You might joke that you or your partner is a "sex addict" but there's more to it than simply having a high sex drive. According to the relationship people at Relate, sex addiction describes any sexual behaviour that feels "out of control". That could include sex with a partner, compulsive masturbation, compulsive use of pornography, having multiple, ongoing affairs, visiting prostitutes, exhibitionism, voyeurism, or using sex chat lines or chat rooms.
These behaviours themselves don't make someone an addict. The key difference is that an addict struggles to resist their urges. They may spent a huge amount of time planning, engaging in and recovering from their chosen sexual activity. Even when their behaviour is harming their relationships, finances and professional lives, they feel unable to stop, or at least stay stopped.
People with a sexual compulsion or sexual dependency may use sex to numb negative emotions and difficult experiences – just as an alcoholic turns to drink or a compulsive gambler fixates on the next win to cope with the world.
Is your partner a sex addict?
Only a psychiatrist or qualified sex therapist can say whether someone has a sex addiction. However, there are warning signs to watch for. Being secretive, doing things in isolation, and avoiding couple, family and social responsibilities can all be signs, according to Relate. Someone with a sex addiction may be moody, irritable, tired and depressed or anxious.
Of course, there could be lots of other explanations. The best approach is to speak to your partner. If you know that they've had problems with addiction previously or you believe they're using pornography more frequently, you might ask if they feel it's an issue for them. Like all addicts, accepting there is a problem is the first step to getting help.
Where to get help
Contact your Relate Centre, who will be able to carry out an assessment to determine whether you or your partner would benefit from specialist sex addiction help. You may also be able to individual counselling or a group support programme.
The Association for the Treatment of Sex Addiction & Compulsivity (ATSAC) is another excellent source of information and advice.
If you answer yes to five or more questions on this page, you may benefit from making an appointment to see a sex addiction therapist for a full assessment.
Three books that may help:
The Porn Trap: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by Pornography, £10.68
Understanding and Treating Sex Addiction, £18.68
Sex Addiction: The Partner's Perspective, £16.99