What is Sex Addiction?

Sexual addiction is defined as any sexually-related compulsive behavior which interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, loved ones, and one’s work environment.  Like an alcoholic unable to stop drinking, sexual addicts are unable to stop their self-destructive sexual behavior.


Sex addicts come from all walks of life: male and female, all sexual orientations, ages from pre-teens to senior citizens, those employed as laborers or CEOs of major organizations.  Sex addiction does not discriminate. Many addicts were abused as children – sexually, physically, and/or emotionally. Many grew up in families in which addiction already flourished, including alcoholism, drugs, gambling, and/or compulsive eating.  Most grapple with other addictions in addition to sex addiction, but often find overcoming sexual addiction the most difficult.

Much hope nevertheless exists for these addicts and their families. Sex addicts have shown an ability to transform a life of self-destruction into a life of self-care, a life in chaos and despair into one of confidence and peace. Dr. Patrick Carnes, Out of the Shadows (1983).

Can sex be addictive?


Yes, it can. First, it is important to understand what addiction is. Understanding the basic fundamentals can help you compare sex addiction to other types of addiction you may be more familiar with, such as drugs or alcohol. Although there are not any substances such as cocaine or beer involved, the brain releases certain chemicals during the performance of sexual behaviors that create the same type of “high” feeling as addictive substances.  It is these “high” feelings that become addictive, and therefore, the behavior that helped create that feeling becomes necessary, not voluntary. Dr. Patrick Carnes in his book, Contrary to Love: Helping the Sexual Addict states, “Contrary to enjoying sex as a self-affirming source of physical pleasure, the sex addict has learned to rely on sex for comfort from pain, nurturing, or relief from stress, etc., the way an alcoholic relies on alcohol, or a drug addict on drugs.”  It is important to note that this doesn’t mean that just because a person feels good or euphoric after sex or some other sexual behavior he or she is an addict.  If you are concerned you may be addicted to sex or a sexual behavior, please reach out to one of our specially trained therapists for help.  Contrary to Love: Helping the Sexual Addict (1989), Dr. Patrick Carnes.

How much is too much?


The trend in the current psychological literature about “How much is too much” has changed over the years. We no longer quantify (or put a number to) how many times a day is too much. Rather, we look at it from a quality of life viewpoint; meaning that a 21-year-old can have sex or masturbate several times a day and still be “okay.” The problem, we believe, becomes a problem when the sexual acting out behavior impairs other areas of life. For example, having unprotected sex with many anonymous partners and thereby putting oneself at risk to catch STDs or HIV; masturbating to the point of injury; missing school or work because he or she is busy engaging in or recovering from the sexual activity; continues behavior despite consequences (loss of job, legal problems, broken relationships, etc).

If you aren’t ready to speak to someone yet about your questions, we do encourage you to take the Sex Addiction Screening Test (SAST-R) free of charge and can help to determine your next steps. Remember, the best way to determine whether or not you have a problem is to get qualified help. Click here to find a therapist in your area.

IITAP Partners


Is This a Problem?

Did you know there are 20 identified behavior categories of sexual behaviors?

Within these categories there are 164 different behaviors that have been identified as problem areas for sex addicts.  Just like drug addicts who may have a problem with heroin, but not meth, not all addicts have every behavior and not all behaviors indicate addiction, though if continued, can lead to that in some cases.  Some behaviors just cause more problems for some people.  

There are some questions you can ask yourself to determine if a behavior might be problematic:

Does it hurt you?
Do you feel as though you need to do the behavior?
Does it hurt someone else? (physical, emotional, financial, etc.)

 If you answered yes to any of these questions, it is recommended you explore this with an IITAP-trained professional.

20 Behavior Types

Fantasy & Consequences

The fantasy behavior component of this category can involve sexualizing situations, people and/or objects that are not normally considered arousing; ruminating about past sexual encounters; and/or scanning television, magazines, or other media sources for stories or pictures that are arousing.  The consequences behavior component involves those consequences that are already present in your life, such as feeling depressed or hopeless about the future, feeling anxious or desperate between periods of sexually acting out, and/or rationalizing your behavior: “Everyone is sexual,” “I just need a little more than others need.”

Pornography Use

This category involves the purchasing, obtaining, and viewing of pornography in its various forms.  This can be online, magazines, videos, erotic books, and/or anime.  Pornography, along with Fantasy, is one of the largest areas of problematic sexual behavior that can have some of the most shaming consequences, especially for men. It is becoming increasingly more common for young men to suffer from porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED) that takes years to reverse, making sexual intercourse nearly impossible.

Networking for Anonymous Sex

Sexual behaviors in this category typically involve engaging in high-risk liaisons with anonymous partners.  These are the “no strings” attached, one-night stand type of behaviors.  These trysts rarely take place in a person’s home and more often are held in bars, public restrooms, alleyways, etc.  This category can even include masturbating using webcams, visiting chat rooms and posting explicit pictures, or using highly sexualized words/phrases in online forums.

