Sex addiction - How much desire for sex is normal?

Explore the concept of sex addiction, its characteristics, causes and treatment options to better understand this complex issue

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by Bell Bennett

10 minutes read

Sex addiction - How much desire for sex is normal?

Is sex addiction a real medical condition or rather an excuse? - In any case, sex addiction is a phenomenon that one hears about more and more these days. Of all addictions, sex addiction, for example, is most often the subject of jokes like: "If I had an addiction, I'd choose sex addiction." This, of course, raises the question of whether sex addiction really exists. Thirsty for sex? These ladies will satisfy your cravings

The existence of sex addiction - pro and con

Many people dismiss sex addiction as a futile attempt to give legitimacy to behaviour that is simply irresponsible or greedy. Others say that the emotional pain of people who describe themselves as sex addicts is often unrecognised or society is indifferent to it.

An image labelled sex addiction and hypersexuality

What is known about the clinical picture of sex addiction:

  • Sex addiction triggers the brain's reward system, similar to other addictions.
  • Sex addicts often have other addictions as well.
  • Sex addiction often leads to considerable psychological suffering and impaired sexual functioning.

For which the term sex addiction is wrongly used:

  • Addiction is used as an (unjustified) moral judgement.
  • Sex addiction is often used as an excuse for irresponsible or reckless sexual behaviour.
  • The permanently increased sex drive is chemical, i.e. caused by drugs or addictive substances.

Definition

Sex addiction (medically: hypersexuality) can be described as a compulsive commitment to sex despite negative consequences. It is also a behaviour that is emotionally distressing rather than physically fulfilling. Sex addiction, while not always recognised as a legitimate diagnosis, has real consequences, including negative effects on relationships and well-being.

Sex addiction has many of the characteristics of a clinical addiction:

  1. The person affected is unable to control their behaviour, even when the negative consequences are likely or even quite clearly recognised.
  2. Usually only a specific event can end the hypersexuality.
  3. Personal and professional relationships suffer from the addiction to sex.
  4. Unlike someone with a healthy sex drive, a sex addict spends a disproportionate amount of time seeking or having sex. As a rule, sex-addicted women and men keep this activity a secret from others.
  5. When people are unable to restrain their sexual impulses, they are often at increased risk for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
  6. People with a sexual addiction often use sex as a form of escape from other emotional and psychological problems such as stress, anxiety, depression and social isolation.

However, not everyone in the medical community is convinced that sex addiction is a recognised diagnosis. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has included hypersexuality in the official list of known medical conditions in 2019. However, this is not yet recognised in many countries. As a result, the diagnostic criteria for sex addiction are often vague and subjective.

However, some signs of sex addiction have been defined, which most sufferers have in common:

  • Sex dominates the person's life and virtually excludes other activities.
  • Sexual activities may be inappropriate and/or risky, such as exhibitionism, sex in public, sex with prostitutes or regular attendance at sex clubs.
  • The constant desire for sex is typically accompanied by feelings of regret, anxiety, depression or shame.
  • The person has other forms of sex when alone, including phone sex, pornography or computer sex.
  • Affected person has sex with multiple partners and/or extramarital affairs. The person habitually masturbates when alone.

Woman lives out her sex addiction with a man

In fact, sexual addiction is usually characterised by a vicious cycle of hypersexuality and low self-esteem. Although sex may provide short-term relief, the impairment of the person's psychological well-being often increases and worsens over time.

A person does not have to engage in "extreme" or "weird" sex to become addicted. Sex addicts are simply unable to stop themselves, even though they know their behaviour can cause harm. Therefore, the hypersexuality of women and men is not a fetish.

How can you become a sex addict?

There are a number of theories about why an addiction to sexual activity develops. Some assume that sex addiction is a form of impulse control, obsessive-compulsive disorder or relationship disorder. These theories also include the idea that sex addiction occurs in some people as a result of and coping with early trauma, including sexual trauma. Furthermore, in today's everyday life we are exposed to much more sexual stimuli on a variety of platforms. This probably increases the number of cases of sexual addiction in men in particular. However, there are also more and more requests for help from women who say they have sex too often.

However, an immense sexual desire can also be an expression of other illnesses. These include hypomania, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, some forms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Martin Kafka, a distinguished psychologist at Harvard Medical School, has defined hypersexuality based on his observations as follows: "A person is addicted to sex if he has seven or more orgasms a week for a period of at least six months." However, since an orgasm can be a matter of a few minutes, he added daily engagement in sexual activity for one to two hours. Recent surveys suggest that about six to ten per cent of the population is affected. However, these are still somewhat vague. In fact, probably culturally, but also psychologically, considerably more men than women are impacted.

