The Difference Between Sex Addiction and Healthy Sex

October 1, 2020 Amanda Richardson

In my experience, there is a monumental difference between healthy, relational sex and addictive, compulsive sexual behavior. As a recovering sex addict, I have witnessed firsthand the detrimental impacts of using sex as a means to cope with or numb your emotions. Some might believe that habits such as this are harmless and merely a rite-of-passage for most young adults, but I am here to tell you that unhealthy sexual behaviors do not have to be your normal way of life. You can willfully choose a different path and intentionally decide to utilize sex in a healthy way.

My History with Sex Addiction: I Didn't Start with Healthy Sex

If I've learned anything in my recovery, it's that sex addiction looks entirely different for different people. My journey may mirror yours perfectly, or it might be vastly different. However, a big root issue of sex addiction, in my experience, is the compulsive, insatiable need for sexual release by nearly any means necessary. 

Sex addiction isn't too terribly different from more common addictions like alcoholism or drug addiction in the way that the common denominator is a determination to use a specific substance or behavior to cope with life's problems. From what I've learned as a recovering addict and addiction recovery coach, sex, just like anything else, can be used as a coping mechanism, and if not managed properly, it can slowly (or sometimes quickly) morph into a full-blown, life-altering addiction.

From my first sexual encounter in my mid-teens, I instantly noticed how sex could quiet my emotions, still my anxiety, appease my depression, and make me forget about whatever was bothering me on any given day. I grew up in a toxic environment where trauma, manipulation, and psychological abuse were rampant. Unfortunately, because my adolescent life was already riddled with chaos and confusion, I believe these factors made me predisposed to addictive behavior

This doesn't necessarily mean I was destined to be an addict, but I believe that my odds were definitely higher than some of my peers due to circumstances outside of my control.

How to Navigate a Healthy Sex Life

After over a decade of struggling with addictive sexual behavior, one might assume that I have already mastered the concept of healthy sex; however, as most recovering addicts know, recovery just isn't that simple. Even now, as a happily married woman in a monogamous relationship, I have to be incredibly intentional and proactive in order to ensure that sex isn't becoming my master again.

In my opinion, being in a monogamous, committed relationship has really helped in that area. Because I am actively engaging in sex with a person who genuinely loves me and willingly chooses me each and every day, this really helps me to stay grounded and aware of my intentions and my actions.

Sex addiction is different from substance addictions, because often, with substance addictions, you intend to remain completely abstinent from your drug-of-choice for the rest of your life. I suppose some recovering sex addicts might choose to abstain from all sexual behavior following their recovery, but being a married woman in a healthy, loving relationship, that just didn't seem like the most optimal choice for me.

Instead of sex just being a way for me to numb out, I now view sex as an expression of love, commitment, and true intimacy. It is something that is comforting, pure, and genuine, instead of a means to achieve self-gratification.

Because I still walk the very thin line of partaking in my addictive habit, but not letting it overtake me, I consider myself a master in the area of self-control, but I could never maintain this balancing act alone. I am consistently checking in with myself, my therapists, and my husband to ensure that I am still navigating sex in a healthy way.

Paving a Different Path for Your Sex Life

It is a lot of extra work and, for some, it might not be worth it, but for me, it's worth every extra minute of accountability and communication. I don't think I'll ever feel like I have my life completely together. Do any of us?

As most recovering addicts can attest, absolutely no one is immune to relapse. You must always stay on guard and do your part to stay sober from your addictions. However, I am extremely confident in who I am and how far I have come in the past few years. Choosing to remain sexually active despite my history of addiction was a tough call to make. Truthfully, it has taken me years to feel comfortable with my sexuality instead of being completely overcome with shame and regret.

I took a lot of time off from sex entirely before I got to this point, and I think the time I did spend abstinent has really cultivated a place of simultaneous self-control and self-acceptance. Additionally, the hours upon hours I have spent in therapy working on myself, my sexual behaviors, my relationships, and my past trauma have also really shaped me into becoming the absolute healthiest version of myself.

If you struggle with any addiction and you choose to utilize harm reduction (like myself) over absolute abstinence, always remember to check-in with yourself. If you are using any habit, behavior, or substance to cope with life's struggles, reach out to a mental health professional today. It is never too late to get help.

How do you navigate recovering from sex addiction while having a healthy sex life? Share your thoughts in the comments.

APA Reference
Richardson, A. (2020, October 1). The Difference Between Sex Addiction and Healthy Sex, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Amanda Richardson

Amanda is a professional health and wellness writer who specializes in creating content tailored to the female audience. She is especially passionate about social injustice, mental health, and addiction recovery.

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For more information on Amanda's professional writing services, be sure to check her out at Richardson Writing Influence.

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