For Women: What Sex Addiction Looks Like
April 5, 2021
When you hear the words ‘sex addict’, my guess is your brain automatically pictures a man. Maybe it’s a man huddled over his phone or laptop watching porn, and possibly involved in other risky behaviors like prostitution, mutiple partners, and infidelity…. all things commonly associated with sexual addiction.
You may be surprised to learn however, that women also suffer from sex addiction. Sometimes you’ll hear it referred to by its name, hypersexuality disorder.
For many years, the world disregarded the posibility a woman could be a sex addict, and therefore very few studies were done to look at addiction in women. Current studies estimate that ⅓ of all sex addicts are women. I personally would bet it’s even higher, with women underreported due to several factors. There is a general lack of awareness of the symptoms of sex addiction in women and (the bigger issue I believe) women are just less likely to ask for help for something historically seen as a man’s problem. Shame and embarrassment can have such a stronghold on us!
With that in mind, let’s bring it into the light and talk about it!
What does sex addiction commonly look like in women?
It’s usually more emotional than physical
When a man has an addiction to sex, it’s almost always focused on the physical components that trigger the brain and body. Men are typically choose a pattern of porn, prostitution, and random hookups or affairs that objectify women and sex. There is typically very little – if any – emotional connection or attachment involved. For women addicts however, arousal has a significant emotional component to it – with power, control, attention, and affirmation all sharing center stage.
It may be an addiction to love
Though not the same diagnosis, love addiction and sex addiction in women are closely connected because sex is so often equated to love. Women are more likely to be obsessed with the pursuit of love and romance. They will crave the feeling of being ‘in love’ more than the sex itself; and though their compulsive sexual behavior doesn’t really resemble any legitimate attempt at finding a mate, they may view it as such. There is a codependency component to it as well, with the addict using sex to keep partner(s) who feed their self-worth. Though female addicts may use porn, I’ve seen a strong correlation with obsession with romance novels and erotica (‘clit lit’) that fuels their endless search for those feelings of passion, love, and romance.
Signs a woman may be addicted to sex
In some ways, sex addiction in women looks a lot like it does in men. These behaviors include:
- A struggle to resist the urge to view pornography, with an increase in time spent and frequency of these activities
- Masturbating habitually or engaging in other forms of sex like phone sex & sexting when alone
- A preoccupation with sexual behavior and spending more and more time planning, preparing, obtaining and participating in sex
- Increasingly risky sexual behaviors such as infidelity, prostitution, unprotected sex, and multiple sex partners
- Neglect of occupational, academic, domestic, and social obligations due to these behaviors
But in women, these behaviors don’t usually tell the whole story of their addiction.
Here are some symptoms more closely associated with women:
- A history of many short high-intensity romantic relationships that don’t end well (picking the wrong guy over and over and over again)
- An addiction to fantasy
- Exhibitionist sexual behavior
- A codependent relationship with another person who as an addiction (not necessarily sexual in nature)
- A history of abusive relationships and a history of returning to abusive relationships
- A history of inappropriate relationships with coworkers, managers, husbands of friends, neighbors and otherwise off-limits partners.
- An obsession with online outlets like hookup apps, dating sites, and social media used for sexual needs (meet partners, participate in chat rooms, sexting, phone sex)
- Trading sex for money, jewelry, housing, companionship, self-worth (‘Sugar Daddy’)
- A history of acting and dressing in ways that are considered overtly sexual (tight clothes, cleavage, no undergarments (bra, panties), short skirts, high heels, heavy makeup)
- Other addictions to things such as food, alcohol or drugs
Sex Addiction In Women is Under-Treated
Though it’s estimated that ⅓ of all sex addicts are women (and again, that’s probably low), we know that women represent only ⅕ of those that seek treatment for their addiction.
Why are women more reluctant to reach out for help with sexual addiction? I think the answer lies primarily in the social stigmas attached to it. Historically, it’s been more acceptable for men to have lots of sex and sexual partners. It’s not uncommon for men to brag about the amount of sex or number of partners they’ve had (and we affectionately refer to them as players, playboys or studs); whereas women will be more tempted to play their sexual past down for fear of being considered slutty, a tramp, or trashy.
This is unfortunate as it leaves many women controlled by their shame and resigned to suffering with their addiction, in secret and alone.
Any addiction creates negative consequences in all aspects of your life, including your relationships, and that is certainly true of sex addiction. If you, or your partner, is struggling with signs of addiction, I encourage you to reach out to a qualiifed therapist who specializes in sex addiction who can help you put a stop to the destructive behaviors preventing you from having a healthy relationship with sex.
If you’d like to discuss how The Marriage Place can help, schedule a free Discovery Call to learn more.
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KIM BOWEN is a licensed professional counselor who offers relationship therapy through her company, The Marriage Place. Her blogs and newsletters have been featured in various publications and she is the author of the