Sexual addiction refers to a preoccupation with sexual thoughts or sexual behavior to the extent that this preoccupation continues even though it causes substantial harm. This harm may include: 1) risky, dangerous, or unhealthy sexual behaviors; 2) damage to interpersonal relationships and/or the avoidance of meaningful intimate relationships; 3) financial consequences; 4) legal consequences, or, 5) a failure to fulfill important life roles such as employee, student, spouse, parent, friend, etc. Sexual addiction does not refer to any particular type of sexual behavior, a high degree of sexual desire, or the frequency of sexual activity. Sexual addiction is indicated when someone experiences a reduced control over sexual behavior despite negative consequences. Examples of these consequences include: arguments with a partner over excessive pornography use; losing a job because of inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace; and health, legal, and financial problems.
Sexual addiction falls into a specific category of addictions called activity addictions (or behavioral addictions). In our topic center on addiction, we define addiction:
Addiction is the repeated involvement with a substance or activity, despite the substantial harm it now causes, because that involvement was (and may continue to be) pleasurable and/or valuable.
This definition of addiction includes four key components:
1. Addiction includes both substances and activities (such as sex and gambling).
2. Addiction leads to substantial harm.
3. Addiction is repeated involvement despite substantial harm.
4. Addiction continues because it was, or is pleasurable and/or valuable.
You can read more about this definition of addiction in the section entitled, "What is sex/pornography addiction?"