Women in Crisis With Sex Addiction
Adapted from The National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity
A fine line exists between what may be considered by most people acceptable sexual behavior and what is sexually addictive or compulsive. This is especially true for women in a society such as ours where sex is often treated as a commodity. Our culture discourages women from being assertive and direct in the expression of their sexual needs, thereby encouraging a less direct and potentially seductive or manipulative style. Some women go beyond these culturally sanctioned behaviors and use sex compulsively as a means of gaining power and love.
The idea of being “love addicted” may be preferred by sexually addicted women because it fits the romantic, nurturer model of woman, whereas the term “sex addict” connotes an image of a “nymphomaniac,” “slut,” or “whore.” The “love” that these women describe is often an addiction to the yearning or euphoria of romance, but has little to do with long-term, intimate love.
The elements of sex addiction in women are the same as in any addiction: compulsion, continuation despite adverse consequences, and preoccupation or obsession.
The following behaviors when taken to excess are suggestive of sex addiction in women:
1. Compulsion, or unsuccessful attempts to control a sexual behavior:
• Changing relationships to control sexual fantasy and/or activities
• Swearing off relationships, only to give in to the next “right” lover
• Breaking promises to self or others to stop abusive fantasy or sexual behaviors
• Seeking relationships where you are the caretaker for an addicted or troubled person,
• Using work, sex, romantic fantasy (e.g., novels, online relationships, films) to take the place of a healthy intimate relationship
2. Continued behavior despite negative consequences:
• Living a double sexual/romantic life: one hidden, one open
• Decreased productivity at work due to romantic and sexual behavior
• Relationship problems resulting from affairs or excessive time spent on sex-related activities
• Depression related to inability to change romantic and sexual patterns with the same inevitable consequences time and time again
• Using drugs, drinking to numb shame and other negative feelings related to sex and romance
• Excessive dieting and weight loss when single; excessive weight gain and poor self-care when in a relationship
• Unplanned pregnancies, abortions, sexually transmitted diseases, or violence
• Terror or shame resulting from sexual activities
3. Obsessive thoughts in planning or obtaining love, romantic connections, or sex:
• Neglecting family, relationship, or career because of time spent preoccupied with sex or sexual partners
Some sexually addictive behavior patterns in women may include: excessive flirting, dancing, or personal grooming to be seductive; wearing provocative clothing whenever possible (a form of exhibitionism); changing one’s appearance via excessive dieting, excessive exercise, and/or reconstructive surgery to be seductive; exposing oneself in a window or car; making sexual advances to younger siblings, clients, or others in subordinate power positions; seeking sexual partners in high-risk locations; multiple extramarital affairs; disregard of appropriate sexual boundaries (e.g., considering a married man, one’s boss, or one’s personal physician as appropriate objects of romantic involvement); trading sex for drugs, help, affection, money, social access, or power; having sex with someone they just met at a party, bar, or on the internet (forms of anonymous sex); compulsive masturbation; and exchanging sex for pain or pain for sex. For most people, sexual relationships, fantasies, and activities are normal behavior, but for the sex addict, they cause problems.
Most sexually addicted women have not had parental role modeling for how to have emotional intimacy in nonsexual ways. Research has shown that there often is a combination of rigidity and lack of emotional support in the sex addict’s family of origin. The majority of women sex addicts were sexually abused in childhood (78 percent in one study).
Female sex addicts may have long periods avoiding sex. At such times, they may become “sexually anorexic,” the opposite end of the sexual dysfunction spectrum. During periods of “sexual anorexia,” they may become excessive in other areas. Examples include: eating, shopping, spending exercise, or work.
Many sexually addicted women have sought professional help for psychological problems, but their driven sexual and romantic obsessions were never fully addressed. Therapists who understand sex and love addiction believe that a thorough review of a client’s life and sexual history along with the setting of new boundaries and concrete plans for dating, intimacy, and sex can help end the problem behaviors; the client also needs support dealing with the underlying emotions and history that drive these problem behaviors. Twelve-step programs such as SLAA, Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), Sexual Recovery Anonymous (SRA), and Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA) have helped many women manage periods of abstinence and can be safe places to learn how to find and maintain healthy sexual behavior and loving intimacy.