Sex Addiction

Are you worried about the way you, or someone you care about, is participating in sexual activities?

Sex addiction is a process, or behavioural, addiction and is characterised by compulsive participation in sexual activities including sexual acts and fantasies with or without partners, masturbation and pornography, to alter mood, escape problems, or manage uncomfortable feelings.

Sex addicts come to depend on these sexual activities and fantasies to feel better in some way, and to experience cravings for them, just as happens with a substance addiction.

As the addiction develops, the sex addict spends increasing time and energy in sexual preoccupation. They will often follow a routine or ritual, leading to acting out their desires, followed by feelings of shame, despair, confusion and denial. These ritualized behaviours may include accessing online pornography, frequenting the same bars and clubs, using sex workers, or other behaviours that build up over time. They experience a lack of ability to control, or postpone, sexual feelings and actions – with the need for arousal often replacing the need for emotional closeness and intimacy.

As time passes the sex addict continues to seek out these sexual activities in spite of the resulting negative consequences such as relationship difficulties, health consequences, reputational and/or legal issues.

Sex addiction can be divided into the 3 levels described below. Though the addict does not usually progress through the levels, the progression within each level follows the same pattern of any addiction.

  1. Sexual behaviours such as affairs, pornographic materials, X-rated movies, compulsive masturbation
  2. Behaviours that can result in misdemeanor charges: Voyeurism (peeping tom), exhibitionism (flashing), obscene phone calls.
  3. Behaviours that are considered criminal offences: Rape, incest and molestation.

Cybersex Addiction  (Online Pornography Addiction)

Cybersex addiction is characterized by compulsive use of online pornography, sexually explicit adult chat rooms, or the Internet or online access as a means of seeking sexual gratification. The anonymity of cyberspace allows people to conceal their age, marital status, gender, race, vocation, or appearance, which allows a person to experiment and secretly begin to explore things online that they would never do in real life.

Sex addiction is a “process” addiction:

Process or behavioural addictions are patterns of behaviour, which follow a cycle similar to that of drug or alcohol addiction.

This begins with the individual experiencing pleasure in association with a behaviour or process and seeking that behaviour or process out, either for enjoyment or to distract from or avoid uncomfortable emotions. The process of seeking out and engaging in the behaviour becomes more frequent and ritualized, until it becomes a significant part of the person's life.

When the person is addicted, they experience urges or cravings to engage in the process or behaviour, which intensify until the person carries out the process or behaviour again, resulting in feelings of relief and/or elation. Eventually negative consequences start to mount as a result of engaging in the behaviour but the compulsion to experience the process or behaviour is so strong that they continue despite the resulting problems.

The development of a sex addiction generally has the same 3 stages as chemical addictions:

  1. Experimentation – often begins during the teenage years where the young person experiences arousal  
  2. Habitual patterning – the process of developing patterns of sexual behaviour and fantasy which become normalized in your life
  3. Dependency – becoming increasingly dependent on the sexual activities or fantasies to manage some aspects of your life, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop

Sex Addiction is a cunning and baffling disease that creeps up on you over a period of time as habitual patterns of thinking and behaving develop and become a regular part of your life. Your relationship with the sexual activities and fantasies becomes characterised by obsession and compulsion. The obsession refers to the way you think about sexual experiences – the time you spend thinking about when you next have the opportunity to participate in sexual activities or fantasies, and planning what you will do, how you will do it etc. The compulsion refers to loss of control over your impulse to participate in these behaviours, resulting in your continuing to keep doing it, even when you have good reasons for stopping.

The disease of Sex Addiction is far more complex than just the behaviour of engaging in the problem sexual activities and fantasies too much.

There are two main ways that a Sex Addiction presents:

  1. Regular or habitual acting out
    Characterised by participating in the problematic sexual activity on a daily or near daily basis accompanied by the signs and symptoms below
  2. Binge or “bender,” or “heavy episodic sexual activity”
    Episodic patterns of participating in problematic sexual activity, often with periods of no problematic sexual activities for days or weeks between

Signs of Sex Addiction

Increasing tolerance: Escalating the range, risk, or frequency of sexual activity to achieve the desired effect, such as changing types of pornography, frequent visits to prostitutes or more sex partners.

Impaired control: Lacking the ability to control, or postpone, sexual feelings and actions and/or continually engaging in excessive sexual practices despite a desire to stop.

Withdrawal: Experiencing intense cravings, restlessness and/or irritability when unable to engage in the desired behavior, or when attempting to cut down or stop.

Symptoms of Sex Addiction

  • Sexual preoccupation – constant or continual fantasies about sexual prospects or situations
  • Ritualisation – a preferred sexual activity or situation develops that is often repetitive and stereotyped
  • Compulsion – continuing to engage in the sexual activity despite negative consequences and a desire to stop
  • Despair – guilt and shame about their inability to control their behaviour
  • Neglecting responsibilities (family, work, financial) to concentrate on sexual activities
  • Using sexual activities to escape problems or uncomfortable feelings
  • Lying about, or concealing, sexual behaviours and activities at home and/or work, to family, friends or employer
  • Engaging in sexual behaviours or activities that could be considered risky and/or inappropriate
  • Experiencing intrusive sexual thoughts or fantasies at inappropriate times
  • Often relating to other people in a seductive or flirtatious manner, or with underlying sexual innuendo
  • Blaming relationship problems on sex life
  • Spending considerable time in activities related to sex, such as cruising for partners, or spending hours online visiting pornographic websites
  • Escalating range, risk or frequency of sexual activity to achieve the desired effect, such as more frequent visits to prostitutes or more sex partners.
  • Feeling irritable when unable to engage in the desired behavior
  • Continuing to engage in the sexual activities despite negative consequences, such as broken relationships or potential health risks

Negative consequences

A strong indicator of Sex Addiction is when a person continues to engage in sexual activities despite the negative consequences resulting from their behaviour, or choices. Some of these problematic consequences may include:

  • Health consequences – have you ever engaged in unsafe sexual practices, contracted sexually transmitted infections or experienced sexual violence?
  • Financial consequences –How much money have you spent on pursuing sexual activities? Do you have secret credit cards or accounts, or financial problems as a result of your sexual activities?
  • Legal consequences –have you been in trouble with the law, or participated in illegal activities associated with your sexual behavior?
  • Relational consequences – have your relationships suffered as a result of your sexual activities? Have you lied about your sexual behaviour, or has it caused conflict in your family? Do you blame your relationship problems on your sex life?
  • Reputational consequences – have you ever felt ashamed of, or concealed your sexual activities even from your partner?
  • Career consequences – how has your sex addiction impacted your performance at work and prospect for career progression?
  • Spiritual consequences – how much time have you spent despairing about the way your life path is unfolding?

Sex Addiction Realities

Recovery from sex addiction is likely to be more successful when co-existing issues, underlying causes and environmental factors are addressed at the same time as you stop engaging in the problematic sexual activities.

Withdrawing from a process addiction such as sex addiction can be very challenging, uncomfortable and confusing when attempting it alone. For this reason a professionally supervised treatment program is strongly recommended.

Addiction is a cunning, baffling and deadly disease and is most effectively treated in a therapeutic environment supported by addiction specialist health professionals.

If you would like to speak to someone who understands sex addiction, and who can discuss the your particular situation and treatment needs, we suggest that you call our assessment team who will offer a free and confidential preliminary chat, or full assessment if that is your preference.

Take the first step into treatment today by phoning or emailing our assessment team on 1800 063 332.