Sex addiction is not the easiest thing to recognize, especially if you’re neck deep in it. Even outside observers (friends, family, therapists, etc.) sometimes struggle to identify the problem, primarily because sex addicts tend to be highly secretive about what they are doing. If you are worried about your (or someone else’s) sexual behaviors, and whether those behaviors may have escalated to the level of addiction, it may help if you understand the basic differences between casual, at-risk, and addictive sexuality.

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  • Casual Users of Sexual Activity are men and women who find non-intimate sexuality (porn, virtual sex, digital flirting, casual/anonymous hookups, affairs, strip clubs, prostitution, and the like) to be fascinating and fun. They involve themselves with these pleasurable distractions occasionally, though not obsessively. Much of the time, their behavior is driven by curiosity, novelty, or life-stage events. For instance, they may engage in non-intimate sexual activities (online or real-world) more often during adolescence and early adulthood, or after a relationship breakup. Typically, casual users find non-intimate sexuality to be an intermittent source of relaxation and fun, but not as meaningful or satisfying as deeper, more intimate connections. As such, their interest in non-intimate sexuality is not sustained over time.
  • At-Risk Users of Sexual Activity are men and women who experience periods of intense engagement with non-intimate sexuality, perhaps using it as a distraction from emotional discomfort and other life issues. Their usage may, during these periods, look like addiction. However, they can (and do) limit or stop their behaviors if/when they start to experience (or even to see the possibility of experiencing) adverse consequences. In other words, at-risk users can look a lot like addicted users. However, at-risk users can stop the activity on their own when they choose to do so.
  • Addicted Users of Sexual Fantasy and Activity are men and women who compulsively use non-intimate sexuality as a means of escape and dissociation, regardless of potential or actual consequences to themselves (or others). In other words, addicted users repetitively turn to sexual activity, using it as a way to numb out and not feel emotional discomfort. Furthermore, if they try to quit or cut back, they find that they cannot. Typically, they live a double life – keeping secrets, telling lies, manipulating, juggling, minimizing, justifying, etc. They also tend to lack empathy for those who are negatively affected by their addiction, including their spouses, kids, friends, neighbors, and employers. Sometimes they even blame their “need to be sexual” on the attitudes and actions of these other people.

In line with the information above, three primary criteria are used to identify sexual addiction:

  1. Preoccupation to the point of obsession with sexual fantasies and behaviors
  2. Loss of control over sexual fantasies and behaviors (best evidenced by failed attempts to quit or cut back)
  3. Directly related negative consequences – relationship problems, trouble at work or in school, shame, depression, declining self-esteem, social isolation, financial woes, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, STDs, loss of social standing, legal issues, sexual dysfunction, etc.

If you are worried that you or someone you care about might be sexually addicted, but you’re still not sure, click here for a fifteen question screening quiz (similar to the 20 questions test used by Alcoholics Anonymous). For more general information about sexual addiction, consider reading my recently published book, Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction. Or you can visit my website, www.robertweissmsw.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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