What is sex addiction?

Sexual addiction is a pattern of sexual thoughts and uncontrolled behavior that is initially pleasurable, but eventually becomes unfulfilling and self-destructive when a person is unable to stop.

A person who is addicted to sex spends an inordinate amount of time masturbating, watching pornography, and otherwise seeking physical gratification to the detriment of their personal, social, and work-related life.

When someone is in the throes of sex addiction, they may engage in risky or even illegal behaviors such as unprotected sex with strangers, voyeurism, and exhibitionism. In extreme cases, sexual addicts may go so far as to commit acts of rape or child molestation, warns WebMD.

Although sex addiction is not yet included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), it has a tendency to worsen over time, much like an addiction to alcohol, drugs, or gambling.

Many sex addicts find help via anonymous 12-step programs. Psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and inpatient programs also help people overcome compulsive sexual urges.

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