Am I a Sex Addict?

Updated: Sep 5

James Olsen, JD, PhD, LMHC, CST, DST


When people are suffering as a result of their sexual behaviors it is understandable that they want quick answers. Many feel that their inability to gain control over their behavior feels like, and must be, an addiction. After all, they have vowed to themselves and loved ones that they will never engage in the behavior again, and yet find themselves returning to it again and again despite suffering the consequences. To them, at times, it can feel like something that lures them in, despite their best wishes. How could that be anything other than an addiction?

In reality, problematic sexual behavior is a complex heterogeneous (different in kind; composed of parts of different kinds) phenomenon that cannot all be accurately explained by a single conceptualization. Indeed, a body of scientific research has pointed to this inference. Nonetheless, this logical conclusion is self-evident when we reflect upon it further. We need only ask why anyone engages in any problematic behavior despite risks and consequences.

Take speeding for example. Why does a person drive too fast when doing so carries such risk? Why continue after so many speeding tickets? You may say that they must be an adrenaline junkie. Perhaps. That is certainly a possibility to consider. But what if they happen to be an incredibly inpatient person and are simply always in a hurry to get to where they are going? What if they were raised in a family that normalized speeding as the better way to drive? What if they speed to show off, or to look cool in order to feel better about themselves? Perhaps they are prone to emergency or urgent situations that they feel justifies speeding frequently. We certainly should not forget to consider the possibility that they are prone to anger and frequently drive fast when in a state of rage. You see, there is no one explanation for behavioral struggles. Sexual behavior is no different.

What people often refer to as "sex addiction" is actually a number of clinical presentations of problematic sexual behavior that can play out quite differently from person to person. Many well-meaning providers neglect to make very important distinctions between the true drivers of these struggles. The results can be extremely damaging to individuals and to families. Don’t roll the dice with oversimplified explanations of complex behavior struggles.

It is vital that individuals who struggle with their sexual behavior be evaluated by a clinician who is able to fully account for the complex (and often confusing) intersection of human sexuality and mental health. If you want to work together to uncover the true nature of your sexual behavior struggles, consider scheduling an initial session with a member of our team or, alternatively, a comprehensive problematic sexual behavior evaluation. At the conclusion, we will be able to work together to form a comprehensive treatment plan designed to address your personal, specific, and real needs. Individuals who struggle with their sexual behavior do not need a one size fits all plan. There is too much on the line to bet on oversimplification.

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