Compulsive Sexual Behavior: Good, Bad, and Ugly

What are compulsive sexual behaviors and what, if anything, is wrong with them?

Compulsive sexual behaviors fall into two categories: paraphilic and nonparaphilic. I'll discuss the simpler one first: nonparaphilic sexual behaviors. These are sexual behaviors that are considered normal but are carried to extremes. For example, someone may enjoy an occasional visit to a pornographic Web site, but the person who spends hours each day visiting these sites, at home or even during working hours, is exhibiting a compulsive behavior.

Masturbation, casual sexual liaisons, and visiting prostitutes all fall under the umbrella of normal sexual behavior and each act can be viewed as a good thing, as a means of sexual release. It's when these behaviors start to dominate an individual's thinking and increase in frequency beyond what society considers normal that they represent a bad or destructive tendency that needs to be addressed and treated.

The second category of compulsive sexual behaviors is the paraphilias. These are defined as persistent sexual fantasies or behaviors that involve unusual objects, activities, or situations, which cause significant psychological distress or psychosocial impairment even when they do not consume several hours each day. Many paraphilias, such as exhibitionism, sex with children, rape, and sexual sadism, are also illegal. Paraphilic behaviors are unacceptable to society no matter what their frequency. Because they frequently can cause harm, they are generally prohibited and considered bad sexual behaviors.

The spectrum of paraphilic behaviors is limited only by the creativity of the human mind. In some cases, they damage no one except the individual involved. They are often "ugly" behaviors that expose the baser side of human sexuality. Individuals who engage in paraphilic behaviors prefer this type of sexual expression over others and repeat the behavior compulsively.

Whether a compulsive sexual behavior is a perfectly normal sexual act taken to repetitive or consuming extremes, or an extremely unusual sexual act that society prohibits, the behavior is problematic. Individuals engaged in compulsive sexual behaviors or either kind should be referred for evaluation and treatment.

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