Confronting Sex Addiction

By Lauri Ann Lumby

In a culture where sex sells, sexual addiction and its related behaviors (compulsive: fantasizing, masturbation, use of pornography, sex sites, multiple partners or even prostitution,) becomes normalized.  In the mental health field, however, these compulsive behaviors are not considered healthy and have been characterized as behaviors consistent with sexual addiction, or hypersexuality.  Currently 3-5% of the population self-identifies as suffering from sex addiction, and is seeking help.  It is estimated that many more are suffering and either in denial or refusing help for their addiction. With the accessibility and mainstreaming of pornography and online sex sites, sex addiction is growing problem – for the addict, their partners and their families.

Sex addiction is distinguished from healthy sexual expression by the need for increasing intensity of sexual activities (whether fantasizing, participating or viewing) in order to obtain the desired results which only provide temporary satisfaction. Some addicts eventually find themselves turning to pornography, multiple partners, on-line sex sites, even prostitution to satisfy their craving.  Addicts continue this behavior without regard to their own emotional, mental, relational, physical or financial well-being. Many relationships have been destroyed because of the behavior of a sex addict.

The American Psychological Association has drafted criteria for evaluating sex addiction, what they refer to as Hypersexual Disorder:

Over a period of at least six months, a person experiences recurrent and intense sexual fantasies, sexual urges, and sexual behavior in association with four or more of the following five criteria:

1. Excessive time is consumed by sexual fantasies and urges, and by planning for and engaging in sexual behavior.

2. Repetitively engaging in these sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior in response to dysphoric mood states (e.g., anxiety, depression, boredom, irritability).

3. Repetitively engaging in sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior in response to stressful life events.

4. Repetitive but unsuccessful efforts to control or significantly reduce these sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior.

5.Repetitively engaging in sexual behavior while disregarding the risk for physical or emotional harm to self or others.

Stephanie Carnes, PhD (Mending a shattered heart – a guide for partners of sex addicts, 2009) further describes sex addiction as:

• The need to increase the intensity, frequency, number or risk level of behaviors in order to achieve the desired effect; or diminished effect with continued behaviors at the same level of intensity, frequency, number or risk.

• Distress, anxiety, restlessness or irritability if unable to engage in the behavior.

• Continuation of the behavior despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent social, financial, psychological or physical problem that is caused by or exacerbated by the behavior.

Sex addiction is not about sex, creativity, innovation, fantasizing, pornography, sex sites, prostitution, masturbation or multiple partners, in and of themselves.  Neither is it about morality. Sex addiction is about compulsive, repetitive, uncontrollable behaviors driven most often by anxiety which is not satisfied until the desired sexual activity is engaged in and accomplished.  Somewhere in their development, sex addicts discovered sexual behaviors as a way to alleviate this anxiety and never learned healthier, more fulfilling and enduring measures for dealing with anxiety or its underlying causes.  As such, their anxiety and its underlying causes are never really satisfied or healed which leaves the addict in an endless hamster wheel of anxiety, engagement and more anxiety.  Compounding this cycle is the shame felt by many sex addicts who know on some level that their behavior is ultimately detrimental to their own (as well as others’) wellbeing. Shame then becomes part of the addiction cycle. While there are many negative consequences to the activities of a sex addict (destroyed relationships, reduced sensitivity to sexual stimulation, impotency, financial ruin, etc.), what sex addicts ultimately miss out on is true emotional and sexual intimacy which can never be obtained while indulging in the cycle of addiction.ν

Lauri Ann Lumby is a local author and human development expert.  Lauri has education and experience in business, ministry, spiritual direction and adult education. She currently offers mentoring, workshops and classes for those desiring to reach their fullest potential and shares mindfulness-based or creativity practices in support of this goal.  Lauri is also pursuing her PhD in Transpersonal Studies through Sofia University. You can learn more about Lauri at  


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