How do I know if I have a sex addiction?

Contents

Love, Lust or Addiction?

Wonder whether you’re in love or in lust? Whether your obsession about someone is a sign of love or addiction? Whether you’re staying in a troubled relationship because you’re addicted or in love? It’s complicated, and lust and love and addiction don’t always exclude one another. Endless analyzing doesn’t help or change our feelings, because we’re often driven by forces outside our conscious awareness.

Initial attraction stirs up neurotransmitters and hormones that create the excitement of infatuation and a strong desire to be close and sexual with the person. These chemicals and our emotional and psychological makeup can cause us to obfuscate reality and idealize the object of our attraction. Time spent in fantasy fuels our craving to be with him or her. This is normal when it doesn’t take over our lives.

When it’s purely lust, we’re not too interested in spending time together without sex or the expectation of it. We don’t want to discuss real-life problems and may not even want to spend the night. Fantasies are mostly sexual or about the person’s appearance and body, and we aren’t interested in meeting the person’s needs outside the bedroom — or maybe even inside!

Sex releases oxytocin, the love chemical that makes us want to nest with our partner. As we get to know our lover, we may want to spend more or less time together, depending on what we learn. At this juncture, our brain chemicals as well as our attachment style and psychological issues can lead us to become codependently attached through a romance or love addiction that feels like love, but is more driven by our need for the chemical rush to avoid feelings of abandonment, depression and low self-esteem.

Excitement and desire may be heightened by intrigue or our partner’s unpredictability or unavailability. We may remain attached and even crave our partner, but our discomfort or unhappiness grows. Instead of focusing on that, our hunger to be with him or her takes center stage, despite the fact that disturbing facts or character traits arise that are hard to ignore. We may feel controlled or neglected, unsafe or disrespected, or discover that our partner is unreliable, or lies, manipulates, rages, has secrets, or has a major problem, such as drug addiction or serious legal or financial troubles.

Nonetheless, we stay and don’t heed our better judgment to leave. Increasingly, we hide our worries and doubts and rely on sex, romance, and fantasy to sustain the relationship. Out of sympathy, we might even be drawn to help and “rescue” our partner or try to change him or her back into the ideal we “fell” for. These are signs of addiction.

But lust also can lead to true love as we become attached to and get to know our sexual partner, and lust doesn’t always fade. I’ve seen couples married for decades who enjoy a vibrant sex life. However, true love does require that we recognize our separateness and love our mate for who he or she truly is.

There’s always some idealization in a new relationship, but true love endures when that fades. As the relationship grows, we develop trust and greater closeness. Instead of trying to change our partner, we accept him or her. We want to share more of our time and life together, including our problems and friends and family. Our lover’s needs, feelings, and happiness become important to us, and we think about planning a future together. When the passion is still there, we’re lucky to have both love and lust.

Love and codependency may coexist or be hard to differentiate, because codependents idealize and often happily self-sacrifice for their partner. When differences and serious problems are largely ignored, minimized, or rationalized, it looks more like codependency, because we’re not really seeing or loving the whole person. Facing the truth would create inner conflict about our fear of emptiness and loneliness. Similarly, when our emphasis is on how our partner makes us feel or how he or she feels about us, our “love” is based on our self-centered, codependent need.

Healthy relationships and codependent, addictive ones have very different trajectories. Healthy partners don’t “fall in love;” they “grow in love.” They’re not as driven by overwhelming, unconscious fears and needs.

Compare:

Codependent Relationships

  • Intense attraction — feel anxious
  • Idealize each other, ignoring differences
  • Fall “in love” and make commitments
  • Get to know each other
  • Become disappointed
  • Cling to fantasy of love
  • Try to change our partner into our ideal
  • Feel resentful and unloved

Healthy Relationships

  • Attraction and friendship begin — feel comfortable
  • Attraction grows as they know each other
  • Acknowledge differences (or leave)
  • Grow to love each other
  • Make commitments
  • Compromise needs
  • Love and acceptance of each other deepens
  • Feel supported and loved

Codependency is an addiction and underlies all other addictions, including sex addiction, and romance, relationship, and love addiction. Lust and love and love and addiction can overlap. When we heal our codependency, we can see whether love remains. We might even leave an unhealthy relationship and still love our ex. Meanwhile, some things are knowable:

  • It takes time to love someone. Love at first sight may be triggered by many things, but it’s not love.
  • Having sex with strangers or frequent multiple partners is a sign of sexual addiction.
  • Compulsive activity, whether sexual or romantic, that feels out of control, such as compulsive sex, stalking, spying, constant calling or texting is a sign of addiction.
  • Ignoring your partner’s boundaries, and abusing, controlling or manipulating him or her (including people-pleasing or rescuing) are signs of addiction.
  • Using sex or a relationship to cope with emptiness, depression, anger, shame, or anxiety is a sign of addiction.
  • Using sex or romance to substitute for vulnerable, authentic intimacy is a symptom of addiction.
  • Staying in a painful relationship out of fear of abandonment or loneliness is a sign of codependency and addiction, not love.
  • Inability to commit to a relationship or staying involved with someone who is emotionally unavailable shows a fear of intimacy — a symptom of addiction.
  • Trusting too much or too little are signs of addiction.
  • Sacrificing your values or standards to be with someone is a sign of addiction.

Healing from codependency and addiction require effort and the support of a 12-step program or psychotherapy. It’s very hard to abstain from compulsive, addictive behavior without support because the unconscious forces driving us and the pain of abstinence are overwhelming. There is hope and a way out. Recovery includes:

  • Learning more about the symptoms of codependency.
  • Healing the shame and abandonment pain of your childhood.
  • Building your self-esteem.
  • Learning to be assertive.
  • Learning to honor and meet your needs and nurture yourself.
  • Risking being authentic about your feelings and needs.

To learn more and start healing, do the exercises in my books Codependency for Dummies and Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You and ebooks 10 Steps to Self-Esteem and How to Speak Your Mind: Become Assertive and Set Limits.

©Darlene Lancer 2014

Love, Lust or Addiction?

Sex Addiction Symptoms, Causes and Effects

What Causes an Addiction to Sex?

