Women Have Unique Risk Factors for Sex Addiction

Women may have indicators for compulsive sexual behavior that only partially overlap with widely recognized risk factors for sex addiction or hypersexuality in men, researchers from two Portuguese universities report. Studies on sex addiction have largely focused on the sexual behaviors, thoughts and fantasies of men. Among other things, this means that indicators of sex addiction in women may or may not be similar to the indicators found in men. In a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, researchers from Portugal’s University of Porto and University of Aveiro used a project involving 235 young women enrolled in college to look at predictors of compulsive sexual behavior/sex addiction in women and compare those predictors to known risk factors associated with men.

Sex Addiction

Sex addiction does not have an official definition supplied by the American Psychiatric Association, the organization responsible for the mental health guidelines followed by the vast majority of U.S. doctors and public health officials. However, a number of problems or symptoms may indicate the presence of personal, social and/or professional dysfunction caused by an unhealthy relationship to sex-based thoughts, sex-based fantasies or real-world sexual behaviors. Potential indicators of a damaging, addictive relationship to sex-related matters include losing control over sexual behaviors or sexual thoughts/fantasies, experiencing clearly damaging consequences from sexual behaviors or sexual thoughts/fantasies and continuing to engage in certain sexual behaviors or sexual thoughts/fantasies after experiencing damaging outcomes. Specific manifestations of sex addiction may include recurring use of pornography, frequent and uncontrolled participation in masturbation, frequent involvement in anonymous sex and involvement in sexual behaviors that transgress social norms or break laws governing allowable sexual conduct. Sex addiction belongs to a group of conditions—known as process addictions, behavioral addictions or addictive disorders—that produce some of the key brain and behavioral problems associated with substance addiction even though they don’t stem from substance consumption. Since some people with naturally high sex drives experience no harm from their level of involvement in sex-related matters, doctors must carefully evaluate their patients when attempting to diagnose the condition.

Women and Compulsive Sexual Behavior

Like hypersexuality and hypersexual disorder, compulsive sexual behavior is an alternative term for sex addiction. Some people believe that women typically develop a form of non-sexually manifested behavioral addiction called love addiction, not sex addiction. However, in fact, women can develop active cases of sex addiction just like men. Additional biases that may potentially prevent the general public, researchers or doctors from considering compulsive sexual behavior in women include a cultural belief that highly sexually active women are merely “needy,” a belief that women respond to sex addiction-related questionnaires in the same overt or straightforward manner as men and a related belief that women with sex addiction-related problems are as easy to identify as men with similar problems.

Which Factors Act as Predictors?

In the study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, the University of Porto and University of Aveiro researchers sought to determine how compulsive sexual behavior manifests in women as opposed to men. They also wanted to know if women experience specific problems that act as predictors for the onset of compulsive sexual behavior. All of the 235 college women enrolled in the study answered detailed questionnaires that addressed a range of issues, including their tendency toward impulsive behavior, their typical moods, their ability to experience and express emotions, the ways in which they cope with stress, their general level of exposure to potentially diagnosable mental health problems and their tendency to think or act in sexual terms when in depressed or anxious states of mind. The researchers concluded that two factors help predict the onset of compulsive sexual behavior or sex addiction in women. These factors are a tendency to think or act in impulsive ways and involvement in a pattern of behavior characterized by hostile relationships and aggression toward others. (Some psychologists refer to such a pattern of behavior as psychoticism.) Overall, the study’s authors concluded that the manifestations of impending sex addiction in women can differ substantially from the indicators associated with this condition when it appears in men. Specifically, they note that sex addiction-related problems in women may first take a fairly subtle form that bears little resemblance to the overt, clearly dysfunctional behaviors and thought processes found in men heavily affected by hypersexuality-related issues.  

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