relationship issues
  • Childhood trauma
  • Isolation and detachment
  • A feeling of loss of control over sexual feelings

What to Do After You Identify Sexual Compulsive Behaviors:

Practice Self-Compassion

If you or your loved ones are experiencing sexual compulsivity it is important to have compassion for yourself and others. While many people experience sexual compulsivity, it can be very isolating and difficult to talk about. It is important that you have patience and avoid condemning or judging yourself or others too harshly. 

Find a Therapist 

If sexual compulsivity is severely impacting your life, meeting with a therapist who is licensed and experienced in treating sexual compulsivity or sexual addiction can help you work through it. Sex therapists know how to address underlying anxieties that contribute to sexual compulsive behavior and can help you set goals to reduce your dependence on sexual behaviors. 
Our partner site, Path for Men, offers support for individuals seeking recovery from sexual compulsivity or addiction. When experiencing sexually compulsive or addictive behaviors, it’s very common to think “I am the only one. No one can possibly understand what I’m going through.” Our coaches and programs provide a safe place of understanding, acceptance, and support while navigating healing.

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