Sexual addiction, like porn addiction, can develop due to factors that encompass all aspects of an individual’s life. These include:

Biological:

  • Genes: You may have a genetic predisposition to emotional dysregulation, impulsivity, or sensation-seeking behavior. You may also have a predisposition to other traits that are commonly associated with sexual addiction, like anxiety or depression.
  • Hormones: As one might expect, higher levels of sex hormones like testosterone or estrogen can affect libido. If you are inclined towards impulsive behavior and have high levels of sex-related hormones, you may be more likely to engage in excess sexual activities.

Psychological:

  • Environmental influences: Early-life environmental factors, including adverse events like abuse or exposure to sexual content, can contribute to some of the underlying characteristics that drive hypersexual behavior.
  • Mental health: Anxiety, depression, personality disorders, poor impulse control, and performance anxiety might be simultaneous issues that one struggles with alongside sex addiction. Those that have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, or have a tendency toward “manic” states, are much more likely to engage in excessive or risky sexual behavior.

Social:

  • Rejection in relationships and social circles can lead to other, less healthy ways to find sexual gratification.
  • Social isolation: Not only does social isolation increase one’s likelihood of seeking inappropriate ways of being sexually gratified, it also leads to a host of other problems–like depression and physical maladies–that can contribute to sex addictions or unhealthy sex behaviors.
  • Social learning: Watching others perform a behavior, or “modeling,” is one way to learn something new–especially when you “like” or “identify” with that person. So having a friend, or a group of friends, who engage in excessive sexual activities or porn viewing can influence you in a very subtle, yet powerful, way.

Can Sex Addiction Be Treated?

Yes, sex addiction can be treated. You will typically want to speak with a mental health professional, like a psychologist or licensed social worker. They will help you address some of the underlying factors that are maintaining your sex or porn addiction, and teach you to cope with your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a healthy way.

Some treatment options include:

  • Individual therapy
    • 30-60 minute sessions with a certified mental health professional, focused on your sexually compulsive behaviors and any co-occurring disorders.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
    • Focuses on the idea that our behaviors, emotions, and thoughts are all interrelated and works to change negative thoughts to positive thoughts and self-talk.
  • Psychodynamic therapy.
    • Built around the premise that unconscious memories and conflicts affect our behavior, Psychodynamic therapy uncovers early childhood influencers of current habits or present factors that contribute to the current sex addiction.
  • Dialectical-Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
    • Contains four components: skills training group, individual treatment, DBT phone coaching, and consultation team and these four components are designed to teach four skills: mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotion regulation.
  • Group therapy
    • Led by qualified therapists, group therapy is designed to replace negative and detrimental behaviors with pro-social and positive ones. It provides the addict with assurance that he or she is not alone in his or her experiences.
  • Couple’s counseling or Marriage counseling.
    • This can be very beneficial for the sex addict and his or her partner. Couple’s counseling can help to improve communication skills, trust, and healthy sexual functioning between partners.
  • 12-step recovery.
    • Sex Addicts Anonymous imitates the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous and is a group-based model focused on acknowledging one’s powerlessness and willingness to live a life free of addiction.
  • Inpatient therapy.
    • There are some inpatient recovery centers designed to treat sex and porn addiction. The patient resides at the recovery facility for the duration of treatment so that he or she can focus on the healing process without the distractions and temptations of everyday life.

To find an addiction treatment center or to find out more information about the process of treating sex and/or porn addiction, call .

Medication: Are There Sex Addiction Drug Options?

There are currently no US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medications for the treatment of sex addiction.

  • Although some research has been conducted, conclusive recommendations cannot be made because of a lack of randomized controlled trials.

Sex addiction and related sexual dysfunctions frequently co-occur with conditions such as anxiety and depression and can be treated with medications such as antidepressants.

  • Antidepressants called SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) can decrease intense sexual urges and cravings that characterize sexual addictions by mitigating the brain’s response to rewarding behaviors.

If a patient doesn’t respond well to antidepressants, there are a couple of other options.

  • Naltrexone, a drug used for the treatment of alcoholism and opioid addiction, has been shown to decrease sexually compulsive behaviors.

Additionally, anti-androgenic medications can help curb sexual cravings by decreasing the levels of male hormones in the body.

  • However, there is a lack of controlled trials in research on anti-androgenic medications and severe side effects have been reported, raising questions about their overall efficacy.
  • Further, the effect of anti-androgenic medications is temporary and hormone levels will return to normal once cessation occurs.

Medication Overdose

If your doctor prescribes you medication, be sure to read the label carefully and follow the doctor’s dosage instructions in order to avoid an overdose. If you feel tempted to overdose on your medication, call for help immediately.

Medication Side Effects

Although there are no FDA-approved medications for sex or porn addiction, antidepressants are one of the most common medications prescribed to treat sex addiction. Antidepressants are very safe to take but can have some side effects.

  • Gastrointestinal disturbances.
  • Weight gain.
  • Sleep disturbance.
  • Anxiety.

Naltrexone, a medication used to treat alcohol and opioid addiction, has proven promising in treating sex and porn addiction. It may cause some side effects as well:

  • Nervousness.
  • Dizziness.
  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Muscle or joint pain.
  • Sleep disturbance.
  • Rash.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Irritability.
  • Drowsiness.

While these side effects may be troubling, some side effects are far more dangerous and life-threatening:

  • Hallucinations.
  • Confusion.
  • Severe vomiting and/or diarrhea.
  • Blurred vision.

Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of these serious side effects.

Anti-androgens, medications that block the effects of male hormones, present with an array of side effects:

  • Impaired memory.
  • Impaired concentration.
  • Impaired verbal skills.
  • Moodiness.
  • Excessive crying.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Hot flushes.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Constipation.
  • Nausea/vomiting.
  • Weight gain/increases in fat deposits.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Decrease in muscle mass.
  • Fatigue.

Similarities Between Being Addicted to a Drug and Addicted to Sex

Effects on the Brain

Drug addiction and sex addiction have similar effects on the brain–both primarily influence the brain’s reward system through a neurotransmitter called dopamine. When a person satisfies a need or desire that is vital to survival or reproduction, dopamine is released, causing the person to experience pleasure or euphoria. This reinforces the expectation of reward and increases the desire to engage in the underlying behavior.

