What Is Sex Addiction?

Having a superstar athlete away from his sport because he's in rehab is nothing new. Usually, its because of drugs, alcohol or actually doing time in prison. Give credit to Tiger Woods for something a little different.

While Woods has never specifically called it sex addiction, the admission of multiple sexual affairs with a variety of women followed by "inpatient treatment" seem to point to this condition. Apparently sex addiction is not that uncommon, even though mental health professionals debate if it's real and if so, how to classify and treat it.

Sexual addiction, compulsive sexual behavior, or nymphomania are just some of the names given to a person's inability to control their sexual behavior. The Mayo Clinic describes some of the symptoms of what it calls compulsive sexual behavior that should cause some concern:

  • Your sexual impulses are intense and feel as if they're beyond your control.
  • Even though you feel driven to engage in certain sexual behavior, you may or may not find the activity a source of pleasure or satisfaction.
  • You use compulsive sexual behavior as an escape from other problems, such as loneliness, depression, anxiety or stress.
  • You continue to engage in risky sexual behavior despite serious consequences, such as the potential for getting or giving someone else a sexually transmitted disease, the loss of important relationships, trouble at work or legal problems.
  • You have trouble establishing and maintaining emotional closeness, even if you're married or in a committed relationship.

There are two theories as to the causes of this wild sex drive. Some therapists think of it as an actual addiction, similar to drugs and alcohol, while others classify it as a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The American Psychiatric Association, the keeper of all mental health definitions, has not recognized sexual addiction as a real diagnosis, while the World Health Organization at least has a disorder called "excessive sexual drive" in its ICD-10 list of diseases.

So, what's the cure?

Mayo recommends a combination of psychotherapy, medications and self-help groups. Professional therapy to get at any underlying psychological reasons for the behavior, medications to manage an imbalance in brain chemicals affecting sex drive, and self-help groups to support the road to recovery.

Dan Peterson writes about sports science at his site Sports Are 80 Percent Mental.