Sex Addiction – Not a "One Size Fits All" Disease

May 31, 2017 by Liz Lacy, LCSW, ACST

“I desperately wanted to have sex with him or for him to want me, but afterwards, I felt like a discarded crack vile. Empty, used, worthless.”…anonymous

Women always have been overlooked or underrepresented in studies of alcohol, drug, gambling or sex addiction. It has been 70+ years since the founding of AA and 60 or so years since the American Medical Association recognized alcoholism as a disease. Yet women in treatment remain unfairly, intensely stigmatized, especially in areas of problematic, compulsive sexual behaviors. We are supposed to be somehow more pure, nurturing mothers and, when sexual, only with those with whom we love, leading to more intense self-hatred and shame.

The Male Sex Addict – Detached Sexual Behaviors

In his book Don’t Call It Love, Dr. Patrick Carnes discovered that, in general, male sex addicts tend to objectify their partners. They usually prefer sexual behavior involving relatively little emotional involvement, although some have serial affairs. This leads male sex addicts to engage primarily in such activities as voyeuristic sex, buying escorts, multiple affairs, pornography, compulsive masturbation, anonymous sex, and engaging in exploitative sex. This may be seen as a logical extension of the way that men in our culture are raised to view women and sex.

The Female Sex Addict – Self-Validating Sexual Behaviors

Women sex addicts, responding to the objectification of women in our culture, tend to use sex
for power, control, and self-validation, despite negative consequences. They score high on measures of fantasy sex, seductive role sex, trading sex, and pain exchange.

Women who engage in problematic, compulsive sexual behaviors have often suffered abuse, serious emotional neglect, family instability or other developmental difficulties they are trying to “fix” with their behaviors. Self-soothing, thrill seeking or general detachment are sometimes the goals; other times, using the behaviors to form an emotional bond and to hold onto relationships. Painfully, the behaviors lead to just the opposite.

Common Signs of Female Sex Addiction and Sexually Compulsive Behaviors

While the etiology and manifestations of sex addiction may be different for men and women, the end result is the same – risk taking and out-of-control behavior that ultimately leads to serious, life crisis.

The problematic and/or compulsive sexual behaviors exhibited by female sex addicts include:

  • Obsessively searching for “the one”
  • Attracting abusive or otherwise emotionally unavailable partners
  • Mistaking sex and romance for intimate love
  • Using sex and/or love to mask loneliness or unhappiness
  • Changing one’s appearance through excessive dieting/exercise or surgery
  • Using seduction or other manipulations to attract or hold onto a partner
  • Multiple extramarital affairs
  • Compulsive masturbation with or without pornography
  • Making sexual advances toward individuals in subordinate power positions
  • Dressing seductively to attract attention, take risks or feel empowered
  • Having sex in high-risk locations or situations
  • Inappropriate sexual and relationship boundaries (e.g., engaging in a relationship with married men or bosses)
  • Trading sex for drugs, help, affection, money, status or power
  • Having anonymous sex or repeatedly “falling in love” with strangers
  • Trauma re-enactment sexual actions

New York Pathways Specializes in the Treatment of Sex Addiction

At New York Pathways, we tailor treatment to the needs of women and adolescent girls recovering from compulsive, problematic sexual behaviors. Confidential, compassionate and healing recovery is possible. Please call us today to start your road to sexual addiction recovery.

Liz Lacy is a Clinical Supervisor at New York Pathways in New York City. She provides therapy to individuals, groups and couples who are experiencing difficulties relating to problematic sexual behaviors and intimacy disorders. She is also considered an expert in the treatment of complicated trauma and anxiety disorders.

Elizabeth Lacy