  • The use of a drug stimulates the release of dopamine and mimics those behaviors necessary for survival, causing a person to become increasingly reliant on drugs for the release of dopamine.
  • Sex addiction works in a similar manner; each time a sex addict partakes in sexual behaviors, he or she experiences a rush of endorphins, creating a powerful incentive to engage in the behavior again.
  • This perpetuates a vicious cycle and the person finds that he or she is driven and controlled by the desire for reward.

This is what makes it so difficult for addicts to quit and why professional help should be sought.

Dependence

Many sex addicts believe that they are in control of their behaviors, but without proper treatment, they can develop dependence. It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of dependence, so that you can seek help immediately. A few signs include:

  • Loss of control around sexual activity.
  • Development of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Preoccupation with desire for sexual behavior.
  • Avoiding responsibilities and/or enjoyable activities in favor of sexual behavior.

Perhaps the most important sign that one is dependent on sex is that the person continues to partake in sexual behavior despite negative consequences caused by the behavior, such as:

  • Failing marriage.
  • Missing work.
  • Ruining friendships.
  • Health problems.
  • Financial problems.

Withdrawal

Withdrawal is a characteristic feature of chemical addictions and reports indicate that individuals struggling with sexual addictions frequently report experiencing withdrawal after a reduction in sexual activity. Withdrawal symptoms can include but are not limited to:

  • Irritability.
  • Craving.
  • Depression.
  • Restlessness.
  • Anxiety.
  • Guilt or shame.

It is important to note that no two sex addicts are the same and that withdrawal symptoms may vary.

Sex Addiction and Substance Abuse

There is a significant correlation between sexual addiction and substance use disorders:

  • According to some research, an estimated 40-64% of sex addicts also have a substance abuse disorder.
  • Alcohol abuse is most common, present in 30-40%, followed by marijuana abuse, present in 18-21.7%.

Treating co-occurring addictions is a complex process. Medical professionals must assess the pattern of drug use and sexual behaviors and how they relate to each other. Research indicates that there are two important things to consider when evaluating the relation:

  • Whether the addictions are alternating or parallel.
  • Whether they interact in an escalating manner.

Once the interaction of multiple addictions is assessed, then proper treatment can be administered.

While some sex addicts use substances in order to cope with the pain and guilt caused by their sexual behaviors, others use them to enhance the sexual experience. If you think that you have issues with both sex addiction and substance addiction, it is critical to your recovery that you find a treatment center that can cater to both of these addictions.

Sex Addiction and Mental Health Disorders

There seems to be a high correlation between sex addiction and psychiatric conditions, particularly mood, anxiety and personality disorders.

  • According to some research, around 40% of individuals struggling with a sexual addiction or compulsion also have a history of mood disorders such as depression.
  • The correlation between depression and sex addiction is one of the reasons that antidepressants can be useful when treating sex addiction.

Clinical depression, which is often co-occurring with sex addiction, is a serious mental health illness that, if left untreated, can be life-threatening. Typical symptoms include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood.
  • Feelings of hopelessness.
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness.
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities.
  • Fatigue.

Difficulty concentrating on tasks.

  • Sleeping too much or too little.
  • Restlessness, irritability.
  • Suicide thoughts or attempts.

Again, if you are a sex addict and believe that you suffer from depression, contact your medical provider immediately. It is pertinent that your treatment plan addresses both your depression and sex addiction.

Understanding Intimacy: Love and Romance Addiction

At 5:01 p.m. Mary rushes away from her desk at work, eager to get home so she can check her eHarmony and Match.com profiles. She skips the gym for the umpteenth time, eats a frozen pizza for dinner, and chats obsessively with the men she meets on dating and video chat sites – searching for “the one” until her eyes are so tired that she can hardly see. Mary, obviously, is obsessed with romance. She has read the Fifty Shades trilogy so many times that she’s lost count. She even uses Fifty Shades as justification for her own behaviors. She reasons that if Anastasia could find such a deep romantic intensity with Christian, then she can find the perfect man too. Hence, her endless online search. Plus, her ability to self-soothe with romantic fantasies about Anastasia and Christian (or about herself and whomever it is that she met and fell for that day) is what gets her through her life. It’s her go-to coping mechanism whenever she’s feeling blue. Some people have a glass (or a bottle) of wine; Mary has romance.

Without doubt, healthy romantic love is a beautiful thing. Unfortunately, addictive love is not. In truth, when individuals are preoccupied to the point of obsession with falling and/or being in love, they tend to behave in highly regrettable ways– just like alcoholics, drugs addicts, compulsive gamblers, compulsive spenders, sex addicts, etc. And over time love addicts inevitably experience the same basic consequences: depression, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, ruined relationships, trouble at work or in school, declining physical and/or emotional health, financial woes, loss of interest family, friends, hobbies and other previously enjoyable activities, and more.

Generally speaking, love addicts are people whose ability to self-regulate, reduce anxiety and remain hopeful about the future rests almost entirely on the neurochemical rush of new romance – that wonderfully exciting time when the other person’s thoughts, actions and very existence are the most important things on earth. In this ephemeral relationship stage the other person seems endlessly fascinating, and his or her character flaws (the things that eventually become bothersome) are easily ignored, mostly thanks to the release of dopamine, along with oxytocin, serotonin, adrenaline and various other endorphins, into the rewards center of the brain. Importantly, this neurochemical reaction matches the neurochemical surge wrought by addictive sexual fantasy/activity and drugs of abuse. So it’s no real surprise that new romance can be just as addictive as sex or cocaine.

…this neurochemical reaction matches the neurochemical surge wrought by addictive sexual fantasy/activity and drugs of abuse. So it’s no real surprise that new romance can be just as addictive as sex or cocaine.-Robert Weiss

It’s important to state that love addicts are not hooked on love. Instead, they’re addicted to limerence (the neurochemical rush of new romance). As time passes, they continually try to extend and/or repeat this early, intensely pleasurable phase of their relationships. What they fail to understand is that limerence (and the neurochemical rush that drives it) are temporary sensations. In short, limerence is not the endgame of healthy relationships, it is the catalyst for longer-term connections, serving as the glue that keeps people interested in one another long enough to potentially form a deeper and more meaningful (albeit less neurochemically intense) desire for intimacy.