Swinging & Group Sex

The exchanging of sexual partners or participating in sexual activities with more than one person are typical behaviors in this category.  A person may proposition others to have sex with his or her partner just to watch, or encourage his or her partner to proposition others.  Hosting parties (lock and key parties for example) with the specific goal to have sex or belonging to a nudist club are also behaviors seen from individuals who may have a problem in this category.

Cruising Behavior

The cruising category is primarily focused on pursuing and engaging in anonymous sex in unsafe and/or high-risk locations such as bars, parks, public restrooms and bathhouses.  This is slightly different from Networking for Anonymous Sex as this category involves traveling and seeking out sex partners in public venues where as Networking primarily involves finding partners online.

Relationship Addiction

Simply put, a person who struggles with relationship addiction obsesses about romantic relationships and uses sex as a way to start a relationship.  The individual who has problems in this category more than likely confuses sex with love and commitment.  Constantly jumping from one intense relationship to the next, falling in love repeatedly, and thoughts that “the next time will be different” are all common.


A person who has problems with Conquest behaviors may engage in multiple relationships and affairs, often simultaneously.  Flirting with or seducing potential partners, whether or not you want to actually start or commit to a relationship is not important, it’s the process of “hooking” or “scoring with” the other person that is arousing.

Intrusive Sex

The types of behaviors in this category involve bumping into or brushing up against unsuspecting victims; bringing sex or sexualized humor into conversations, most often at inappropriate times; over-sharing information about your sex life with the primary purpose of making people uncomfortable; or even going so far as to show up at a partner or friend’s home, office, or other location when it isn’t appropriate or even reasonable to be there.  People who have problems in this category often have the false belief that the victim(s) enjoy the attention or even wanted it to happen.  Sexual harassment is the most common consequence for people struggling with intrusive behaviors..

Humiliation & Domination

In this category, it is not the actual BDSM (bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism and masochism) participation, but the watching of it.  You may enjoy being humiliated or dominated during sexual activities, but this does not involve any behaviors that involve actual physical pain.  Also seen in this category are people who frequent websites involving what most would consider bizarre and painful sexual encounters.

Pain Exchange

The more pain a person is in, the more arousing he or she may find it – that is the primary behavior and belief for individuals with problems in this category.  Actual arousal or orgasm may not be possible without the presence of pain because they are intrinsically combined – you can’t have one without the other.  Individuals who like to cause pain, degradation, humiliation, shame or hurt others also fall under this category.

Paying for Sex, Commercial

People who find it arousing to exchange sexual “favors” for money.  This includes prostitution, phone sex, and sexual massages.  Money is the source of the arousal, not the actual sexual behavior, making paying people for sex a source of power.

Paying for Sex, Power

Unlike the commercial category of paying for sex, this category includes behaviors in which holding financial power over someone is key.  For example, forcing your partner or employee at work to maintain a relationship with you because they are dependent upon you financially.  Withholding employee raises, promises of promotions or job perks and even having mistresses or providing support for a second family are types of behavior seen in this category.

Phone Sex

Arousal is focused around fantasizing and engaging in phone sex with others.  Searching for consenting partners to engage in phone sex is also common.

Voyeurism & Covert Intrusions

Peeping toms, masturbating while watching others, going to peep shows or strip clubs, even listening to others without their knowledge is all arousing for people who have problems in this category.  They see this secret viewing of other people as arousing and often times, when caught, cannot believe they have done anything wrong as there isn’t an “obvious” victim.  They truly believe people leave their curtains or blinds open on purpose, so that they can be seen.


The sexual fun in this category is the exposure of your “privates,” whether seen or unseen by someone.  However, the primary source of arousal comes from being seen and watching people’s shocked reactions.  The denial that the exposure was purposeful is very common, even though there was no obvious reason for a person to be exposed at that time or place (in a mall, at the park, etc.). Similar to Voyeurism & Covert Intrusions, individuals that have problems in this category do not often see their behavior as problematic as there is no outright or intended victim.

Exploitive Sex, Trust

In this category, individuals exploit the trust of vulnerable individuals.  Examples are a doctor who molests a patient or a member of the clergy acting out on a parishioner. Other behaviors include illegal sexual acts (rape) and engaging in high-risk behaviors that could result in scandal. Individuals who have problems in this category may become aroused by the process of grooming (preparing or training) their potential victims and using sex as way to gain power over others. They rationalize their behaviors and believe they are entitled to the sexual behaviors or that the victim welcomed the sexual advances.

Exploitive Sex, Children

Simply stated, this is a measure of pedophilia, including viewing child pornography and/or sexual behaviors, or the exploitation of minors.  

