Is sex addiction the same as a high sex drive?

This is a common question asked by people struggling with sex addiction, their partners and many therapists and health professionals. And the short answer is ‘no’.

Although there has been no published research on the subject, clinical experience shows that whilst some sex addicts have high sex drives, many do not.  In fact, some would say that they have a very low sex drive and many partners will have endured years of a low sex, or even no sex relationship, before discovering their partner was an addict.

Sex addiction is not about sex – it’s about addiction.  The goal of a sex addict is to stimulate their dopamine, not to stimulate their genitals (though both may occur at the same time) – and that means that the arousal experienced is primarily in the brain. Assuming that someone with sex addiction has a high sex drive is as illogical as saying that people who chronically over eat have bigger appetites than others.

However, some sex addicts do mistakenly think that they have a high sex drive because they find themselves constantly thinking about sex or wanting to act out sexually. But this is due to what’s known as classical conditioning, not libido.

Classical conditioning was famously demonstrated by an experiment that’s become known as Pavlov’s dogs.  Dr Pavlov rang a bell every time he fed his dogs.  Over a period of time he noticed that his dogs would begin to salivate whenever they heard a bell, regardless of whether there was any food available or they were hungry.  In other words, they had begun to associate the ringing of a bell with being fed and had become ‘conditioned’ to respond appropriately.

The theory of classical conditioning can also work with sex and porn addiction.  You can develop a habit of acting out every time you feel angry, or lonely, or sad, or rejected, or disappointed, or any number of other emotions.  Or you may act out to help you relax, or feel energised; or to get you to sleep at night or up in the morning; or every time the house is empty, or on Sunday mornings, or when you have a hangover. Then you may begin to associate those emotions or situations with sex and assume your drive must be high.  But in reality, it is simply a conditioned response – one that can be re-conditioned.

The bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter if someone has a high sex drive or not.  If the behaviour is unwanted and it is damaging other areas of life and if it feels out of control but repeated efforts to stop have failed – then it’s time to get help. Take a look at the sex addition services offered here and drop us a line.