The official line to the question of whether sex addiction is real is quite clear: No, a person cannot be officially diagnosed with sex addiction. But while sex addiction has yet to be confirmed as a sanctioned psychiatric disorder, that doesn't mean it – or something like it – is undeserving of the attention of mental health professionals.
During the making of the new addition Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) – the book that helps researchers and clinicians diagnose mental health disorders – there was a debate as to whether hypersexual disorder (i.e. sex addiction) should be included. After reviewing existing research, the APA left it out. "We don't want to mislabel or inaccurately diagnose people, so we make the threshold much higher," says Rory Reid, a research psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and the principal investigator for the DSM's field trial for hypersexual disorder. He says that people are generally reluctant to pathologize sex, which made hypersexual disorder a target for added scrutiny.
Hypersexuality might be considered an impulse control disorder, like kleptomania or pyromania. "One of the elements of [hypersexual behavior] is that people engage in behavior where they report not being able to resist these cravings or urges and that's what people with impulse control disorders do," says Reid.
Just because someone has a lot of sex, doesn't mean they have a problem. Once individuals report being unable to control their sexual behavior – for example, when it's interfering with their work, relationships, or other important elements of their life – they may want to consider consulting with a professional.
Reid still uses the terms "hypersexual behavior" and "hypersexuality" in his own work because it's scientifically more accurate than "sex addiction." There is little evidence to support that such compulsive sexual behavior fits the addiction model. "We would expect to see the brain of somebody with a disease function differently than the brain of someone who doesn't have the disease," says Reid. Instead, genetic and brain imaging studies of people with hypersexual behavior hasn't shown the kind of brain response we'd expect from addicts.
Right now sex addiction is not an official diagnosis. Neither is hypersexual disorder. Regardless of this, if someone feels they're sexual behavior is problematic, they should seek help. "I don't think something has to have a disorder in order to be worthy of the attention of a mental health professional," says Reid.