The definition of sex addiction

As sex addiction starts to gain more popularity from society and media, more and more college students have revealed their concerns about sex addiction. This research paper is aimed to provide a comprehensive overview of sex addiction which includes the definition of sex addiction, the potential causes of sex addiction, sex addiction symptoms, consequences of sex addition, and to present alternative treatments and the effectiveness of the treatments.


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According to Hagedorn and Juhnke (2005), “17 to 37 million Americans struggle with sexual addictions” and “these figures are greater than the combined number of Americans who are addicted to gambling or have eating disorders”. Sex addition has become a serious social issue. The number of sexual addicted population is expected to grow on a continuous basis due to the heavy internet usage, the affordability, accessibility, and anonymity of sexually explicit material available on the Internet (Chaney & Blalock, 2006; Hagedorn& Juhnke, 2005) Hall (2006) concludes that about 20 to 33 percent of Internet users have engaged in online sexual activities. Although sex addiction has been around for more than a century, current treatments are still insifficient. Due to “sex addiction’s invisibility and complex correlation with other addictive disorders (paranoia, depression, suicidal ideations, mania, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsiveness)” and common psychiatric disorders, clinicians often face great challenge in treating sex addicted individuals (Hagedorn & Juhnke, 2005).


Sex addiction creates emotional and physical destruction for both the addicts and their families. Sex addicts are “more likely to feel anxious about relationships and avoid intimacy” (“Sex addiction is controllable”, 2010). In addition, sexually compulsive behaviors lead to higher risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other negative sexual health outcomes (Stupiansky et al, 2009).

Finally, according to Barrick (2007), college students are more likely to be addicted to sex than any other group due to the increasing popularity of pornography in America. Moreover, a survey of 21,000 students showed that “21 percent of the students believe their own sex lives are not normal; one in three feel degraded by their sexual behaviors; and more than 15 percent of the students score in the highest range of risk for developing a sexual addiction” (Barrick, 2007)
Defined Sex Addition

Throughout the history, scholars are constantly debating the conceptual aspect of sex addiction. Today, scholars hold different but overlapped opinions regard to the definition of sex addition. According to Hagedorn and Juhnke (2005), sex addiction is “a set of maladaptive behaviors that were uncontrollable, that brought negative consequences upon the addicted individual, and that harmfully affected those involved with the addicted individual”. Meanwhile, Briken et al. (2007) defines sex addiction as “a decline to pure sensuality; an increase in frequency accompanied by a decrease in satisfaction; increasing promiscuity and anonymity of contacts; the elaboration of fantasy, practice and re¬?nement; a self description of feeling compulsively addicted; and a periodicity of an urging restlessness”. Essentially, “addictive behavior is distinguished by the capacity both to produce pleasurable affects and to provide a means for the evasion of painful internal states” (Giugliano, 2009). However, Hagedorn and Juhnke (2005) noticed that “not all compulsive-like sexual behaviors are best explained as addictions. Whereas similar behaviors can be part of ongoing personality disorders, obsessive/compulsive disorders, sexual paraphilias, or other disorders”.

According to Giugliano (2009), there are four categories of sexual disorder: “1) Sexual Dysfunctions (disturbance in sexual desire or perfomance), 2) Paraphilias/ Disorders of Sexual Preference (recurrent, intense sexual urges, fantasies, or behaviors that involve unusual objects, activities, or situations and cause clinically significant distress or impairment in functioning), 3) Psychological and behavioral disorders associated with sexual development and orientation (strong and persistent cross gender identification accompanied by persistent discomfort with one’s assigned sex), and 4) Sexual Disorder Unspecified (those sexual disorders that do not meet the specific criteria of any of the above diagnoses)”. Some common sexual behaviors include:

Compulsive masturbation

Compulsive rise of Pornography

Having multiple, ongoing Affairs



Dangerous sexual practices


Anonymous sex


Telephone sex

Partner sex

Illegal sexual practices

(Hall, 2006)

Finally, sex addicted men and women show different preference of sexual activities. Hall (2006) found that “Men tend to engage in sexual activities that revolve around a sex object, such as voyeurism, prostitution and anonymous sex, while women tend to use sex for power, for example pain-exchange sex, fantasy roles, particularly seductive roles and trading sex”.


Scholars noticed that several personal experiences are highly correlated with sex addicted people and hence, may lead to sex addiction. According to Opitz et al. (2009), “a signi¬?cant positive correlation was found between sexual addiction and childhood abuse, depression and substance abuse”. Moreover, sex is sometimes used as a mean to escape feelings of pain (Chaney & Blalock, 2006). Lastly, sex addiction may also co-occur with other addictions (Hall, 2006).


The most common symptoms associated with sex addiction are depression, anger and irritability, insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, guilt and shame, inability to focus, physical ailments, a need for greater sexual intensity, cravings for sexual activity, denial, withdrawal, secrecy, mood fluctuations, pornography dependence, compulsive masturbation, and protracted promiscuity (Giugliano, 2008;Chaney & Blalock , 2006;Briken, 2007) Overall, according to Briken (2007), men are more pornography depended while women are engaging more protracted promiscuity.


Unlike other addiction disorder, sex addiction is cured when the patient “confines his or her sexual activities to a culturally sanctioned pattern, such as a long-term relationship in which there is emotional intimacy and sexual reciprocity” (Hagedorn& Juhnke, 2005).

Today, psychological therapies have been used greatly for sex addiction treatments. According to Giugliano (2009), these treatments include “education and spiritual development; support groups and group therapy; cognitive behavioral techniques; i.e. anger management, relapse rehearsal, identifying triggers for behaviors, coping strategies and self-statements; family therapy and twelve-step programs”. Recently, Katehakis (2009) suggested that instead focus on the existing symptoms, therapists could focus on “the neuropsychobiological impact of traumatic early childhood attachment patterns on the affective, cognitive, and behavioral development of sexual addicts and their partners”.

Medical treatments are also used in treating sex addiction. Giugliano (2009) found that the medical treatments focus on “diminishing the sex drive, improving control

over impulses, or affect regulation”. Common medicines include antiandrogenic, progestational agents, serotonin enhancers, tricyclics, as well as anti-anxiety agents (Giugliano, 2009). However, due to complex nature of sex addiction, neither the psychological approach nor the medical approach alone is ineffective in treating the disorder. In 2007, Briken suggested that clinicians should include the psychological and pharmacological treatment in treating sex addiction disorder. The author also recommended that during the early stage of the treatment, clinicians should start with “aspects of psychoeducation, involvement of family members or partners and helping in decisions about self- disclosure”.

Not only do clinicians face difficulty in treating the disorder, the addiction professional field also has its own challenge to overcome. According to Hagedorn and Juhnke (2005), most addiction professionals are not specialized in treating sex addiction due to the “the lack of consensus in the addictions field regarding the appropriate terminology and criteria” for sex addiction disorder and “the lack of understanding of how sexual addiction relates to other addictive and psychiatric disorders”.


Although the definition of sex addiction is still under debate, scholars and experts have agreed on some major characteristics of sex addiction which include uncontrollable, negative consequences, and continuity. Despites the total number of sex addicted population, college students are at highest risk of sex addiction. Several highly correlated issues explain why people are addicted to sex. Currently, two of the major approaches in treating sex addiction are psychological therapy and pharmaceutical treatment; however, none of the approaches alone is sufficient.

In brief, Hagedorn and Juhnke (2005) suggest that “individuals who are sexually addicted must learn to maintain a lifestyle free of the enticements offered in the sexual images that are prevalent in today’s society”.

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