Does a High Sex Drive Equal a Sex Addiction?
There’s no doubt that some people suffer because of their sexual behaviour, and that they have sex in ways that are unhealthy and harmful to them or their friends and family (like spending all their income on sex workers, getting fired from their jobs for masturbating, or continually cheating on partners they promised monogamy to).
But the professional community is still deeply divided over the cause for such behaviour. Is it the amount of sex that they crave and engage in, or the way in which they do and feel about it?
Before we take a look at some studies and other interesting data to figure this whole thing out, here are a few key definitions that may help you to really understand what high sex drive and addiction really means.
Sex Drive aka Libido
Libido refers to someone’s overall sexual drive or desire for sexual activity. So one could have a high, low, or -what is perceived to be- an average libido depending on their desires for sexual contact.
What is a High Sex Drive/Libido?
A high sex drive (or high libido) can be hard to characterise, and may actually depend on what you perceive it to be.
Alternatively, you could ask yourself questions like:
- What does a ‘normal’ sex drive look like?
- How are my desires different to my expectations?
- How do I feel after masturbating, watching porn, and thinking about and engaging in sex?
At the end of the day, one’s sex drive can be high without causing an interference in their daily life, and without causing any harm to themselves and those around them.
(Generally Speaking) What is an Addiction?
According to Merriam-Webster, addiction is “a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behaviour, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects, and typically well-defined symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability, tremors, or nausea) upon withdrawal or abstinence.”
Adversely, it may be interesting to know what a low sex drive looks like, otherwise known as ‘hypoactive sexual desire disorder’.
What is Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder?
According the DSM-5 (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by professionals), a low sex drive is known as hypoactive sexual desire disorder. It’s characterised by “recurrently deficient sexual or erotic thoughts, fantasies, and desires for sexual acitivity.”
It too says that “these symptoms must have persisted for a minimum of six months, and they must cause clinically significant distress”.
But let’s jump back to the question of high sex drives and sex addiction…
What is a Sex Addiction?
Sex addiction is known as ‘hypersexuality’. This is usually characterised by one or more of the following:
- A tendency to obsess over sex
- Sacrificing professional, social, or personal time for sexual activity
- Having (or pursuing) compulsive sexual urges
- Taking sexual risks
- Experiencing or causing physical and or emotional pain due to sexual behaviour
High Sex Drive & Sex Addiction: Are They One in the Same?
Most people automatically assume that sex addiction has to do with—at least to some extent—having a really high sex drive.
And interestingly, proponents of the sex addiction model traditionally include a measure of “too many orgasms” as one criterion for designating someone as addicted to sex. (The most commonly used cutoff point in these models is remarkably low—only seven per week! This would would classify almost half of all men and a substantial minority of women as sex addicts.)
But evidence keeps piling up that sex addiction has little to do with high sex drive. In an online survey conducted in 2014, almost 2,000 Croatian men ages 18-60 reported on their general sex drive (like how intense their sexual desire was in a typical week or how much time they spent engaging in sexual fantasies and activities in a typical day).
They too commented on problematic sexuality (using screening tools based on the sex addiction model and answering questions about using sex to cope with negative emotions, feeling unable to control their sexuality, engaging in sex in spite of harmful consequences, and distress and shame associated with their sexual behaviors).
It turned out that the men who scored high on problematic sexuality (about 3% of the sample) were not the same men who scored very high on just plain old sex drive (about 4% of the sample): Only 4 out of 2,000 men fell into both groups!
What’s more, the ‘problematic sexuality’ group actually proved to be less sexually active than the ‘high sex drive’ group, aka they had sex less frequently, with fewer sexual partners, and watched porn less often. They even had less sex and fewer partners than the ‘control’ group of men, those who had neither high sex drive nor problematic sexuality.
The ‘problematic sexuality’ guys also differed from the control group in a number of personality, health, and demographic traits that helped understand their underlying issues. They were more likely to be religious, depressed, to have substance abuse problems, to disapprove of watching porn, and to feel like their sexuality was against their moral values.
The ‘high sex drive’ guys, on the other hand, were, unsurprisingly, more sexually active and more accepting of porn use than the control group, but were virtually indistinguishable from the ‘controls’ in all other characteristics.
These results confirmed past findings that the more religious a person was and the more he or she believed watching porn was wrong, the more likely they were to think of themselves as a porn addict, regardless of how much porn they actually watched.
A separate study, which looked at the correlation between the amount of porn watched daily and psychological distress (one year later) is also important to mention. This study proved that there was no link between the two, and that it’s the mere belief that one is addicted to porn that caused depression, anxiety, stress, and anger.
Taken together, these findings suggest that ‘sex addiction’ or ‘hypersexual disorder’ is not at all about how often you think about sex, how often you have sex, or how many different people you have sex with.
Sex drive, like many other human traits, follows a bell-shaped, ‘normal’ distribution: some people are extremely low, some people are extremely high, and most people are somewhere in between. Where you are on that spectrum is greatly determined by your genes and hormones, and, in actuality, no point along that spectrum is inherently unhealthy.
Rather, having sex-related problems or identifying as a sex or porn addict seems to be either:
- about using sex to cope with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues
- about having sexual thoughts and behaviors that go against your morality or that of your loved ones
The truth is, we’re still prone to a society that can be sex-negative. This negativity teaches us that having a lot of sex, a lot of sexual partners, casual sex, nonmonogamous sex, or kinky sex is bad or unhealthy. It’s all too easy to internalize these views and feel like there’s something wrong with us if we have such desires.
But instead of automatically worrying about how much sex you are craving or having, consider why and how you’re doing it, and why you feel the way you do about it.
Sometimes, dealing with the fear of sex or porn addiction is as straightforward as adopting a more sex positive set of values and finding more supportive friends, partners, and community.
This may be easier said than done, but for those with particularly high sex drives, such acceptance can be paramount for living a healthy and happy life that is also authentic and true to who you really are.
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Helena is a sex-positive freelance copywriter in her early 30’s from Cape Town, South Africa. She’s travelled and lived in various countries in Asia and Europe for almost a decade, and continues to live her dream — traveling the world independently as a copywriter. Having written for various companies and magazines within the industry, she has extensive knowledge in the field of sexual health, the escort industry, and sex toy marketing.