Drug Interaction

If a person has problematic behaviors in this area, he or she also has a high probability of having a drug or alcohol addiction (see Addiction Interaction).  The use of drugs or alcohol is oftentimes necessary to act out sexually, or becomes fused with the act of having sex insofar as one (sex or drugs/alcohol) is not possible without the other.

Object Sex

Individuals having problems in this category often require the use of objects such as vibrators, dildos, cock rings, etc. to enhance the sexual experience. Inserting objects into you or your partner’s rectum while masturbating or engaging in sex is also common.

Home Produced Pornography

Behaviors in this category revolve around creating pornography in its various forms (stories, pictures, movies, etc.) to use for your own stimulation. Arousal can also come from being the “director” of the sexual scenario or telling others what to do when creating the pornography. This category also captures sexting and use of digital media for sexual arousal as well.

What Happens Now?

Realizing you have a problem that you can’t change on your own can be stressful, upsetting, and even devastating. It is common to feel shame associated with your addiction (or your partner’s addiction). The best way to reduce that shame and find hope, healing, and recovery is to reach out for help. Your best next step is to seek help from an IITAP trained therapist who will come alongside and help you embrace recovery.

We also recommend you to begin learning about sex addiction and recovery and have several publications that might help:

Out of the Shadows
Facing the Shadows
Shadows of the Cross. Written by: Karen Lee, CSAT, CMAT

Online Assessment Tools

Sexual Addiction Screening Test (SAST)

The Sexual Addiction Screening Test was developed as a screening tool to assist people in identifying whether their sexual behaviors are cause for concern. It is important when taking the 45 question test, you answer honestly so your results are accurate. Once you take the assessment, you will be provided a report containing a graph that shows how many of the 20 core items of sexual addiction your answers indicated. Anything over six (6) merits further exploration by you and a professionally trained therapist. We highly recommend you discuss your results, regardless of the findings, with an IITAP-trained therapist (CSAT®) to ensure you receive the kind of help you may need, whether it is sex addiction treatment or not.


Take the SAST now.

Cost: FREE

It is important to note that this is only a screening tool and cannot provide a definitive diagnosis. If you wish to keep your results, you will need to print them immediately as the report and associated data are erased when you leave the page.

Partner Sexuality Survey (PSS)

If you are a partner or former partner of a sex addict, you may be having feelings of anger, sadness, and betrayal. The trauma of discovering your partner is a sex addict can have significant impact on your life. This 78 item survey examines experiences and feelings in 10 areas of your sexuality. A report is generated after the completion of the survey and indicates how strongly you have been impacted in each of the 10 areas and a list of which items you indicated in each category.

If the discovery of your partner’s sex addiction is recent, it is strongly recommended you take the assessment in the presence of a therapist or close friend you can talk with. It is also recommended you seek out help from a qualified, IITAP-trained therapist.


Take the PSS now.

Cost: $6.50

It is important to note that this is only a screening tool and cannot provide a definitive diagnosis. If you wish to keep your results, you will need to print them immediately as the report and associated data are erased when you leave the page.

All of the Online Screening tools are available at Recoveryzone.com

Sexual Addiction Risk Assessment (SARA)

This assessment consists of 70 questions based on the most common behaviors of the Sexual Dependency Inventory (SDI).  It is more comprehensive than the Sexual Addiction Screening Test (SAST-R) and will hopefully help you understand that, if a problem exists, what type of problem(s) you are struggling with,  and the possible consequences you are facing or may face if the behaviors continue.  Before you begin, it is recommended you take the SAST-R as you will need to enter their score at the beginning of the test.

After you complete the SARA, you will be provided a detailed report that provides you with a recommendation for treatment (inpatient, outpatient,intensive outpatient) if necessary. You will also be provided with a profile that shows certain aspects of your life that match up with characteristics typically seen in sex addiction, behavior scores for the most common behavior categories, your risk analysis, and lastly, recommendations of where to find help.

Take the SARA now.

Cost: $29.95

It is important to note that this is only a screening tool and cannot provide a definitive diagnosis. If you wish to keep your results, you will need to print them immediately as the report and associated data are erased when you leave the page.

Internet Sex Screening Test (ISST)

The ability to use the internet for sexual purposes is increasing daily with online chatrooms, discreet liaisons, pornography sites, fetish cams, etc. This brief survey asks several questions about your online behaviors and your feelings about them. After you have completed the 53 questions, you are provided a quick report that identifies different resources for help as well as your score. It is highly recommended you review your results with a qualified therapist sex addiction therapist. For a list of CSAT® therapists in your area, please click here to begin your search.


Take the ISST now.

Cost: FREE

It is important to note that this is only a screening tool and cannot provide a definitive diagnosis. If you wish to keep your results, you will need to print them immediately as the report and associated data are erased when you leave the page.