Fortunately, like all addictions, help is available. Nobody has to live their life suffering the pain and shame of a sexual addiction.
Sexual addiction may comprise a wide range of compulsive sexual behaviors. In some cases, it can be filed under paraphilia, if the addiction involves "recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors generally involving 1) nonhuman objects, 2) the suffering or humiliation of oneself or one's partner, or 3) children or other nonconsenting persons" (DSM-IV, 2000, p. 566). Statistically speaking, "paraphilias are considered rare, affecting only a small percentage of the US population. Researchers have a difficult time trying to determine a specific percentage of involved individuals because many of the acts are illegal and reporting methods typically are unreliable" (Bellnir, 2005, p. 328). This is the case for any kind of sexual disorder, because the stigma involved with sexual problems prevents many people from discussing their problems or seeking help.
Usually when we talk of sexual addiction, we are referring to behaviors that involve compulsive sexual acts, most likely with a variety of partners, particularly when the sexual behavior has the nature of upsetting the person engaging in it, or otherwise negatively affective his or her life (even if they cannot admit the problem). The DSM-IV categorizes sexual addiction with other miscellany at 302.9 Sexual Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. Squeezed between feelings of sexual inadequacy and unhappiness with ones sexual orientation, it is succinctly described as "Distress about a pattern of repeated sexual relationships involving a succession of lovers who are experienced by the individual only as things to be used" (DSM-IV, 2000, p. 582). So, for a psychological diagnosis, it seems the patient must admit to having a problem.
Some questions that people wondering if their sexual behaviors are a problem are as follows:
Do you stay in unsatisfying, humiliating, or unhealthy relationships only so you can continue to have sex with someone
Do you fantasize about sex, masturbate, or use sex in any way in order to escape, deny, or numb your feelings
Do you believe that your sexual thoughts and behaviors cause problems
Does illicit sexual behavior hurt your ability to form an intimate relationship with a loving partner
(Silverman, 2001, 34)
The DSM-IV reminds us that "notions of deviance, standards of sexual performance, and concepts of appropriate gender roles can vary from culture to culture" (DSM-IV, 2000, p. 535). Behaviors that might not be problematic for an undergraduate in a fraternity might be considered pathological in a married man. Also, due to the double standard in our culture, women are more likely to experience distress over compulsive sexual behaviors. Men, even if they are unhappy with their behavior, might find they are socially rewarded for their proclivities. The key element in the diagnosis is the patient's sense of powerlessness. The sexual addict is controlled by the desire to have sex and cannot act in his or her own best self-interest because the compulsion to have sex takes over their lives and becomes more important