Sex addiction is often portrayed as a men’s disorder – especially by the media. As a woman, it can be difficult to see yourself in these depictions, even if your behaviour concerns you. Learn the signs here.
In Australia, sex addiction is reported to affect approximately 8% of men and 3% of women – but the actual prevalence of the disorder is difficult to estimate. This is especially true for women, it is traditionally framed as a men’s disorder, meaning that women are less likely to identify and seek treatment for their sex addiction.
Despite its portrayals, women can and do develop sex addictions – but not for the reasons you might think. If you’re a woman and your sexual behaviour concerns you, read on for female-oriented signs of sex addiction, why they develop and what to do about them.
Sex Addiction in Men: A Stereotypical Portrayal
Given that sex addiction is generally presented as a men’s disorder, male symptoms of it tend to be more visible. For example, men with sexual addictions tend to objectify their partners and seek out encounters that minimize or eliminate the emotional aspects of sex. They also have a higher propensity for exploitative or anonymous sex, via things like prostitution or voyeurism.
But if you are a woman who struggles with sex addiction, you might find it hard to relate to these symptoms. Let’s explore some behaviours you’re more likely to recognize.
Female Symptoms of Sex Addiction
Sex addiction can present similarly in women, but more often than not your symptoms will be quite different. Below are the top signs of sex addiction in women.
- Addiction to love or relationships (this particular symptom is much less common in men)
- Co-occurrence with tobacco, shopping, work or food addiction
- Using sexual pleasure to mask feelings of discomfort, anxiety, fear or boredom
- Feelings of anxiety, depression or shame after sex
- Reliance on maladaptive fantasies for sexual satisfaction
- Insatiability; multiple partners
- Need for seductive roleplaying, pain exchange or fantasy sex in order to be aroused
- Excessive reliance on porn
- Compulsive masturbation
- Preoccupation with sex, often to the extent that it interferes with other areas of life
- Being in a co-dependent relationship with another addict
It is important to note that sex addiction in women takes many different forms. Your addiction does not have to involve illicit sex with multiple partners in order to qualify as such. It can involve persistent, unwelcome fantasies, intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviours in the real world or simply in your mind. What matters more than the specific activities involved is the extent to which your behaviour is upsetting to you and disruptive to your life.
What Causes Sex Addiction in Women?
In men, sex addiction classically manifests as an exaggeration of cultural norms that are already present (e.g. objectifying women and cutting out emotionality). In women, it’s generally the opposite, in that we are acting against prescribed cultural norms for women rather than leaning into and intensifying them. On the surface, sex addiction in women often looks like it’s about power, control, validation and destructiveness. Dig a little bit deeper, though, and it’s generally rooted in cravings for intimacy, nurturance and acceptance.
In a review of dozens of studies conducted on sex addiction over the last couple of decades, there was one clear difference between the root of sex addiction in men and women: women, whether we are consciously aware of it or not, tend to base our sexually addictive behaviour on a need for relationships and connection with other people. In this view, your addiction really isn’t about sex at all – it’s about your deep, insatiable longing for genuine intimacy and connection – with yourself and with other people. Sex becomes a distorted vehicle to meet your needs, enshrouded in maladaptive associations you formed as you navigated your early sexual experiences.
The Path to Recovery for Female Sex Addicts
In sex addiction, like other addictions, the key to recovery is addressing the root of your addiction, changing your behaviours and learning coping strategies.
In female sex addiction, the root of addiction is often related to a lack of vulnerability and intimacy, frequently due to deep-seated shame or insecurity. These things thrive in the shadows – so bring them into the light, as difficult as doing so may be. Talk about your past, your anxieties, your weaknesses and insecurities with someone you trust. This approach works from multiple angles – in talking about the things you want to hide, they will gradually lose power over you.
In the process, these discussions will draw you closer to others and meet your needs for vulnerability and intimacy in a healthy way. As a side benefit, forming close, authentic relationships with others actually acts on the reward centre of your brain – just like sexual pleasure does. You may even find that your addiction begins to lose its grip on you as you build a strong support network.
Coping Strategies, Community and Support
Given that total abstinence from sex is difficult and triggers are rampant, developing strategies to change behaviour and cope can be challenging if approached in isolation. These aspects of recovery are much easier with the help of a professional team, in a controlled environment away from your existing triggers.
Regardless of the path you take, you’ll need support and community on your recovery journey. Treatment is a great place to meet people who are walking a similar path to the one you’re on. Meetings can offer you belonging and comfort. This aspect of recovery can be more difficult for women to engage with, as sex addiction treatment tends to be male-dominated – but don’t let that deter you. The number of women coming forward is increasing all the time, and availability of women’s-only support is following suit.
Sex Addiction Treatment at The Cabin Melbourne
The professional team at The Cabin Melbourne has extensive experience treating people just like you. If you think you or someone you love might be struggling with sex addiction, contact us today to discuss your treatment options. The time to start living the life you deserve is now.