What Is Sex Addiction Therapy?

Man having a cognitive behavioral therapy video call with mental health professional

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What Is Sex Addiction Therapy?

Sex addiction therapy refers to the psychological and pharmaceutical measures used to manage an excessive relationship with sex. 

While sex addiction has yet to receive its official stamp of recognition as addictive behavior, it has been acknowledged as a behavioral challenge that could require proper control.

A person may seek this therapy to manage obsessive sexual fantasies, interests, or behaviors that affect their daily life and functioning.

Techniques 

As with compulsive behaviors like gambling and hoarding, a person dealing with a sexual addiction has little to no control over the urges that may overtake them during the course of the day. These urges often demand satisfaction, no matter how inconvenient achieving this might be.

To get sex addiction under control, one may adopt the following management techniques:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a therapy technique that helps individuals recognize and change dangerous thought patterns or behaviors. These patterns and behaviors often have damaging effects on well-being, making their control important.

With sex addiction, CBT helps identify triggers that may encourage negative sexual behaviors, swapping these out for more healthy and wholesome attitudes/thought patterns towards sex. For instance, CBT may help identify an excessive indulgence in porn as a compromise for staying faithful to one’s partner. 

This therapy may also help single out different states that encourage sexual activity, such as periods of relaxation or boredom. Following identification, non-sexual acts may be introduced when faced with similar triggering situations.

Psychodynamic Therapy

This technique emphasizes self-reflection and examination to understand the causes of emotional challenges.

Psychodynamic therapy promotes a better understanding of the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and attitudes that make up behavior. This means exploring the prompts that form unhealthy attitudes towards sex. 

This form of therapy will help to highlight the shame, fear, or anger that pushes a person to view sexual acts as necessary outlets.

Exposure Therapy

Ideally, exposure therapy acts to introduce a patient to the object of their fears for better management. With sex addiction, this may require things to be done a little differently.

Rather than placing a person with this addiction in full blast of triggers, evolving the environments that usually set off sexual urges can achieve change.

This might include building a steady resistance to porn by staying offline for long periods or avoiding pornographic sites while using the internet.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy

This collaborative effort between therapist and client helps the latter find the inspiration to work through issues surrounding sex. This approach is often preferred, as it allows for ease in setting goals for a healthier attitude towards sex.

Family Therapy

On a good day, navigating the complex terrain of sex addiction is a hard enough job. This process can be further complicated when one seeks treatment without the full cooperation or knowledge of family members.

Parents and siblings can act as allies when overcoming addiction by including family members in the recovery process. Therapy can also help with smoothing the not-so-easy process of communicating thoughts and feelings while overcoming addiction.

Couples Therapy

Living with a partner dealing with sex addiction can be incredibly challenging. Beyond the feelings of inadequacy this might cause, intimacy and trust in the relationship will undoubtedly take a beating. Couples therapy can help steer the difficult terrain of addiction recovery, communication, and intimacy improvement in the relationship.

Pharmaceutical Treatment for Sex Addiction

In addition to therapy, different classes of medication may help manage sex addiction. They include:

  • SSRIs: This medication is popularly used as an antidepressant. It works by increasing the amount of serotonin (a mood stabilizer) in the brain. To help manage sexual urges and behaviors, taking this drug may help control the cravings and obsession with sexual acts. However, it is believed to work more effectively in cases where sex addiction co-occurs with disorders like depression, anxiety, or other obsessive-compulsive disorders.
  • Naltrexone: The same way this medication can manage cravings and the euphoria associated with alcohol and opiate use disorder, naltrexone may also help control similar sensations associated with sex addiction.

The pharmaceutical management of sex addiction comes with several pros, as it can reduce the desire for uncontrolled sexual behaviors without decreasing the drive for healthy sex habits. This medication may also lessen sexual urges linked with addiction, masturbation, and pornographic interests.

However, drugs provide only short-term benefits for sex addiction and are most effective when combined with therapy.

What Sex Addiction Therapy Can Help With

Sex addiction or compulsive sexual behavior is divided into paraphilic and non-paraphilic behaviors.

Paraphilic behaviors refer to sexual behaviors that deviate from the norm, including acts such as:

  • Necrophilia
  • Symphorophilia
  • Gerontophilia
  • Urophilia

Non-paraphilic behaviors refer to excessive engagement in more common sexual acts such as:

  • Masturbation
  • Soliciting prostitutes
  • Visiting strip clubs
  • Engaging in multiple sexual affairs

Sex addiction therapy can help to get such behaviors under control. It will teach different measures to get unhealthy sexual impulses under control while encouraging sustainable attitudes towards sex.

Benefits of Sex Addiction Therapy

For anyone who struggles with the compulsion to watch pornography, engage in unconventional sexual acts, partake in excessive sexual affairs, and other signs of sex addiction, getting help through therapy is commonly recommended. This is because sex addiction therapy has the following advantages:

  • Helps to identify triggers and traits of sex addiction
  • Can assist with developing healthy coping mechanisms toward sexual urges
  • Teaches the appropriate measures to take to overcome the obsession with sex
  • Sex addiction therapy can also encourage healthy communication between partners and family members while bringing the condition under control

Effectiveness of Sex Addiction Therapy

Even though sex addiction therapy is a common suggestion for managing excessive sexual behaviors, there is little to no data backing its effectiveness.

However, because sex addiction therapy often adopts trusted techniques like CBT and psychodynamic therapy that focus on managing obsessive-compulsive habits, positive changes may be observed in those seeking professional help for their condition.

But while sex addiction therapy has proven benefits for managing this condition, the absence of reliable data makes it difficult to determine how well this treatment works against a relapse of unhealthy sexual behaviors.

Things to Consider

When seeking out therapy to manage sex addiction, it's important to keep expectations in check. Like other forms of individual therapy, one may require repeated sessions to achieve a breakthrough in sexual behavior.

Considerable honesty will also be required, which can be difficult when considering the conversation's nature. However, frank discussions are essential to progress from negative to more healthy attitudes toward sex.

How to Get Started

For anyone looking to receive treatment for sex addiction, reaching out to a qualified professional is usually the first step.

This professional may come from a referral or may be discovered from online directories.

After finding good options for a therapist, they may discuss challenges and goals of treatment in the first consultation. If the first consultation with the professional proves to be a good fit, sex addiction therapy may begin in earnest.

If physical sessions are a little too much to handle, online group therapy, couples counseling, and other online treatments may be considered.

If you or a loved one are struggling with sex addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. George M, Maheshwari S, Chandran S, Rao SS, Shivanand MJ, Sathyanarayana Rao TS. Psychosocial intervention for sexual addiction. Indian J Psychiatry. 2018;60(Suppl 4):S510-S513. doi:10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_38_18

  2. Fong TW. Understanding and managing compulsive sexual behaviors. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2006;3(11):51-58.

  3.  George M, Maheshwari S, Chandran S, Rao SS, Shivanand MJ, Sathyanarayana Rao TS. Psychosocial intervention for sexual addiction. Indian J Psychiatry. 2018;60(Suppl 4):S510-S513. doi:10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_38_18

  4. Fong TW. Understanding and managing compulsive sexual behaviors. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2006;3(11):51-58.