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Triggers for sexual addiction are the thoughts and feelings that set the cycle of sex addiction in motion. There are two main types of sex addiction triggers – internal and external – and both can be incredibly powerful.

  • Internal triggers are uncomfortable emotions, feelings, and experiences such as boredom, shame, depression, anger, anxiety, guilt, fear, disappointment, loneliness, etc.
  • External triggers are people, places, things, and/or events that induce thoughts of sexual acting out – seeing an old affair partner, driving past a strip club, watching a sex scene in a movie, having a couple of cocktails in a bar, seeing an attractive person at the mall, etc.

silhouette-1078483_1280It is not uncommon for internal and external triggers to be connected. For instance, a sex addict might drive past a bar or club where he or she used to meet extramarital sex partners. Simply being in the vicinity will bring up memories of past sexual experiences, triggering a desire for more. Meanwhile, the addict might also feel shame and remorse about past behaviors and the in-the-moment sexual fantasies that he or she is suddenly having. This too creates a desire to act out.

Note: Not all triggers are negative in nature. Success and happiness can also create a desire to act out. Usually this is because the addict wants to “celebrate” with a sexual reward, though sometimes sex addicts simply feel entitled because things are going so well.

Common internal triggers for sex addiction include (but are by no means limited to) the following:

  • Boredom
  • Anxiety
  • Unresolved resentments
  • Anger
  • Loneliness
  • Shame
  • Stress
  • Sadness
  • Depression
  • Frustration
  • Fear

Common external triggers for sex addiction include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Unstructured free time
  • Losses and tragedies (especially if/when these are unexpected)
  • Traveling (especially alone)
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Exposure to sexual stimuli (especially if/when this is unexpected), such as driving past a sexy billboard, seeing an old acting out partner, meeting an attractive person, etc.
  • Arguments (with anyone)
  • Other people not behaving the way you think they should
  • Reprimands (especially from a loved one or an authority figure, like an employer)
  • Relationship issues
  • Trouble within the family (like a child struggling at school)
  • Significant life changes – job, finances, relocation, etc.

In truth, almost anything can be a trigger toward sexual addiction. Even memories can be triggers. For instance, if a sex addict’s boss looks at one of his or her coworkers crossly, this might remind the addict of an abusive parent, bringing past emotional discomfort to the surface – fear, anger, shame, etc. So the addict is triggered even though his or her boss’s has nothing whatsoever to do with the addict. It is the memory of past abuse that triggers the addiction, rather than anything occurring in the moment.

Needless to say, triggers are unavoidable in today’s stressed out, super-sexualized world. For starters, sex addicts vogue-405148_1280must constantly deal with the emotional rollercoaster of life in general and the emotional discomfort that induces. Plus, sexualized imagery lurks at every turn; even fast-food commercials can be highly sexual. So triggers are everywhere, all the time, and there is nothing that sex addicts can do about that fact beyond learning to recognize triggers quickly and to deal with them in healthy, non-addictive ways. The good news is that if a sex addict can learn what his or her primary triggers are, then he or she has a much better chance of establishing and maintaining sexual sobriety.


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, (@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 and 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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