What is sex addiction, and when is too much, too much? Sex therapist Rachel Cooke joined the Jennifer Zamparelli Show to discuss compulsive sexual behaviour.

Cooke says: "It's characterised by an inability to manage intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges that end up interfering with your everyday life to the extent that maybe your relationships, your work life and your general wellbeing are being negatively impacted."

It can also be known as sexual dependency, hyper sexuality and compulsive sexual behaviour, she adds. More obscurely, it's known as nymphomania in women and satyriasis in men.

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Therein lies one of the problems, however, as Cooke says that "there is a difference between a clinical definition of addiction and a colloquial one".

It's also challenging to determine how many people are affected by it, as many behaviours get lumped under the label of sex addiction, Cooke says. "But we reckon it's probably between three and 10 per cent of the population."

There is still some dispute over whether it's a real condition, which is partly down to the "wording" of it, Cooke says.

"It doesn't hold up with science that you get the same kind of physical tissue-based withdrawal symptoms that you would with coming off drugs or alcohol, as you would with coming off porn or hook-up sites or masturbating a huge amount."

Sex addiction as a concept, however, dates back to ancient Rome and second century Greece, where it would be recorded as "excessive sexuality" in both men and women. However, it wasn't until the 1980s – particularly during the AIDS crisis – that discussion about the condition began to emerge in a big way, "in response to cultural anxieties surrounding the decline of social conservatism".

"It was essentially a made-up disorder aimed at distinguishing what was seen as the approved kind of sex and the disapproved kind of sex.

"Anything other than heterosexual monogamy was condemned as potentially life-threatening and immoral", Cooke says. "We also have to look at the how there is the potential for people to be particularly conservative or biased. We have to recognise that there's a huge range of behaviour and it's quite hard to separate because so many people feel shame around sex.

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She adds that this layer of shame can lead people to act secretively about their behaviours, which are not in themselves problematic, but then appearing problematic.

"For some people masturbating once or twice a day would end up impacting their lives because of how much they're thinking about it. For other people, masturbating five to 10 times a day might not actually be impacting their life at all."

So when does your behaviour tip into something harmful? Cooke says the key word here is "compulsive", when a person feels they are unable to control or limit certain behaviours and might be involving themselves in "risky" – to the person themselves or the people around them – behaviours.

It's also worth noting if engaging in these behaviours becomes the most important part of your life. Cooke says cutting back might trigger emotional withdrawal symptoms, such as being distracted, upset, emotionally unavailable and more.

Sometimes, Cooke explains, people have gotten to a point where they're "using sex or sexual behaviours to modify their mood". Of course, most people have sex in some way to modify their mood, but if someone becomes dependent on sex to do that that could be a problem.

"It's taking away from your life instead of adding to it", she says.

This could include uncontrollable masturbation, cheating, illegal behaviours like certain kinds of exhibitionism and more.

To listen back to the full interview, click here.

If you have been affected by issues raised in this story, please visit: www.rte.ie/helplines.