Love addicts, rather than sticking with someone and allowing longer-term emotional bonds to form, attempt to perpetually extend the neurochemical excitement of early romance. In essence, their “drug” is the rush they feel whenever they meet someone new who might be “the one.” And they use this drug to get high in the same ways and for the same reasons that alcoholics drink and drug addicts take drugs – to escape from stress and other forms of emotional or sometimes even physical discomfort.
For the most part, the diagnostic criteria for love addiction are the same as with substance addiction. The DSM-5 lists eleven criteria for substance addiction (officially referred to as Substance Use Disorder), any two of which must be present for a diagnosis. And that listing could certainly be adapted for use here. In the interest of brevity, however, I will focus here on the three primary indicators. They are as follows:

  • For six months or more, love addicts are preoccupied to the point of obsession with new relationships, ongoing relationships, romantic fantasies and the like.
  • Love addicts have lost control over their romantic fantasies and relationships. Most often this “loss of control” is evidenced by failed attempts to quit or at least to curtail their obsessive search for love.
  • Love addicts, like other addicts, experience negative life consequences that are directly (and indirectly) related to their obsessive behaviors.

Love vs. Sex Addicts
Love addicts sometimes look and act quite a bit like sex addicts – engaging in lots of sex with lots of people. However, love addicts use sex as a tool for hooking and/or holding on to a romantic partner, whereas sex addicts typically do the opposite, using the lure of romance to obtain a sexual partner. In short, love addicts are chasing escape and dissociation via romantic fantasy and activity, while sex addicts are chasing escape and dissociation via sexual fantasy and activity.

Typically, love addicts new to treatment and recovery have little to no understanding of their disorder. They are nearly always deeply in denial about their behavior and its consequences. (These issues are common with addicts of all types, not just love addicts.) Rather than recognizing that they are the one common denominator in their many failed relationships, love addicts typically push the blame onto those with whom they’ve been romantically entangled. Essentially, if their inability to find and keep “the one” is someone else’s fault, they needn’t look at and address their own shortcomings.

Sometimes people think that love addiction is an entirely female issue. It is not. Men can be addicted to romance just as easily as women can be addicted to sex. Sometimes men choose to talk about their romantic issues in sexual terms, much as women tend to talk about their sexual issues in romantic terms. This is simply a cultural norm, mostly a reaction to the general societal acceptance (and celebration) of male but not female sexual activity. Regardless, men absolutely can be love addicts.

Consider Dino, a 35-year-old married father of three.

I married my high school sweetheart right out of high school because I got her pregnant. I do care about her, but I was never satisfied with just her. I seem to need more than just one relationship. On the day we got married, I actually had more feelings for her maid of honor than for her. And it’s been like that ever since. I’m with my wife, but I’m constantly falling in love with some other woman. Once I got hookup apps on my smartphone, especially Ashley Madison, things really spiraled out of control. Nowadays, I’m never not having an affair. I just spin from one woman to another, and I almost completely ignore my wife. I promise myself I’m going to be faithful, but then I meet a new woman and it feels so right and I’m off to the races again.

Regardless of gender, romance addicted individuals typically engage in one or more of the following behaviors.

  • They are constantly struggling to find and/or maintain romantic (and sometimes sexual) intensity. When the intensity of a relationship wanes, they seek a new relationship.
  • They rely on romantic (and sometimes sexual) intensity as a way to escape stress and other forms of emotional discomfort, including psychological conditions like depression, anxiety and unresolved trauma.
  • They typically feel desperate and alone when they are not in a serious relationship. Conversely, when they are in a relationship, they often feel smothered and/or worried that they might be with the wrong person.
  • They are constantly searching for that one perfect person who will make them feel whole. They often end a potentially solid romance just to start a new one and feel the neurochemical rush of that experience.
  • They often confuse romantic and/or sexual intensity with long-term love and true emotional intimacy.
  • They typically jump from one relationship into another. Often, the new relationship is started before the old one is ended.
  • They often fail to keep important commitments and to meet their obligations (with family, school, work, finances, etc.) because they’re so preoccupied with their ongoing search for romantic intensity.
  • They may feign interest in activities they don’t enjoy as a way to keep a partner or to meet someone new. They take up hobbies, join clubs and attend social engagements that don’t even remotely interest them – all because “the one” just might be there.
  • They nearly always have multiple online dating/hookup profiles. They will post profiles on sites that don’t even apply to them (i.e., a profile on J-Date even though they’re not Jewish). And they check these profiles constantly, focusing more on potential romance than on life as it is happening.

Like other addicts, love addicts typically experienced some form of significant trauma when they were young. Common traumas include neglect, abandonment, inconsistent parenting, and emotional, physical, psychological and/or sexual abuse (including covert incest), among others. Regardless of the nature of early-life trauma, love addicts typically learn early in their lives that becoming vulnerable in an attempt to bond in healthy ways is dangerous and to be avoided at all costs. They also learn that escaping into the intense and highly distracting neurochemical surge of limerence is an effective way to “not feel” their emotional discomfort (shame, fear, loneliness, depression, anxiety, etc.). Even a mere fantasy about how perfect life will be with “the one” is enough to create the desired dissociation from life in the moment. So we see that love addiction, like all other addictions, is less about feeling good and more about feeling less (or at least controlling what one feels).

…love addiction, like all other addictions, is less about feeling good and more about feeling less (or at least controlling what one feels).-Robert Weiss

Treatment for love addiction generally relies on the same strategies that work with other forms of addiction. Typically, treatment involves a highly directive form of individual and/or group psychotherapy – most often cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – coupled with 12-step recovery (usually Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous) or some other love addiction-focused support group.

Much of the time, love addicts who enter treatment and recovery want to know if they’re going to have to be alone for the rest of their lives. Happily, this is not the case. Yes, sobriety for substance abuse and various other addictive disorders typically means long-term abstinence, but love addiction (and sexual addiction, for that matter) are treated more like an eating disorder, where long-term abstinence is not feasible. Rather than eliminating romantic relationships entirely, love addicts heal by learning to develop and maintain healthy, non-compulsive romantic relationships that move beyond the rush of limerence into much more meaningful and longer-lasting (though much less neurochemically intense) forms of intimacy and emotional connection.

