Several potential underlying causes of sex addiction affect women differently than they affect men, according to the results of a recent, large-scale study review from a team of American researchers. Researchers and the general public sometimes overlook the potential for the development of sex addiction in women. However, a small but sizable number of American women may have significant symptoms of such an addiction. In an extensive study review published in late 2014 in Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, researchers from West Chester University explored the gender-specific nature of some of the factors that can contribute to the onset of addictive sexual thought or behavior.
In the last few years, researchers and doctors have come to fully recognize that the brain function changes and damaging behaviors that mark the onset and continuation of substance addiction in drug and alcohol users can also appear in individuals who don’t have substance problems. Instead, individuals affected by these alterations may have a behavioral addiction caused by excessive and dysfunctional participation in a pleasure-producing, non-substance-associated activity that causes no real issues for most people. The notion of behavioral addiction finally arrived in the mainstream of medical thinking in 2013 when the American Psychiatric Association (APA) created a new diagnostic category specifically for the identification of various forms of such an addiction. The APA initially included only one condition, called gambling disorder, in the category reserved for behavioral addiction. However, well-designed modern studies support the existence of a number of other conditions, including sex addiction. Doctors can use a number of screening procedures to identify men and women who may have a damaging level of involvement in sex-related fantasy, thought or behavior. Potential symptoms revealed by these procedures include a preoccupation with sex-related matters while engaged in other aspects of daily life, an inability to limit the amount of time dedicated to sex-related thoughts or actions, the damaging establishment of sex-related behavior or thinking as a primary life priority, an attempt to hide the extent of involvement in sex-related thoughts or actions from friends or loved ones, and continuation of an excessive pattern of sex-related activity after exposure to seriously negative fallout from such activity.
Presence in Women
For a number of reasons, laypeople and professional researchers alike sometimes discount the possibility of sex addiction in women. Some of the reasons for such gender-oriented thinking are social or cultural. For example, a society’s notions of gender roles may lead some people to view women as being affected by love or relationship addiction (but not the intensely physical realities of sexual addiction), even when they exhibit patterns of behavior similar or identical to the addictive sexual behaviors found in men. In addition, sex addiction in women often doesn’t look like sex addiction in men. Lack of awareness of the different manifestations of the condition in the two genders can lead some individuals to overlook the symptoms of sex addiction in a woman.
Women’s Underlying Addiction Factors
In the study review published in Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, researchers analyzed the findings of dozens of previous studies that focused on some aspect of the gender-specific characteristics of sex addiction in men and women. Part of this analysis was a consideration of the gender-specific differences in the underlying factors that make any man or woman potentially susceptible to this form of behavioral addiction. The researchers ultimately identified four underlying risk factors for sex addiction that can differ considerably between men and women: exposure to physical or sexual abuse during childhood, disruption of the bonds that typically form between parents and their children, shame as an internal reaction to one’s sexual activities or preferences, and cultural beliefs regarding appropriate or allowable sexual behavior. All of these factors appear in both men and women but can have highly gender-specific manifestations or consequences. With regard to physical or sexual abuse during childhood, the researchers concluded that exposure to such abuse—which affects girls substantially more often than boys—can help trigger a pattern of addictive sexual thought or behavior. They also concluded that disrupted bonds between a mother and daughter can contribute to the risks for adult sex addiction. Finally, the researchers concluded that women’s experiences with sex-related shame and cultural expectations for permissible sexual behavior clearly differ from the experiences of the average man. Both shame and the stigmatization of women’s sexuality can add substantially to a woman’s gender-specific sex addiction risks.