Compulsive sexual behavior may consist of generally acceptable sexual acts taken to an extreme. These behaviors become problems when they become an obsession that's disruptive or harmful to you or others.

Other compulsive sexual behaviors are outside the bounds of commonly accepted conduct. Called paraphilias, these behaviors range from compulsive cross-dressing to having sexual desires toward children (pedophilia).

Compulsive sexual behavior symptoms vary in type and severity. Some signs that you may be struggling with compulsive sexual behavior include:

  • Your sexual impulses are intense and feel as if they're beyond your control.
  • Even though you feel driven to do certain sexual behaviors, you may or may not find the activity a source of pleasure or satisfaction.
  • You use compulsive sexual behavior as an escape from other problems, such as loneliness, depression, anxiety or stress.
  • You continue do risky sexual behaviors despite serious consequences, such as the potential for getting or giving someone else a sexually transmitted infection, the loss of important relationships, trouble at work, or legal problems.
  • You have trouble establishing and maintaining emotional closeness, even if you're married or in a committed relationship.

When to see a doctor

Get help if you feel like you've lost control of your sexual behavior, especially if your behavior causes problems for you or for other people. Compulsive sexual behavior tends to become more intense and difficult to control over time, so get help when you first recognize there may be a problem. Efforts to use sheer willpower to resist sexual compulsions may not succeed because the urges can be so powerful.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you decide whether to seek professional help:

  • Can I control my sexual impulses?
  • Is my sexual behavior hurting my relationships, affecting my work or resulting in negative consequences, such as getting arrested?
  • Is sex constantly on my mind, even when I don't want to think about it?
  • Do I try to hide my sexual behavior?

Seek treatment right away

Seek immediate treatment if:

  • You think you may cause harm with uncontrolled sexual behavior
  • You have bipolar disorder or other problems with impulse control, and you feel like your sexual behavior is slipping out of control
  • You are suicidal
Sep. 15, 2011

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