Related: Research Supports Sexual Addiction as a Legitimate Diagnosis
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5 Signs of Sexual Addiction

The Difference Between Healthy Sex and Sexual Addiction

The challenging thing about a sexual addiction is that some “obsession” with sex is healthy. We should have a libido that makes us desire sex. But it goes too far when the person cares more about the act itself than the other person involved, says Kathleen Nickerson, PhD, the founder of FeelBetterNetwork.com.

“A sexual addiction most often manifests in one of two ways: substituting sex for love and pursuing different, varied, or extreme sexual activities that are focused on the sex acts, not on any type of connection between two people,” Nickerson says.

Though the term “sexual addiction” is commonly used to describe the person’s condition, Nickerson says it’s often a sign of a deeper mental struggle. “Sexual addiction is a fine descriptor, but it is likely incomplete,” she says. “Typically, we’d need to say more about what is going on with a person that is making them seek out the excessive sexual behavior.”

When Is Sexual Addiction Counseling Necessary?

If you or you partner or spouse is a sex addict, he or she will need sexual addiction counseling. Nickerson says this is one clear-cut situation in which the assistance of a therapist, support groups, and self-help books can be very important. “If you are in a relationship and the other person’s behavior is hurting the relationship, you should discuss this and come up with an action plan for how the two of you will respond and support each other,” she says. “Ultimately, you cannot make anyone else change, but you can encourage actions that will help result in positive change.”

Being the loved one of a sex addict is especially difficult because you often become the addiction. “Setting your own boundaries and comfort limits is very hard to do with a sex partner, but you have the right to do what is best for you, so you need to risk telling them how you feel and what you need also,” says Nickerson. “Share your feelings and talk about what you are and are not willing to do. Always act in ways that make you feel comfortable, good about yourself, and safe.”

If the relationship is healthy, Nickerson says, a person will respond to the needs of his partner or spouse with a sex addiction. “So be clear about expressing what you need, how you feel, and how the addiction is impacting you.”

sexual addiction screening test (SAST)

We Are Here To Help You

Welcome to the Sexual Addiction Screening Test (SAST). It takes courage to face your fears, and we thank you for taking the time to visit RecoveryZone.

Recognizing that you may have an addiction can be scary: You want to know what to do, but at the same time, you’re afraid to learn any more about yourself. You want to talk to someone about your problem, but you’re afraid to trust anyone.

For the last 30 years, we have worked with people just like yourself, helping them find their way to a better life through recovery. That’s why we developed the SAST – to help people to better understand if they are at risk for sexual addiction, and to get the best help possible.

about the SAST

The Sexual Addiction Screening Test (SAST) is designed to assist in the assessment of sexually compulsive behavior which may indicate the presence of sex addiction. Developed in cooperation with hospitals, treatment programs, private therapists, and community groups, the SAST provides a profile of responses which help to discriminate between addictive and non-addictive behavior.

We strongly urge that diagnosis and treatment be done with a trained professional. This assessment is designed to help you decide whether you should seek further help.

Erica Garza (Photo: Rachael Lee Stroud)

Erica Garza first masturbated when she was 12 after tuning into an episode of late-night sex and relationship talk show, Loveline. The preteen listened as a female caller talked about the mind-blowing orgasms she was having in her bathtub by turning on the faucet and opening her legs.

“I had never heard of an orgasm and I didn’t know what masturbation was,” Garza, now 35, says. “But it sounded easy enough, so I tried it. I was hooked from the start.”

Shortly after she discovered the pleasures of water pressure, Garza was regularly watching softcore porn on TV. The Los Angeles-native says her sexual habits were healthy until she was diagnosed with scoliosis in grade seven. “That’s when I really started to feel insecure and self-conscious,” she says. “I found that if I watched more porn and if I masturbated more, I could get away from those feelings. I started to use sex as an escape route.”

Soon, things got out of control. As a teen, Garza’s interest in porn and masturbation grew, and she started having cyber sex with strangers. She lost her virginity when she was in high school to a man a decade older. Then, at 23, Garza moved to Maui to work as a waitress and was sleeping with different people more frequently than she had before. She was drinking and smoking pot to escape, bingeing on porn and masturbating until she was sore. By the time she was in her late twenties, she had a hard time remaining faithful to partners, and her obsession with sex found her in dangerous situations, both at home and when travelling abroad. Although she felt shame around her behaviour, Garza says she couldn’t stop.

“Instead of talking about things, I would often shut down and turn to sex or turn on the porn,” she says. “It got out of control.”

Then, at age 30, Garza attended her first Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meeting.

When sex becomes something more

Garza, who writes about her journey through sex and porn addiction in her new memoir Getting Off (Simon & Schuster, $32), says it took time before she called herself an addict—even after an ex-boyfriend called her one. “I wasn’t ready to admit I was a sex addict to a group of strangers,” Garza writes of attending her first SLAA meeting. “But nobody questioned me. They went through the 12 steps and 12 traditions I would come to know so well… I listened and nodded, thinking, Yes, that sounds like me.”

From time spent at SLAA meetings and researching her addiction, Garza says she’s learned how sex addiction takes different forms. “One person may binge on porn, the other person might like having sex with lots of prostitutes,” she says. “It’s going to be different for every person, and I think it’s up to each person to look at their decisions and ask, ‘Am I using sex in a healthy way? Do I feel empty after I have sex or do I feel out of control?’”

(Courtesy of Simon & Schuster)

“It comes down to using sexual pleasure—however you derive that pleasure—as an escape or in an unhealthy and destructive way.”

In Getting Off, Garza details many of the destructive ways she used sex. In one chapter, she reveals how she made her boyfriend hire her a 19-year-old sex worker while they were together in Thailand after they had yet another drunken fight. In another, she recounts how she went home with a French waiter who “f-cked so hard bled on his bed as if were a virgin,” and the time she blacked out and stripped naked in a bathtub in front of a group of men.

“I felt very lonely in relationships for a long time,” she says. “I had to put up a barrier between me and other people.”

Garza’s experience isn’t really reflected in pop culture depictions of sex addiction, which usually focus on men. We’ve all seen it: in the aftermath of a public sex scandal, many rich, powerful guys use sex addiction to explain their behaviour (think, former U.S. congressman Anthony Weiner, who cited sex addiction after his sexting scandal and retreated to a rehab centre in 2016, or Tiger Woods, who sought treatment for sex addiction after he was caught having an extramarital affair in 2009).

But Dr. Alexandra Katehakis, certified sex addiction therapist and clinical director of the Center for Healthy Sex in L.A., says the reality is there’s not a typical sex addict. Her clinic offers services for sex, love and porn addiction, among other sex therapies.

“Around here, what we consider an addiction is if you have a strong predilection for something to the extent that you cannot stop doing it,” she says. “It’s when a person starts to have anything that creates what they call ‘unmanageability’ or behaviours that have them constantly keeping secrets, lying about their behaviour, or being emotional or physically abusive to themselves or another person.”

Katehakis explains that there isn’t one reason a person may start to use sex compulsively or as a coping strategy, but says that sexually problematic behaviour can start in childhood due to trauma, neglect or abuse. Other times, she says, people use sex as a way to secure love or attention, and develop an unhealthy relationship with their sexuality in turn.

“Maybe in their teen years it was experimental, but then they get to college and start having sex with one person after another, and then maybe they start using pornography excessively and masturbating to mask their sadness and pain,” she says. “Before they know it, sex is the major event in their lives.”

“They have no social life, they lose friends; sex is the only thing they are consumed with.”

But is sex addiction a real diagnosis?

Even though people call themselves sex and love addicts—and many therapists treat them—not everyone believes it’s a legitimate condition.

According to neuroscientist Dr. Nicole Prause, the founder of sex research lab Liberos, there’s no such thing as a sex addiction because it isn’t recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. “Currently, no behaviour constitutes sex addiction because sex addiction has been excluded from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual due to lack of evidence,” she says. “This means that it doesn’t exist; sex addiction is not a recognized diagnosis.”

Prause, who is also a licensed psychologist, says the public uses the term “addiction” more loosely than scientists do, which has helped fuelled society’s misconceptions. “To classify something as an addiction, it has to meet a bunch of different criteria,” she explains. “It can’t just be a problem in your life because lots of things can be problems and not addictions.”

But even if sex addiction isn’t an officially recognized addiction, research shows sexually-compulsive behaviour is a problem. A study conducted by the University of Cambridge found that brain activity between patients who have compulsive sexual behaviour—characterized as an obsession with sexual thoughts, feelings or behaviour which they are unable to control—mirrored those of drug addicts. And, at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, there are treatment programs that deal with excessive masturbation and pornography use.

That’s why therapist Katehakis says sex addiction isn’t black and white, and argues that people really do need help for this problem.

“There’s a disconnect between researchers and therapists, because they are in the lab and we are seeing people every day,” says Katehakis. She explains that because therapists treat people all the time and see the same problems “over and over again,” they outpace researchers. “By the time researchers research something, they’ve got to get a sample—and it’s always a small sample—and they can only study one tiny bit of the thing that they’re studying,” she says. “Whereas clinically, we just see people all day long and we see what we see.”

(Writer Mandy Stadtmiller. Photo: Carla Roley)

How do you treat sex addiction?

In Canada, there are SLAA meetings in nearly every major city, which follow the 12-step format of Alcoholics Anonymous. The treatment centre where Katehakis works in Los Angeles offers an 11-day out-patient sex addiction program. It also hosts a weekly group just for women, who make up about 30 percent of her clients.

While some may choose to abstain from sex or romance for periods of time while in recovery, Katehakis says her centre’s approach is sex-positive and its goal is to help people find healthy ways to have sexual relationships. “We come from a collaborative model where we’re working with people to help them what is sexually true or pleasurable for them over time,” she explains.

Journalist and former xoJane editor Mandy Stadtmiller agrees that sex addiction is a controversial subject, but she also thinks people can have legitimate issues around sex and love. In her new memoir Unwifeable (Simon & Schuster, $36), Stadtmiller details how she overcame her own destructive addictions—including sex, drugs and alcohol—and sought comfort from SLAA meetings and other therapeutic programs.

(Courtesy of Simon & Schuster)

“I only started going because of a couple different experiences that really lodged in my brain,” she says. The 42-year-old points to one experience where she was talking to a woman about being her Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor and found herself telling “tale after tale of unhinged and self-sabotaging” sexual behaviour.

“She was like, ‘Have you ever thought about ?’” Stadtmiller recalls. “The joke I made was ‘OK I can deal with being an addict or an alcoholic, but saying I’m a sex and love addict is like going to tall blondes anonymous.’ That shit hit so close to home.”

Stadtmiller acknowledges that SLAA. isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, and she also realizes that many people will argue that sex addiction isn’t real because it’s not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. “I certainly don’t know enough about the scientific research one way or the other to support the validity of sex and love addiction…I just don’t,” she explains.

“But having worked in tabloids where the most important thing is whose side are we on, who’s the villain, who’s the hero, well, life is not like that. Life is in the messy shades of grey,” she says. “And that’s how I approached going to meetings and just literally asking myself, ‘Is this beneficial? Is this valuable?’ If you look at it as being more beneficial and valuable than potentially derailing or hurtful, then it’s like, keep going. Just ask yourself those questions.”

For Garza, attending SLAA meetings was part of her recovery process (she also credits therapy, yoga and meditation). She notes that unlike drug or alcohol addiction, a sex addict doesn’t necessarily need to give up sex completely—the focus is finding a way to engage in behaviour that isn’t destructive.

“In the early stages of my recovery, I thought, ‘OK I have to stop watching porn completely; I am going to be in this very strict monogamous relationship,’ and I held myself to a lot of guidelines so that I wouldn’t go back down that path,” she says. “But then it started to feel inauthentic to me, like I was cutting off a part of myself. I wanted to continue being an open-minded experimental sexual person, I just didn’t want to lie to people or sabotage relationships or put myself in unsafe situations.”

“I tried lots of different things, and it was really important for me to show in my book that there isn’t just one way to become an addict and there isn’t one way to step outside of it.”

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What is the scientific term for someone who is addicted to sex?

What is the scientific term for someone who is addicted to sex?

Folks do love their memes, their shibboleths and their clichés, and since Prohibition gave way to the War on Drugs one of the most popular is “addiction.” Anybody who likes something more than you do must be a sick “addict.” So we have jogging addicts and online-game addicts and gambling addicts and TV addicts and junk food addicts and sex addicts. In fact, the word’s used so loosely that people in the health business now prefer the “scientific term” dependence instead.

In the good old days, addiction implied a physical dependence — if you’re “addicted” to cigarettes, changes have happened in your body such that if you try to stop smoking you experience withdrawal symptoms. Same for heroin. The mechanisms are known and elucidated in terms like these: “Upregulation of the cAMP signal transduction pathway in the locus coeruleus by CREB has been implicated as the mechanism responsible for certain aspects of opioid-induced physical dependence.” (Wikipedia)

Pretty technical stuff. But that’s for drugs (or rather “substances,” since tobacco and marijuana are dried plants, not “drugs”). Seems unlikely we could apply the same criteria to a hypothetical dependency on Minecraft or gambling or sex.

So we fall back on “addict,” which is no longer a scientific term for anything; it just means somebody likes something too much, ie more than you do.

1 Shares By The Recovery Village Editor Renee Deveney Reviewer Dr. Anna Pickering Updated on11/25/19

Every type of addiction or mental health condition comes with a set of misconceptions from the public. This is especially true for sex addiction. The social taboos on both sex and addictive behaviors make this condition poorly understood since it is not often discussed openly.

As with other conditions, learning the facts about sex addiction is essential to dispel the many myths and misconceptions. Understanding the truth about sex addiction will also make it easier for people to determine if they or someone close to them has a sex addiction and if so, find the proper treatment.

Myth #1: Sex addiction isn’t real

Fact: Sex addiction is a real condition with real consequences.

There is no question that sex addiction is a major problem with devastating effects. When a person has an addiction to sex, it interferes significantly with their daily life. They often want to stop thinking about or seeking out sex, but find themselves unable to. Counselors can receive specialized training in sex addiction therapy to help patients who are struggling with it.

Psychology professionals are still debating whether sex addiction truly is a disease in its own right. Currently, sex addiction is not officially classified as a disorder by the American Psychiatric Association in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is the primary guide for mental health diagnosis and treatment in the United States. It is, however, recognized by other medical organizations around the world. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently recognized “compulsive sexual behavior disorder” in their International Classification of Diseases.

Myth #2: Sex addicts have sex all the time

Fact: Having a sex addiction does not always mean having more sex.

You may think sex addiction equates to spending as much time as possible having sex. This is simply untrue. Sex addiction can manifest in many different ways. While someone with this kind of addiction does spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about engaging in sexual behaviors, they don’t necessarily feed their addiction by having frequent sexual intercourse.

It is true that some people with sex addictions seek intercourse frequently with different partners or from sex workers, but they may also turn to different outlets for their sexual urges. Some sex addicts may spend more time viewing pornography or simply fantasizing about sexual encounters. In fact, many men who describe themselves as sex addicts actually engage in less sex than average.

Myth #3: All sex addicts have multiple partners

Fact: A person with a sex addiction may have multiple partners, only one, or none at all.

With sex addiction comes uncontrollable sexual urges, but this doesn’t necessarily translate into a large number of sexual partners. Many people with sex addictions are married or in another type of committed relationship and stay true to their partners. Others are single and don’t have any sexual partners.

Unfortunately, there are often consequences for the partners of sex addicts. The addicted partner may act out their compulsive behavior in several ways including:

  • Extra pressure for sexual intercourse or sexual favors
  • Demanding a higher frequency of sexual contact
  • More assertive or aggressive behavior during sex
  • Less emotional intimacy before or after sex, and in the relationship in general
  • Spending excess time or money watching porn
  • Manipulative behaviors
  • Anger when confronted about porn use or sexual behaviors

Myth #4: Sex addiction only affects men

Fact: People of any gender, not just men, can become addicted to sex.

Men are often viewed as being more sexually aggressive or having greater sexual desires than women. While the majority of people with sex addictions are men, not all are. Research on female sex addiction is sparse, but both men and women can be addicted to sex.

Women with sex addictions often face less social acceptance. Hypersexuality in females often receives harsher judgment and characteristics like having multiple partners or watching porn are often seen as normal in males, but are frowned upon in females. For example, a man who has sex frequently and with many partners might be called a “ladies man,” while a woman with those same traits may be labeled a “slut” or a “whore.”

Myth #5: Sex addicts are inherently unfaithful

Fact: Many people with sex addicts remain faithful to their partner.

If you’re asking “can a sex addict be faithful?”, you’re not alone. Sex addiction and cheating may seem like they would go hand-in-hand, but that is not necessarily the case. While having multiple sexual partners is one characteristic of sex addiction, it is not the only one. People with sex addictions can seek a variety of outlets for their sexual urges, which may or may not include having sex with more than one person.

Many people with sex addictions married or in other types of committed relationships and may turn to other means to satisfy their desires, such as watching porn or simply fantasizing about sex. Someone who is married to a sex addict may feel increased pressure from their partner for more sex to meet their needs.

Myth #6: Sex addiction and porn addiction are the same thing

Fact: Sex addiction and porn addiction are two different disorders.

Sex addiction and porn addiction share a lot of similarities, but they are distinct conditions. Both involve uncontrollable desires to perform behaviors of a sexual nature, but there are some key differences in these behaviors.

The main difference between sex addiction and porn addiction lies in the specific behavior that is addictive. Sex addiction is an inability to control urges to perform sexual acts. Porn addiction, on the other hand, is an inability to control the urge to view pornographic material. Many people with sex addiction do view porn excessively. However, not everybody who compulsively watches porn has a sex addiction.

Myth #7: A 12-step program is the main method of sex addiction treatment

Fact: There are several methods for sex addiction treatment.

