10 Ways To Tell If You Have A Healthy Sex Drive Or A Sex Addiction
The desire for sex is normal. All humans have it. That’s why we’re still on the planet. Enjoying sex is also normal, as normal as enjoying good food. Why would anyone do it if it wasn’t enjoyable? God designed sex to be something so pleasurable that every generation would “multiply and fill the earth.” And it’s not just the physical pleasure, but the emotional pleasure of being close to someone you love and being shown love by that person in return. It’s a beautiful thing. But some people cross a line between healthy sex and out-of-control sex and get trapped in a sex addiction. How do you know whether you just really enjoy sex and have a normal, healthy sex drive or whether you have a sex addiction? Sometimes people think or are told that they have a sex addiction when really that just have a healthy sex drive. And sometimes people that actually have a sex addiction dismiss it as just a healthy sex drive. Which is it?
Healthy Sex Drive or Sex Addiction: What is a healthy sex drive?
We use the term “sex drive,” but actually there’s no such thing. “Drives” are instincts connected with survival like eating, drinking, sleeping, and seeking shelter. It’s more accurate to call it “sexual desire, or sexual appetite.” So, let’s ask it this way: what is a healthy sexual appetite. The answer is, it depends on the person. We’re not all the same. In the 1977 movie, Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s character is asked how often he and his partner have sex. He says, “Hardly ever; maybe three times a week.” His partner is asked the same question and says, “Constantly; three times a week.” What is too much for one is not enough for another.
People’s level of sexual desire goes up and down. Medication can affect it. Hormones can affect it. The state of the relationship can affect it. Age can affect it. There is no normal on how often you have sex. Some have it every day; some once a year. At a marriage conference, the speaker asked how many had sex every day and a few raised their hands. He asked how many had sex three times a week, more raised their hands. He asked how many had sex once a month, some raised their hands. Finally, he asked how many had sex once a year. A very happy, excited little man raised his hand. The speaker said, “If you only have sex once a year, why are you so happy and excited.” The man said, “Tonight’s the night!”
Sex is not a competition. Whatever other people do in terms of frequency, intensity, or activities is irrelevant to your relationship. What you and your partner enjoy and find brings you pleasure and draws you closer to one another is normal for you, and that’s all that matters. Healthy sex is sex that brings you and your partner close, strengthens your bond, and makes you both feel desired and loved.
One hallmark, however, of a normal sexual appetite is that it can be controlled. If for some reason, the partner is unable or unavailable sexually, it’s disappointing but not the end of the world. Someone with a normal, healthy sexual appetite can put that appetite on hold just like they can put their appetite for food on hold until dinnertime.
Healthy Sex Drive or Sex Addiction: What is a sex addiction?
Unlike the person with a normal, healthy sexual appetite, someone with a sex addiction must have sex and if the partner is unavailable, it is a crisis. The sex addict must have sex and at any cost. If the partner is not there, he or she will seek sex online, with a prostitute, from a “friend with benefits,” or through masturbation. With a sex addiction, the partner is merely a means for getting the sexual reward. Sex is then a substitute for love and the sex becomes more and more extreme sex in order to produce a sexual high rather having a close, loving connection with one’s partner. That's when a healthy sex drive has become an unhealthy sex addiction.
The myth that a sex addict is just someone who enjoys sex too much is false. It’s someone who fits the classic definition of addiction: “a chronic and escalating behavior that the person is helpless to stop even when it causes harmful consequences.” An addiction is chronic; that is, it’s a compulsion that the person gives in to over and over for years. It’s escalating; that is, the person has to seek riskier and more exotic activities to get the same explosion of pleasure endorphins. This is because the brain develops a tolerance and must have stronger input to achieve the same result. The person is helpless to stop even when the marriage is in trouble and separation or divorce is a strong possibility. A sex addict is willing to engage in the hypersexual behavior even when it means losing family, job, money, reputation, and health. As with any addiction, a sex addiction takes over a person’s life.
10 Warning Signs Of A Sex Addiction
If you have some or all of these warning signs of sex addiction, it’s time to stop saying that you just enjoy sex more than most people. The truth is that you have crossed over to a sex addiction.
1.- You need sex constantly.
You don’t just want sex; you need sex. Sex is a beautiful part of a person’s life, but if it becomes the center of your life and you need it like you need food and water, that’s an addiction.
2.- Your need for sex is hurting your relationship.
Sex is supposed to enhance a marriage, but your need for frequent, intense, exotic, and risky sex as well as your sexual exploits away from your partner are harming your relationship. You may even be at risk to lose your relationship because of it.
3.- You go behind your partner’s back for sex.
Whether it’s sex online, sex with a prostitute, sex with a stranger, or any kind of sex that is behind your partner’s back, it’s clearly not for the purpose of drawing close and showing love to your partner, which is the purpose of healthy sex. It’s for the purpose of sex. Sex itself is the objective just like drugs are the objective for a drug addict, getting the high. Only for you, it’s a sexual high you’re chasing.
4.- You feel guilty.
One of the big red flashing neon signs of addiction is guilt. Healthy sex never makes you feel guilty. But unhealthy sex that you know in your spirit is wrong makes you feel guilt and shame. But not enough to stop because, even though you may want to stop, you can’t because your brain is chemically dependent on the dopamine and/or cortisol reward.
5.- You lie about it.
Second to guilt, lying is a major warning sign of addiction. Addicts lie about their activities, the frequency of them, the nature of them, the occurrence of them. Healthy sex never makes you lie. You never have to deny it. There’s nothing to be in denial about. But sex addiction puts you in a pattern of denial and deception.
6.- You’re never satisfied.
With healthy sex, you feel satisfied afterwards and you can move on to other activities easily. With a sex addiction, you’re never satisfied. You get the release of pleasure, but after a short time you need it again and are consumed with chasing it to the exclusion of anything else. You can’t curb the cravings. It’s a compulsion driven by your brain’s need for the chemical high that can never be fully satiated.
7.- You put sex ahead of anything else.
Sex is more important than your job, more important than your spouse, your kids, your friends, your responsibilities. You’ll miss important appointments to have a sexual encounter. You’ll stay up all night having online sex and work sleep-deprived. Sex is your highest priority over everything else.
8.- You disregard any negative consequences.
Getting fired doesn’t stop you. Getting sick doesn’t stop you. Your partner leaving you doesn’t stop you. Hurting your children doesn’t stop you. Losing your reputation doesn’t stop you. It’s worth anything you have to endure to get the sexual reward. My friend, that is an addiction.
9.- Enough is never enough.
With healthy sex, one time is enough to feel content and satisfied. But for a sex addict, one is never enough. There must be multiple sexual releases every day. Too much is never enough.
10.- Your sexual urges are out of your control.
Sex controls you, not the other way around. When your sexual impulses ring the bell, you have to answer. You are not the master; you are the slave, which is what the word “addiction” means.
What Can You Do?
The good news is, addictions can be overcome. It’s not easy and it takes time, but it can be done with the help of a trained therapist. Christian Counseling Associates is blessed to have two trained sex counselors on staff who can help you work through your addiction and be able to return to a healthy sex life instead of an out-of-control sex addiction.
Bob Bahlmann is a Licensed Professional Counselor with Christian Counseling Associates. He holds a Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health and Counseling and also a Master’s degree in Biblical Studies from Moody Theological Seminary. He is also a Prepare/Enrich Facilitator. He is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors.