Mark Hillman, Ph.D., (PSY) LMHC My Therapist is Making Me Nuts!Written by Mark Hillman

Take Me Away
From Troubled Times


Sex Addiction


Sexual desire can be healthy and safe, but like the desire to drink or eat, it can also grow beyond a person's control. And when it does, it can create problems in other aspects of life such as family, friendship, career and recreation. Sex addicts feel they need greater and greater sexual stimulation, more and more often, and will sacrifice almost anything to get it.

Sexual addiction can be understood by comparing it to other types of addiction. Chemical addicts find they need drugs to feel normal. In sexual addiction, a parallel situation exists. Sex provides the "high" and addicts become dependent on this sexual high to feel normal. They substitute healthy relationships for unhealthy ones and opt for temporary pleasure rather than the deeper quality of "normal" intimate relationships.

Sexual addiction follows the same progressive nature of other addictions. Sexual addicts struggle to control their behaviors and experience despair over constant failure to do so. Their loss of self-esteem grows, adding to the need to escape further into addictive behavior. Sexual addicts feel tremendous guilt and shame about their out-of-control behavior, and live in constant fear of discovery.


What behaviors indicate sexual addiction?

A pattern of out-of-control sexual behavior. Examples include: Compulsive masturbation, indulging in pornography, having multiple affairs, exhibitionism, dangerous sexual practices, prostitution, anonymous sex, compulsive sexual episodes and voyeurism.

Experiencing severe consequences due to sexual behavior, and an inability to stop despite these adverse consequences. Consequences include: Loss of partner or spouse, severe marital or relationship problems, loss of career opportunities, unwanted pregnancies, suicidal ideation, exposure to AIDS or other sexually transmitted disease.

Persistent pursuit of self-destructive behavior. Sexual addicts understand the consequences of their actions but cannot stop acting out. They often seem to have a willfulness about them and an attitude that prevents them from dealing with the consequences of their behavior until it is too late.

On-going desire or effort to limit sexual behavior. Sex addicts often create external barriers in an attempt to control their sexual behavior. Examples include moving to new cities, neighborhoods, or a new environment. Many immerse themselves in religion to soothe their shame, but their acting out continues. Sexual anorexia is also attempted in which they allow themselves no sexual expression at all.

Sexual obsession and fantasy as a primary coping strategy. By fantasizing, the sex addict can maintain a constant level of arousal. Along with obsession, the two behaviors can create a kind of analgesic "fix".

Regularly increasing the amount of sexual experience because the current level of activity is no longer sufficiently satisfying. Sexual addiction is often progressive and while many sex addicts may attempt to control their behavior for a period of time, the behavior returns and quickly escalates to levels beyond those previously experienced. Bingeing occurs to the point of emotional exhaustion, and withdrawal for sex addicts can parallel the physical pain experienced by those withdrawing from opiate addiction.

Severe mood changes related to sexual activity. Sex addicts experience intense shifts in mood, often due to the despair and shame of unwanted sex.

Inordinate amounts of time spent obtaining sex, being sexual, and recovering from sexual experiences. Two sets of activities organize a sexual addict's day. One involves obsession, devoting them to initiating sex, and actually being sexual, the other is dealing with consequences of the sexual behavior.

Neglect of important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of sexual behavior. As more of the addict's energy is focused on relationships with sexual potential, healthy relationships and activities suffer from neglect.


How do I know if I am a sex addict?

The following are questions you may ask yourself:

  1. Do you keep secrets about your sexual or romantic activities from those important to you?
  2. Do you lead a double life, one hidden and one public?
  3. Have you had sex in places or situations or with people you would not normally choose?
  4. Have you promised yourself or others you would never do that again and do?
  5. Do you find yourself looking for sexually arousing articles or scenes in newspapers, magazines, or other media?
  6. Do you find that romantic or sexual fantasies interfere with your relationships or are preventing you from facing problems?
  7. Do you frequently want to get away from a sex partner after having sex?
  8. Do you frequently feel remorse, shame, or guilt after a sexual encounter?
  9. Do you feel shame about your body or your sexuality, such that you avoid touching your body or engaging in sexual relationships?
  10. Do you fear that you have no sexual feelings, that you are asexual?
  11. Does each new relationship continue to have the same destructive patterns which prompted you to leave the last relationship?
  12. Is it taking more variety and frequency of sexual and romantic activities than previously to bring the same levels of excitement and relief?
  13. Have you ever been arrested or are you in danger of being arrested because of your practices of voyeurism, exhibitionism, prostitution, sex with minors, indecent phone calls, etc.?
  14. Does your pursuit of sex or romantic relationships interfere with your spiritual beliefs or development?
  15. Do your sexual activities include the risk, threat, or reality of disease, pregnancy, coercion, or violence?
  16. Has your sexual or romantic behavior ever left you feeling hopeless, alienated from others, or suicidal?

Return to Addictive Disorders