women-188160_1920Sometimes people think sex addiction is a males-only issue. However, that is not the case. Women are just as susceptible as men to the escapist neurochemical rush created by compulsive sexual fantasies and behaviors. Unfortunately, female sex addicts are much less likely to self-identify as being sexually addicted and to seek treatment for the disorder.

Most likely, this reticence is caused by socio-cultural attitudes toward gender and sexuality. Essentially, men with out of control sex lives are often viewed by their peers as studs, ladies men, and players. Meanwhile, women engaging in the same behaviors may be called whores, sluts, homewreckers, and all sorts of other not very nice names. Thus, male sex addicts tend to be less ashamed about and more willing to discuss their sexual compulsivity. Sometimes they’re actually quite proud of their sexual adventuring, despite the repeated and continually escalating negative consequences they’ve experienced. Conversely, female sex addicts tend to downplay their sexual behaviors. If pressed, they’ll typically talk about how they’re having relationship problems.

As such, clinicians must sometimes read between the lines when working with female sex addicts. Typically, we must sift through the language of romance to spot the indicators of sexual addiction.

Common warning signs include:

  • A pattern of using sex or romance as a way to not feel emotional discomfort (shame, anxiety, depression, loneliness, boredom, etc.)
  • Equating sexual intensity with love
  • Presenting as a sexual object rather than a real person
  • A history of brief but highly sexually charged relationships
  • A history of serial or multiple affairs, with sex as a driving force
  • A history of high-risk sexual behaviors (anonymous sex, unprotected sex, dangerous partners, public sex, etc.)
  • A pattern of reenacting early-life sexual abuse
  • A pattern of trading sex for money, gifts, shelter, alcohol/drugs, or anything else (regardless of whether this is officially labeled as prostitution)
  • A history of inappropriate sexual relationships (with bosses, subordinates, married men, family members, etc.)
  • Consistently hooking up with abusive, neglectful, and/or emotionally unavailable partners
  • Alternating periods of high sexual activity with periods of total abstinence, perhaps using alcohol, drugs, gambling, food, spending, or some other emotionally escapist activity in place of sex during the periods of sexual abstinence

Because women are typically unwilling to discuss their problem behaviors in sexual terms, female sex addiction is often identified only when an addict enters treatment for some other issue—usually substance abuse, an eating disorder, depression, or an anxiety disorder. Then, while in treatment for that secondary issue, she acts out sexually by dressing inappropriately, flirting excessively, and behaving in highly sexualized ways with other patients and maybe even staff members, thereby precipitating an assessment for sexual addiction. If her behavior is extreme and exceedingly disruptive, she might be asked to leave her current treatment setting and referred to a sexual addiction treatment specialist. In fact, at Malibu Vista, The Right Step, and The Ranch, the three gender-separate facilities I oversee that treat women sex addicts, somewhere between one-third and one-half of the patients arrive there after being dismissed from another treatment program because of their sexual compulsivity.

Other than a sexually addicted woman’s tendency to discuss compulsive sexual fantasies and behaviors in terms of romance and relationships, sex addiction is relatively similar between genders. Thus, treatment follows the same basic path for women as men—most often a combination of individual and group therapy coupled with outside peer support, usually in the form of 12-step sexual recovery programs like Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), Sexaholics Anonymous (SA), and Sexual Compulsive Anonymous (SCA). In general, SLAA has the most female members.

If you are interested in accurate cinematic examples of active sexual addiction, check out the movies Shame and Nymphomaniac. Shame looks at a male sex addict; Nymphomaniac looks at a female sex addict. Both movies are excellent, though sexually graphic (and, at times, unpleasant and demeaning), which can be triggering for many sex addicts. Thus, sex addicts should only watch these films with others in sexual recovery, or if they bookend the experience with their therapist or another person who is knowledgeable about and highly supportive of their desire for sexual sobriety.

Author

Robert Weiss PhD, LCSW is Chief Clinical Officer of Seeking Integrity LLC, a unified group of online and real-world communities helping people to heal from intimacy disorders like compulsive sexual behavior and related drug abuse. As Chief Clinical Officer, Dr. Rob led the development and implementation of Seeking Integrity’s residential treatment programming and serves as an integral part of the treatment team. He is the author of ten books on sexuality, technology, and intimate relationships, including Sex Addiction 101, Out of the Doghouse, and Prodependence. His Sex, Love, and Addiction Podcast is currently in the Top 10 of US Addiction-Health Podcasts. Dr. Rob hosts a no-cost weekly Sex and Intimacy Q&A on Seeking Integrity’s self-help website, SexandRelationshipHealing.com (@SexandHealing). The Sex and Relationship Healing website provides free information for addicts, partners of addicts, and therapists dealing with sex addiction, porn addiction, and substance abuse issues. Dr. Rob can be contacted via Seeking Integrity.com and SexandRelationshipHealing.com. All his writing is available on Amazon, while he can also be found on Twitter (@RobWeissMSW), on LinkedIn (Robert Weiss LCSW), and on Facebook (Rob Weiss MSW).

4 Comments

  1. Vicki/Kinzee Reply

    Thank you for this article. I now have no doubt that I belong.

  2. This is great. I’ve purposefully avoided watching nymphomaniac.

  3. I dated a woman who was a sex addict. She talked about it like it was a relationship problem. she took advantage of the stereotype that all men want it all the time. If I wanted it less than she did, there must be something wrong with me. She even asked me to use viagra to improve my performance. I had to sit her down and tell her I was not a “performer” and did not think that porn stars were my role models for love making. It was definitely a love addiction too. She was 43 and wanted to hurry up and get married so we could have children. (yes plural) She was convinced that she was fertile and that if we could not have children, I needed to get checked by a doctor. Glad it came to an end – but i should have ended it sooner. Waiting for an addict to get clean is a waste of time.

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