From a strict medical perspective an addiction is a compulsive physiological need for and use of a habit-forming substance (such as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol). A person’s system builds a tolerance and, if he suddenly stops using, he has clear negative physiological symptoms which we call withdrawal.
By that definition having excessive amounts of sex is not an addiction because there is no substance being taken. However, in the complex world of modern society we have come to view this compulsive behavior as an addiction.
The features that make this type of behavior an addiction are that: 1) the individual seems not to be able to control the sexual behavior, and: 2) the sexual behavior has significant harmful consequences and continues despite these consequences. These features are the same for any compulsive or addictive behavior.
There is a strong psychological component that drives the sexually compulsive person. The sex addict typically has never been able to regulate his feelings so he engages in sexual behavior to cope. Often substances are also used to medicate his feelings. Sex is a type of coping mechanism to soothe or relieve the intensity of these feelings.
The sex addict can be a narcissist (see newsletter on Narcissism) totally self involved and self absorbed. Or he can be covertly depressed, unable to be in touch with the forces that drive him. Research tends to show that there are more male sex addicts than female.
Generally the sex addict has very little romantic or love connection to the person with whom he is having sex. He also does not necessarily get a true sense of satisfaction from the sex itself. He is disconnected from the more human and social side of the sexual act and more driven by the satisfaction he gets from the stress relief that orgasm brings.
The neurological and biological reinforcement of endorphins and other feel good chemicals being released upon orgasm temporarily calm or soothe the addict. This powerful physiological component keeps him returning to the same behavior over and over again despite the consequences.
A sexually addicted person is trying to cope with feelings of emptiness, depression or intense anxiety. If he is unable to manage these feelings, he will look for sex to provide relief.