Is Sex Addiction a Disease?
By Dr. Douglas Weiss Ph.D.
Is Sex Addiction Real?
The question of whether sex addiction is a disease is one I have had to answer for almost 30 years. The media will have a salacious story about the latest well-known person who does something sexually unexplainable, and the show host will usually take one of two positions:
- Either they will say sex addiction is an excuse for bad boys who do bad things and get caught.
- Or they will sincerely want to know if sex addiction is real.
I will assume you are that inquisitive person who really wants to know if sex addiction is a disease, or not. In this article, we’ll get to the bottom of the issue and answer whether sex addiction fits the disease model or not. Then, we outline some of the common addiction signs. At the end, we welcome your questions and comments in the designated section at the bottom of the page.
The term sex addiction has been around since the late ‘80s. Treatment centers and hospitals that treat sex addiction have been around since the early ‘90s. Various 12-step groups grew in different areas of the country around this same time period as well. Thousands of people have been treated for sex addiction, but does that make it a disease?
Defining disease seems to be a logical place to start. We live in an age where Wikipedia is a reasonably trustworthy source for giving basic information. According to Wikipedia, the term disease is:
“ …often used more broadly to refer to any condition that causes pain, dysfunction, distress, social problems, or death to the person afflicted, or similar problems for those in contact with the person.”
A person who uses sex in an addictive manner, regardless of behavior (masturbation, pornography, affairs, paid sex, objects etc.), would easily fit this basic definition.
Sex Addiction Recovery Is a Process
I have successfully treated thousands of sex addicts in intensives and individual counseling sessions for the last 30 years. What I am writing in the next paragraphs doesn’t come from some textbook.
Facing the problem. For 30 years, day after day, I’ve been meeting with men and women who are addicted to sex or in a relationship with someone addicted to sex. I have clearly seen the addict and the spouse and family in quite a bit of pain when the addict’s behavior comes to light. I have had women heave with pain when they find out the truth about their spouse’s behavior.
Getting to the root cause of the problem. The dysfunction of the addict’s life in so many ways is measurable in their addiction, as well as in their recovery as their life comes back to order. The dysfunction may be beliefs, behaviors, or a lack of normal responsibility taken in a marriage or family. Dysfunction is also a reality for those in relationship with a person with a sex addiction. The book “Beyond the Bedroom: Healing for Adult Children of Sex Addicts” is filled with statistics showing that adult children of sex addicts have had issues because of their addicted parent.
Working through emotions. Addicts and their families also experience huge amounts of distress:
Therapy, and especially family therapy and couples therapy, helps work through these emotions and find mutual solutions. The end goal is to ease everyone’s hurt in a thorough, kind, relating way.
Facing social implications. The social problems that sex addiction can have in the life of the addict are significant and diverse. The addict may lose their job, have to move, make their children change schools, etc. Therapy can help deal with the social difficulties such as stigma, and with the real life problems that may come as a consequence.
Relapse is possible. In my career, I’ve seen also seen people go back to their addiction after treatment. But I have also seen people make a long-term recovery after two or several attempts at treatment. And is yet another reason why therapy and a long term dedication to work on recovery is crucial.
Sex Addiction Signs: Do They Meet Disease Criteria?
Sex addiction fits all the criteria outlined for sex addiction to be a disease. How then, can one know if they have this disease, or not?
Let me walk you through the basic characteristics of any addiction. If you or someone you know has more than three of these characteristics, then you might consider getting a professional evaluation:
- You have tried to stop this behavior and have failed.
- You have made promises to yourself, God, or others to stop the behavior, and also have failed.
- You’ve had some form of consequence for the problem behavior.
- You continued the behavior even after you faced consequences for the behavior.
- You have an increased tolerance for the behavior.
- You require more of a behavior to get the same high that you used to achieve from a smeller amount.
- Acquiring the behavior, doing the behavior, or recovering from the behavior takes more and more of your time.
- You get sad or have withdrawal symptoms when you cannot engage in the behavior.
- You decreased your involvement in other areas in of life due to the addictive behavior. You stopped engaging in normal social behavior that you previously enjoyed.
You could examine any behavior with this list including sexual behavior, or even avoiding sex or intimacy—and see if it’s an addiction for you or someone you care about.
So, Is Sex Addiction Really a Disease?
In my 30 years of experience, I would say: Yes. I would also say healing or recovering from this disease is also possible. Many have successfully traveled the road to sex addiction recovery, and for those who put the work in, recovery is possible.
Sex Addiction Questions
If you recognize these signs and symptoms in yourself or a loved one, and would like to take action steps to resolve the problem behavior, please reach out.
We are open to hearing your questions and do our best to respond personally and promptly to all legitimate inquiries. So, feel free to send us your questions and concerns in the comments section at the bottom of the page.