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Sex Health Blog

Treating Sex Addiction

Mar 23, 2011

Mention sex addiction and there’s bound to be a debate. Some people feel that it’s an illness. Others feel it’s just an excuse for promiscuous behavior. But no matter where you stand on the issue, there are people who feel their sexual urges, fantasies, and behaviors have become unmanageable and want help. And there is help available.

What is sex addiction?

Sex addiction is commonly described as out-of-control sexual behavior and an obsession with sex. People addicted to sex may spend lots of time fantasizing, using pornography, masturbating, and seeking out multiple sexual partners. They might have numerous affairs, visit prostitutes, or engage in other risky sexual behaviors that lead to sexually transmitted diseases or unintended pregnancies.

Sexual thoughts and actions hinder their day-to-day functioning and ability to meet obligations. Relationships with romantic partners and family members often suffer and some people are no longer able to work. They likely feel ashamed and want to change, but feel they have no control.


Treatment for sex addiction (sometimes called hypersexuality) is handled in a number of ways, usually with a combination of psychotherapy, educational programs, help for partners and families, and sometimes medication.

Before any treatment takes place, a patient is carefully evaluated. Other issues, such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse, often need attention as well. In some cases, hypersexuality is a symptom of another illness, such as dementia or bipolar disorder.

After assessment, treatment can begin. Here are some of the more common options:

Individual Therapy

Patients may work on underlying issues that affect their views on sexual behavior, such as past emotional, physical, or sexual trauma. For example, many people seeking sex addiction treatment have been abused or neglected as children. Some have low self-esteem, identity issues, or don’t know how to pursue healthy intimate relationships. Individual therapy can help with that.

Group Therapy

In groups, patients discuss how sex addiction has affected their daily lives, their families, and their careers. They also talk about ways to cope with their feelings and impulses.

Couples Therapy

Sex addiction tears many couples apart because of betrayal and distrust. Partners often blame themselves. Couples therapy can help the two partners work through their issues and try to rebuild the relationship, if that’s possible. Partners and family members can also get help on their own, if they choose.

Relapse Prevention

Even after treatment, there will still be situations that trigger unwanted behavior. Relapse prevention therapy helps patients plan for and handle these situations. Lifestyle changes may be in order. For example, patients who watch a lot of internet porn may need to block those sites on the computer. Or, patients may need to train themselves to think of something nonsexual when they see someone attractive.

Twelve-step Approaches

The twelve-step model was originally developed by Alcoholics Anonymous and has been adapted by many sex addiction treatment programs. The twelve steps are a set of principles designed to guide addicts to recovery and involve soul-searching, spirituality, making amends to others, and helping others in similar situations.


Some doctors prescribe medications to treat sex addiction. However, such treatment is considered “off-label” in the United States. This means that drug manufacturers have not done controlled studies on whether certain medications are effective for sex addiction. Still, studies are being conducted and some physicians feel confident enough to try drug therapy with their patients.

Where does sex addiction treatment take place?

There are several types of treatment settings.

At a residential treatment center, patients temporarily stay at the facility, usually for one to six weeks. Most centers do not allow any kind of sexual activity after check-in. Patients receive individual and group therapy. They might also attend educational lectures and participate in art therapy or exercise programs. Sometimes people with other addictions, such as alcoholism or substance abuse, are treated at the same facility.

Outpatient programs are similar to residential treatment, offering different types of therapy, but patients don’t stay at the center.

Support groups and twelve-step programs for people with sex addiction are often available locally. Groups meet at churches and community centers to talk about their challenges with sex addiction and offer strategies to help each other. Many programs are free, although they might ask for donations.

People who suspect they’re addicted to sex may find it difficult to seek help. They often feel ashamed and alone. But help is out there. If you feel you need professional help, start by talking with your doctor. He or she can direct you to resources in your area. You might also talk to a close friend or relative if you need help taking the first step.