Sex addiction, like other addictions, is a maladaptive pattern of behavior, which involves persistent dependence on various forms of sexual expression in order to cope with the stresses of life. Like other addictions, there is a cyclical pattern of behavior, involving urges and cravings to engage in the behavior, a ritualistic way of planning and acting out the behavior, and a sense of relief and elation on engaging in the behavior, followed by a period of withdrawal and repeated cravings.

What makes sex addiction an addiction, as opposed to some other sexual problem, is this repetitive pattern of thought processes and behaviors, which continues despite negative consequences for the addict, and in some cases, for other people. The addictive behavior continues over an extended period of time, and once consequences become obvious and the addicted person is unable to stop the behavior, they feel they are losing control.