Sometimes people wonder if sex addiction and porn addiction are the same thing. The answer to that question is a somewhat complicated “yes, but no.” Or maybe the real answer is “no, but yes.”

Defining Sex and Porn Addiction

For starters, the criteria utilized by Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSATs) to diagnose sex and porn addiction are the same:
  1. Preoccupation to the point of obsession.
  2. Loss of control, typically evidenced by multiple failed attempts to quit or cut back.
  3. Directly related negative life consequences—relationship woes, trouble at work or in school, anxiety, shame, depression, diminished self-esteem, compartmentalization, social and emotional isolation, loss of interest in previously enjoyable hobbies and activities, legal problems, etc.
More importantly, the World Health Organization’s Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder diagnosis covers both online and real-world sexuality.

Compulsive sexual behavior disorder is characterized by a persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive sexual behavior. Symptoms may include:

  • Repetitive sexual activities becoming a central focus of the person’s life to the point of neglecting health and personal care or other interests, activities, and responsibilities.
  • Numerous unsuccessful efforts to significantly reduce repetitive sexual behavior.
  • Continued repetitive sexual behavior despite adverse consequences or deriving little or no satisfaction from it.

The pattern of failure to control intense sexual impulses or urges and resulting repetitive sexual behavior is manifested over an extended period of time (e.g., 6 months or more), and causes marked distress or significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Distress that is entirely related to moral judgments and disapproval about sexual impulses, urges, or behaviors is not sufficient to meet this requirement.

So in these respects, sex and porn addiction are quite similar. That said, not all sex addicts struggle with pornography, and not all porn addicts struggle with other forms of sexual behavior.

The Same, But Different

Most of the people who self-identify as sex addicts do find that pornography is part of their addictive pattern. Typically, they view sex and porn addiction as being one and the same.

For an analogy, consider alcoholism. If someone drinks whiskey compulsively, he or she may self-identify as alcoholic. If someone drinks wine or beer compulsively, he or she may also self-identify as alcoholic. It’s all alcohol, right?

Based on that, we might think that sex addiction and porn addiction are the same thing because it’s all compulsive sexual behavior, right?

But individuals for whom pornography is the primary (and perhaps sole) sexual outlet often view things differently. They think, If I’m not having sex, I can’t be a sex addict. My issue is porn, not sex. And if you ask these individuals to find recovery in a 12-step support group for sex addiction, they tend to feel out of place. They hear other group members talking about affairs, serial hookups, and other forms of in-person sexuality, and they struggle to connect. They just don’t see “sex” (beyond pornography) as part of their addiction. So they self-identify as porn addicted, not sex addicted, and they likely need a support group focused specifically on pornography.

And let’s face it: As the internet has made porn more accessible and affordable, more and more people are utilizing it as their primary or sole sexual outlet. In fact, many of the people who struggle with porn have never had real-world sex with another person. This is especially prevalent with some of the younger individuals I see. Sometimes they have never even been on a date. They found online porn, they got hooked on it, and they’ve not moved beyond it.

We can hardly expect such individuals to self-identify as sex addicts. Yes, they’re addicted to a sexual behavior—viewing and (usually) masturbating to pornography. But they feel it is erroneous to label themselves as sex addicts when they have never or hardly ever experienced in-person sexual contact with another person.

Does the Distinction Matter?

At the end of the day, most of the people who self-identify as sexually addicted will also identify as porn addicted, or at least as wanting to cut back on their porn use. But those who primarily self-identify as porn addicts often do not consider themselves sexually addicted. Ultimately, beyond the fact that those who self-identify as porn addicts may not feel comfortable in therapy or 12-step meetings for sex addicts, the designation doesn’t matter. What matters is that the individual admits there is a problem of a sexual nature that he or she needs to deal with.

12-Step Programs for Sex and Porn Addiction

There are numerous 12-step programs for sex addicts, sex and porn addicts, and porn addicts. These programs include:

Free resources, including blogs, podcasts, online discussion groups, and more can be found at SexandRelationshipHealing.com. Professional help is available through SeekingIntegrity.com.

Author

Robert Weiss PhD, LCSW is Chief Clinical Officer of Seeking Integrity LLC, a unified group of online and real-world communities helping people to heal from intimacy disorders like compulsive sexual behavior and related drug abuse. As Chief Clinical Officer, Dr. Rob led the development and implementation of Seeking Integrity’s residential treatment programming and serves as an integral part of the treatment team. He is the author of ten books on sexuality, technology, and intimate relationships, including Sex Addiction 101, Out of the Doghouse, and Prodependence. His Sex, Love, and Addiction Podcast is currently in the Top 10 of US Addiction-Health Podcasts. Dr. Rob hosts a no-cost weekly Sex and Intimacy Q&A on Seeking Integrity’s self-help website, SexandRelationshipHealing.com (@SexandHealing). The Sex and Relationship Healing website provides free information for addicts, partners of addicts, and therapists dealing with sex addiction, porn addiction, and substance abuse issues. Dr. Rob can be contacted via Seeking Integrity.com and SexandRelationshipHealing.com. All his writing is available on Amazon, while he can also be found on Twitter (@RobWeissMSW), on LinkedIn (Robert Weiss LCSW), and on Facebook (Rob Weiss MSW).

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