Sex addiction

Ken Barkman, MSW, ACSW
Counsellor, Employee Assistance Program
May 2, 2021

Sex addiction is one of the more complicated addictions. In today’s world, it’s easy to access pornography on the internet, buy magazines about sex or walk into a sex shop. When does normal sexual behaviour become an addiction? This question is difficult to answer because we typically judge behaviours based on our own values or the values of society, and we live in a world of differing and changing values. What may be viewed as a problem for some may be normal for others, so when we evaluate sexual behaviour we must take into account different opinions about sex.

Sexual addiction is complicated by the natural sex drive that prompts us to seek out sexual gratification. Often sexual addiction starts at a young age when there is an early awareness of sex. Society’s attitudes towards sex and general lack of openness surrounding this new awareness can contribute to problems. As in all addictions, there is also a strong habit component. Engaging in the habit itself by repetitively thinking about sex, looking at objects, etc. releases “feel good” chemicals in the brain. The combination of the natural body chemistry together with the habit part makes this addiction difficult to resolve.

Addiction is any repeated behaviour, substance-related or not, in which a person feels compelled to persist, regardless of its negative impact on their life and the lives of others.

Addiction involves:

  • compulsive engagement in the behaviour;a preoccupation with it.
  • impaired control over the behaviour.
  • persistence or relapse, despite evidence of harm.
  • dissatisfaction, irritability or intense craving when the object – be it a drug, activity or other desire – is not immediately available.

Compulsion, impaired control, persistence and dissatisfaction or withdrawal – these are the hallmarks of any addiction. Evaluating a behaviour to understand whether it represents an addiction can be done by asking questions that address these four factors.

Questions to assess addiction

These questions focus on sexual behaviour but apply to other addictions too. Each response will reflect the values of the person answering the questions.

Key questions to assess sexual addiction:

  1. Do you feel that you must engage in the behaviour? That your mind is often or constantly thinking about doing the behaviour?
  2. Is the behaviour increasing in intensity or moving to other sexual aspects?
  3. Have you tried to stop?
  4. Do you feel guilt/shame after engaging in that behaviour?
  5. Do you keep your behaviour a secret from your partner?
  6. If your sexual activities were found out by your workplace, partner or others, would there be problems such as loss of partner, work or legal consequences?
  7. After engaging in the behaviour, do you make a promise to yourself that you won’t do it again?
  8. According to your personal beliefs, is your behaviour wrong?
  9. Is your behaviour consistent with your idea of who you are or how others see you?  
  10. Are there potential legal impacts from your behaviour?
  11. Has your sexual activity caused injury (physically, emotionally, etc.) to yourself or others?
  12. Have others commented about your behaviour, expressed concerns or asked you to stop or change your behaviour?

Answering yes to even one of the questions indicates that the behaviour has become more important than it should be. Even if a person would say that it isn’t a problem for them, there are values held by society that make certain kinds of behaviour unacceptable or illegal, such as child pornography, indecent exposure or prostitution.


For change to take place there must be an admission that there is in fact a problem. An honest self-evaluation is the beginning of dealing with sexual addiction. Then, a person has to be willing to look at their attitudes towards sex, problems in relationships related to sex, and to give up the behaviours that cause the problems. Sexual addiction is no different than other addictions in that it may keep us from having to deal with emotions or it may give us pleasure when we’re low or help us avoid problems in a relationship or it may have become a habit that we repeat because we feel empty when we don’t. We also experience guilt and shame about the behaviour, which may be deeper than in other addictions.

As part of Manitoba Blue Cross’s Addictions Management Program (AMP), an assessment is available to answer the question of whether there is a sexual addiction. The AMP offers non-residential treatment for addictions that is based on cognitive behavioural therapy. Employees and eligible family members covered under the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) may request an assessment and attend the ten-week treatment group. Individual sessions are also available. (Sign in to mybluecross® to confirm your coverage.) Persons who are not covered under EAP may purchase these services on a fee-for-service basis. To access addiction services, please contact us at 204-786-8880 to arrange an assessment or find available counselling support here.