What is Sexual Addiction?

Dr. Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT

Sex addiction is a dysfunctional preoccupation with sex that continues for a period of at least six months, despite negative consequences and attempts to either quit or curtail the problem-causing behaviors. Or, stated more simply, sex addiction is an ongoing, out-of-control pattern of sexual fantasies and behaviors that causes problems in a person’s life.

Sex addiction is diagnosed based on three primary criteria:

  1. Preoccupation to the point of obsession. Sex addicts spend hours, sometimes even days, fantasizing about, planning for, pursuing, and eventually engaging in sexual acts (with self or others). They often “lose time” when floating around in their sexual obsession.
  2. Loss of control. Most sex addicts try, usually repeatedly, to either quit or cut back on their sexual behaviors. Sometimes they even succeed for a short while. But before they know it, they are back where they started, losing themselves in sexual obsession.
  3. Negative consequences. Sex addicts typically experience the same basic consequences as other addicts—problems at work or in school, relationship woes, financial issues, declining physical and/or emotional health, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, isolation, arrest, etc.

If you identify with these three criteria, it is quite possible that you are sexually addicted. If so, it’s likely that you are compulsively engaging in one or more of the following behaviors:

  • Hour after hour of porn and/or webcam use, with or without masturbation.
  • Losing oneself in hookup apps and similar technologies—dating sites, video chat, sexting, etc.
  • Constantly “hunting” for sex—cruising in the car for sex partners, surfing online for sex partners, hanging out in the steam room at the gym, etc.
  • An ongoing pattern of intense and highly sexualized affairs or brief “serial” relationships.
  • Consistently having casual and/or anonymous sex with people met online or in-person.
  • Consistently visiting strip clubs, adult bookstores/theatres, and other sex-driven environments.
  • Paying for (or being paid for) sex, sensual massage, eroticized domination, etc.
  • A pattern of unsafe sex—unprotected sex, sex with strangers, sex in public, etc.
  • Consistently seeking sex without regard to consequences—damaged relationships, financial issues, arrest, etc.

This listing of typical sex addict behaviors is wildly incomplete. That said, at least one or two of the activities listed above are nearly always among the behaviors that any sex addict struggles with.

Sex Addiction is Not About Sex

Interestingly, sex addiction is not about sex. It’s about “numbing out” and escaping from stress and other forms of emotional discomfort, such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, the pain of unresolved early-life trauma, etc. Sex addicts are hooked not on the sex act, but on the emotional intensity and escape produced by their sexual fantasies and patterns of behavior, including the endless search for the perfect video, the perfect sex partner, the perfect sexual encounter, etc. Often, sex addicts spend many hours, sometimes even days, in this elevated state—high on the goal/idea of having sex—without ever engaging in any concrete sexual act. They even have a name for this escapist, dissociated condition, referring to it as either “the bubble” or “the trance.”

If you think you might be sexually addicted but are still unsure, please click here to take our updated Sex and Porn Addiction Screening Test

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If you or a loved one are struggling with sex or sex/porn addiction, Seeking Integrity can help. In addition to residential rehab, we offer low-cost online workgroups for male sex addicts and male porn addicts new to recovery. Click HERE for information on our Sex Addiction Workgroup. Click HERE for information on our Porn Addiction workgroup.