The answer is not exactly straightforward.

Can You Really Be Addicted To Sex? Here’s Everything You Should Know

When we watch a politician, actor, or any other public figure fall from grace in the wake of a sex-centric scandal, it’s usually not long before someone throws the term “sex addiction” into the conversation. But what separates sexual misconduct from actual addiction, and can you even really be addicted to sex in the first place? According to the experts, that’s a complicated question.

For starters, sex addiction isn’t technically a real addiction—at least not according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), which is the psychology diagnostic handbook, or the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT), the leading certification body for sexuality professionals.

Why? “According to research, sex ‘addiction’ doesn’t exist in brain chemistry the way that drugs and alcohol do,” says Kat Van Kirk, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and sex therapist and author of The Married Sex Solution: A Realistic Guide to Saving Your Sex Life. “However, it can create a behavioral compulsion that negatively affects a person’s life, much like gambling.”

However, unlike the abuse of an unhealthy substance, sex is still considered a healthy part of life, she adds. For that reason, some therapists argue that “addiction” might not be the right word for sexual behavior that gets out of control. “I am not too keen on the sex-addiction diagnosis, since it is often moralistic and used to simplistically explain a variety of unconnected behaviors,” says Michael Aaron, Ph.D., a licensed psychotherapist, sexologist and sex therapist in New York City. “I like the term compulsive or out-of-control sexual behavior much more than sex addiction.”

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And compulsive behavior, which is a characteristic of addiction, can still be seriously concerning and problematic. “If someone has very negative consequences due to their sexual behavior, such as job loss, health risks and legal ramifications, then more often than not that individual is struggling with compulsive sexual behavior,” says Aaron. In other words, if your sex drive is spilling over into other aspects of your life (say, you cancel plans with friends because you want to masturbate all the time) that’s an issue—”addiction” or not.

Here, five more crucial things you need to know to better understand this complex issue.

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