By Marcela De Vivo
When discussing sex addiction, most people automatically assume the problem is almost wholly exclusive to men, especially with a series of high-profile men (Tiger Woods, David Duchovny) explaining their infidelities with a diagnosis of sex addiction. The women with this addiction are also likely to participate in a number of risky behaviors to satisfy their compulsion and are often overlooked in diagnosis.
The distinction between acceptable sexual behavior and addictive sexual behavior can be difficult to determine. All addictions present with similar basic symptoms—obsession and preoccupation with the addictive substance or behavior, engaging in dangerous activities to satisfy the compulsion, and continuation of behavior regardless of consequences. Guilt and remorse are often felt by women sex addicts, but it does not stop the behavior.
The Symptoms of Sex Addiction
- Obsessive about sex and obtaining it. Sex addicts have difficulty focusing on subjects other than sex and how to obtain it. They may find themselves thinking about sex at all times, neglecting family and career with their preoccupation.
- Unable to control compulsive behavior. Addicts may not be able to stop their behavior despite promises to themselves or others. Sex addicts may feel guilt or shame following yet continue to persist in acting out.
- Continued behavior regardless of adverse consequences. Addicts may participate in risky, and possibly illegal, sexual behavior to satisfy their impulses with a disregard to the effects of their actions. Even when their personal relationships and careers are affected, addicts feel unable to discontinue seeking out more sexual experiences.
Women with a sex addiction rarely gain satisfaction, lasting or otherwise, from the activity, yet persist in pursuing sex. They are also unlikely to form emotional bonds with their sexual partners.
Who’s At Risk?
While the mechanism behind addiction is not fully understood, a few risk factors have been identified for women at greatest risk for sexual addiction.
According to the Sexual Recovery Institute, “research has shown that there often is a combination of rigidity and lack of emotional support in the sex addict’s family of origin. The majority of women sex addicts were sexually abused in childhood (78 percent in one study).”
Other risk factors (identified on Psych Central) include:
- A pre-existing mental health issue like Bipolar Disorder (during the manic state) or Borderline Personality Disorder or Dependent Personality Disorder
- Severe identity confusion regarding their own sexual orientation
- Victims of childhood sexual abuse often repeat pattern of abuse in a subconscious attempt to gain control over their childhood trauma
- Adolescents and young adults who are intellectually delayed such as Asperger’s Syndrome
- Those with a tendency towards addiction such as substance abusers.
Sex Addiction Treatment and Therapy
Women sex addicts will need a combination of therapy and sex education to gain control over their compulsive behaviors. While individual therapy with therapists who understand addiction, and specifically sex addiction, can help the sex addict stop acting out and deal with the underlying feelings, in-patient rehabilitation programs in rehab centers may sometimes be necessary.
In addition, 12 step programs such as SLAA, Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), Sexual Recovery Anonymous (SRA) and Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA) can help women manage their sexual compulsions and help them in their daily lives. It should be noted that because so few women are willing to come forward about their sexual addiction, and so few are diagnosed with it, finding all-women group therapy sessions can be difficult.
In some cases, medications used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, such as Prozac, might be prescribed to inhibit the compulsive nature of the sex addiction.
With treatment and ongoing assistance from therapists and like-minded support groups, women sex addicts are able to regain a measure of control over their lives from this debilitating addiction.
Bio: Marcela De Vivo is a health and wellness writer based in Los Angeles, California. She currently writes about skin care products for Skintrium.