When Sex Becomes a Drug

Sex addiction Frisco, TXAlthough some would argue that sex addiction does not exist (take the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 for example), many others argue that it does, and back their argument with strong neurobiological evidence. Research by Patrick Carnes and Donald Hilton, among others, is beginning to show that sex addiction exists and needs to be effectively treated (more on their work later). Sex addiction is an addiction and here’s why.

Addiction is a disease of reward. Addiction hijacks the reward pathways in the brain and damages brain circuits. More and more research has shown that addiction can occur not only to chemical substances, but to behaviors as well. Individuals with behavioral addictions or process addictions are addicted to the process of doing something “rewarding” for that individual, including: gambling, shopping, work, playing video games, and sex (Hagedorn & Juhnke, 2005). Individuals can become addicted to sex and addicted to porn. I’m not talking about repeatedly enjoying sex with a partner. To call that a sex addiction would be misunderstanding what an addiction means. Sex can become an addiction when an individual:

  1. Experiences cravings for sexual experiences. Over time, the individual develops triggers that lead them to have cravings.
  2. Loses control over how often and how long he/she engages in sex, and cannot stop his/her sexual stimulation behaviors. Has an inability to abstain from sexual stimulation. This causes consequences in personal relationships, work, etc.
  3. Uses sex to augment pleasure or reduce pain.
  4. Increasingly does not recognize the consequences of his/her sexual acting out behaviors.

This is sex addiction. At Center for Marriage and Family Counseling and LifeSTAR Dallas, we work to help many clients who struggle with sex addictions, each receiving treatment because his/her life has become increasingly unmanageable due to his/her addictive behaviors.

Sex addiction means an individual is addicted to sexual stimulation and release. Sex is the “drug” of choice for an individual with a sex addiction. This can take the form of an individual being addicted to pornography and/or masturbation addiction, having sexual encounters online, having sexual encounters in person, and/or having an affair partner / affair partners. Increased internet availability has resulted in an increase in out-of-control sexual behavior (Hentsch-Cowles & Brock, 2013). With sexual content constantly available, this “drug” can be free, always accessible, and an easy escape for an addict.

Although the “drug” in sex addiction is sex, sex addiction is not about sex. It is about emotional mismanagement. It occurs when an individual uses sex to minimize pain and painful emotions or augment pleasure. Generally, a mix of genetics and traumatic experiences underlie sex addiction. When an individual with a sex addiction feels a difficult emotion, and he/she does not have healthy ways of coping with that emotion, he/she will often turn to sex. He/she will feel a “high” with sexual release, which is very short-lived, and only helps the individual “escape” temporarily. Then the individual often feels guilt and shame (two difficult emotions), and that can start the whole process over. The individual becomes caught in the the squirrel-cage of addiction.

Sex addiction, like all addictions, makes addicts lives become out of control and unmanageable. Sex addiction harms the addict’s ability to make choices and the addict’s ability to maintain loving relationships. Untreated sex addiction leads to some severe consequences, especially the longer it is untreated. Fight the New Drug, an agency campaigning against pornography, states that pornography itself harms the brain, relationships, and society. All forms of sex addiction have these same harmful effects. The severity of sex addiction and its consequences progresses if left unaddressed.

At Center for Marriage and Family Counseling and LifeSTAR Dallas, we specialize in treatment for sex addiction. If you think that you have a sex addiction, schedule an appointment with us today. You are not alone. We can help!


Fight the New Drug. (2014). Get the facts. Retrieved from http://www.fightthenewdrug.org/get-the-facts/

Hagedorn, W. B., & Juhnke, G. A. (2005). Treating the sexually addicted client: Establishing a need for increased counselor awareness. Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling, 25(2), 66-86.

Hentsch-Cowles, G., & Brock, L. J. (2013). A systemic review of the literature on the role of the partner of the sex addict, treatment models, and a call for research for systems theory model in treating the partner. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 20(4), 323-335. doi:10.1080/10720162.2013.845864