The Addictive Potential of Sexual Behavior

D’Youville College, Buffalo, New York

This paper examines the addictive potential of sexual behavior through behavioral and neurophysiological mechanisms analogous to other formalized addictions. Sexual behavior refers to any action or thought preformed with the intention of sexual gratification, such as the consumption of explicit material, masturbation, fantasizing of sexual scenarios, and sexual intercourse. Addiction is defined by the presence of tolerance, preoccupation, withdrawal, dependence, and the continuation of behavior despite risk and/or harm. Sexual addiction demonstrates high relapse potential due to the frequency of reward-associated cues encountered in daily life, and the low effort and risk required for sexual pleasure. Currently, sexual addiction lacks a formal diagnosis despite behavioral, psychological, and physiological evidence. An official diagnosis recognized by a governing authority, such as the American Psychological Association, would offer greater access to treatment, funding for research, and exposure and education for the general public about this disorder.