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Help & cure

Sexual addiction requires treatment by a health professional experienced in this area, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist or sex therapist. Treatment can vary depending on the underlying cause, but is usually provided on an outpatient basis with counselling and behavioural therapies. However, the first port of call may be the GP or the local mental health network, as both can provide a referral to the appropriate specialist. Couples therapy can also be helpful. In addition, there are a growing number of self-help groups for sex addicts, attendance at which can usefully support therapy. A good number of therapists use pharmaceutical remedies as an adjunct. In rare cases, a drastic experience can suddenly and unexpectedly end the sex addiction, but there are no concrete citable findings for this.

The role of the internet

Which brings us to the next topic: the internet. This too has led to a lot of sex being considered the norm. This is because an unprecedented amount of porn is available daily to anyone with a computer. That the actors in the little films have more than one orgasm and frequent sex is probably known to everyone. And many people are bombarded with advertisements for porn and commercial sex sites without even going to them.

This means many more people are exposed to porn than ever before, including children and young people. The nature of the internet makes it difficult (if not impossible) to censor or limit the type or amount of representation. It is easy to find and have an online affair, or to date online through sites like Tinder. At the same time, there is growing concern about online porn addiction, a form of online or cyber sex addiction, which is entirely justified. The number of people who feel their porn use is excessive, uncontrollable or causing them problems appears to be far beyond the range of support available. Without sufficient specialised treatment services, relationships and families will continue to struggle, invisibly to outsiders, with problems they cannot overcome on their own.

Because the sex industry operates semi-clandestinely, it has not yet been called upon to provide support, research or treatment resources for those harmed by its products. This is different from the gambling industry, for example, which funds research into treatment and services.

A woman on the phone treating a person for sex addiction

Celebrity examples

The issue of sex addiction gained a lot of attention in 2009 when actor David Duchovny-an apparently happily married family man-surprised the world with a public confession. He publicly admitted to being a sex addict and to having entered rehab. Towards the end of the same year, many speculated whether golfer Tiger Woods was a sex addict after several women claimed to have had extramarital affairs with him. He has since admitted his illness, as have Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas, Jack Nicholson, Ozzy Osbourne, James Blunt and Kanye West. Now, before you think that this is probably a purely male problem after all, here are a few celebrity women with hypersexuality. For example, there is Lindsay Lohan and Megan Fox. The latter even stated several times in interviews that she likes to spend half the day having sex. Why celebrities are affected more often than average can probably be explained by the fact that they also fall prey to other addictions more often than the average person. These include, for example, alcohol addiction or addiction to hard drugs. And as we have already learned, excessively frequent sexual activity is very often accompanied by other

How much sex is too much?

But when am I a sex addict and when do I just like to have sex more often? Well, it's hard to say in general terms, and it certainly varies from person to person what is perceived as a "normal" amount of sex. If we go by the formula of Martin Kafka quoted above, daily sex over a few months would be an indicator. But can you have too much sex without being sick? We say: Yes, that can definitely be the case in phases! For example, if teenagers who are just exploring their sexuality masturbate several times a week, that is not automatically a cause for concern. Even newly in love people, who often have a lot of sexual intercourse over a period of months, are not immediately considered sex addicts. It is known from many long-distance relationships that the partners rarely or never leave the bed for days on end. So having a lot of sex is by no means always a problem. And one should keep in mind that sexual intercourse and sexuality in general is one of our basic needs.

How you can tell if you are a sex addict is therefore probably best identified by the level of suffering. As long as you enjoy it and don't feel guilty afterwards or have a permanent urge to repeat the act immediately, everything is OK. Nevertheless, some people wonder: can you become a sex addict? Yes, this can happen under certain circumstances. However, as already explained, it very often goes hand in hand with another disease or addiction. When exactly a sex addiction exists is best assessed by a psychologist.

In conclusion, it can be said that the pathological desire for sex is more common than the public is aware of. Even in medicine, not everyone is familiar with the problem. On the other hand, not everyone who likes to have sex frequently is in danger of becoming or even already being a sex addict. However, men and women with a stronger sex drive should always behave responsibly and respectfully towards their sexual partners. Then there is nothing at all wrong with relatively frequent intercourse.

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