Most people are familiar with 12-step programs for treating addictions. For decades, they have been used to treat alcoholism, drug addiction, and even gambling addictions, along with other addictive behaviors. With not all psychologists or medical professionals recognizing sex addiction, 12-step programs were often used to help those who had trouble finding help elsewhere.

The 12-step model has been successful for sex addiction treatment but it may be insufficient on its own. This type of program certainly does help some people, but it is not effective for everybody. Other sex addiction treatment methods include psychotherapy, which is also called talk therapy or counseling. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, in particular, has been successful in helping patients learn to control their urges through healthy behaviors and adjust their lifestyle in a positive manner. Through these therapies, people with sex addictions learn coping mechanisms to deal with the underlying causes of their behaviors and learn better ways to manage their symptoms.

Sex addiction is often accompanied by other addictions, including substance use disorders. If you or a loved one are struggling with a sex addiction and substance abuse, specialized help is available. Contact The Recovery Village today to learn what options are available to you.

  • Sources

    American Association for Sex Addiction Therapy. “AASAT Certification & Training Programs.” Accessed June 4, 2019.

    American Psychiatric Association. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” May 2013. Accessed April 20, 2019.

    Kraus SW, Krueger RB, Briken P, First MB, Stein DJ, Kaplan MS, Voon V, Abdo CHN, Grant JE, Atalla E, Reed GM. “Compulsive sexual behaviour disorder in the ICD-11.” World Psychiatry. January 19, 2018. Accessed May 29, 2019.

    World Health Organization. “International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision.” May 25, 2019. Accessed May 29, 2019.

    Schneider JP. “Compulsive and Addictive Sexual Disorders and the Family.” CNS Spectrums, October 2000. Accessed June 4, 2019.

    Murphy SN. “It’s not about sex.” Counseling Today, December 1, 2011. Accessed June 4, 2019.

    Weiss R. “Sexual Addiction, Hypersexual Disorder and the DSM-5: Myth or Legitimate Diagnosis?” Counselor, September-October 2012. Accessed June 11, 2019.

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10 Signs You’re A Sex Addict

So you like to have sex. Good for you. Sex is the best. But lately there have been some problems in your life because of your sexual habits. Maybe you really love your wife, but she dumped you after catching you having sex with the babysitter. Perhaps, you were doing great at your job, but you got fired after getting caught in your office beating off to porn. Maybe you’re starting to wonder if you have some sort of a problem. Or maybe, like me, you knew you had a problem all along, and thought the most important thing was to not let anyone ever find out.

It took me a long time to admit I was a sex addict. It isn’t an easy thing to do. I could deal with being a playboy, a hedonist, maybe even a freak, but a sex addict? Not me. It took about 20 years, two divorces, the loss of jobs and homes before I admitted it.

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When I was in the process of getting my second divorce, I was seeing a therapist. He was cool enough. He was funny. We got each other on a certain level, which sometimes is all you can ask for when you pay someone to talk to you about your problems.

I got along with him well enough that I decided to do something new: I was going to be honest. This time I wasn’t going to pay someone to sit there and listen to me lie.

I told him about how I was having affairs, how I couldn’t stop. How everything I did was designed to either get me laid or indulge my kinks, and my kinks were getting more extreme by the day. No matter what went on in my life, no matter how fucked up it got, no matter what I lost it didn’t matter; I couldn’t, or maybe wouldn’t, stop. The most important thing to me in the world, by far, was sex and all the adrenaline and anxiety that came with it.

I told him what had been going on. First, I lost my job because I was having affairs with so many people at work. Then, my wife tossed me out of the house because I was screwing around with so many people at places outside of work. I wound up living with a woman that I couldn’t stand, but that would do anything I wanted sexually, no matter how deviant my demands were—I was cheating on her, too.

When I got done relating what my wreck of a life was all about, he looked at me and said, “Well the thing is, most guys would want to do what you do. I mean, what guy wouldn’t?” My misery was this guy’s fantasy—it wasn’t the first time.

That is the thing about sex. If you’re getting a lot of it, you don’t have a problem, right? I mean seriously, you’re getting laid all the time and complaining about it?

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So many people get all worked up about the sex addict thing. “How can anyone be addicted to sex?” Don’t get hooked on semantics. Who cares what you call your problem? I don’t. Call it sexual compulsion if it makes you feel better. By acting out with sex, you are dosing your brain with dopamine and other chemicals that excite, distract, and otherwise cover up the underlying distress or emptiness that is making you suffer.

Below is a list of 10 signs that could mean you are a sex addict. I did all 10 of the things on this list in all of my relationships. I was often accused by women of being a selfish, lying asshole, or a total freak, and I was both of those things, but no one ever asked me if I might actually have a problem.

I write this list as a heterosexual man, though, this can also apply to women and LGBT individuals.

If you have none of the things on the list, good job. Go screw with impunity. If you have between one and three of these, check yourself and figure out what is going on, if you have more than three, you need to find someone to talk to, and you should probably do it soon.

You live a double life

This one is tricky. Maybe you just cheat all the time, and lie about where you are, and how you spend your money. That, in itself, doesn’t make you an addict. But, if you have sexual secrets that you refuse to share with anyone, or if somehow you figure out ways to spend Christmas with two different women (done it) then something is way, way off. Sex and your sexual proclivities are private, but if your whole life is going to go down the tubes if people know what you are REALLY up to, and you have to lie to everyone constantly just to stay afloat, then you have at least the beginnings of a problem.

You exploit others for sex

You’re probably a good guy. You’re kind to kids and animals, you cried when you watched The Lion King. When your girlfriend talks about her feelings you listen—I mean you really do.

But when it comes to sex, you could care less about people. They are just objects to use to get off, or toys to play with. You don’t care what happens to them when you are done with them, and you will do anything to get them to do what you want.

Your life is constantly in crisis

Because sex is your number one priority, everything else is always totally messed up. When you are at work, you spend the majority of your time trying to get your boss to fuck you, once you succeed, you try to get that cute temp to meet you out for drinks. Once you start banging her, you try for the woman in the cubicle across from yours.

If you manage to stay employed, you are constantly broke, and you get two credit cards your wife doesn’t know about so you can keep up the appearances you need to with your girlfriends.

Everything from school, to work, to money, is secondary to feeding your addiction.

You’re preoccupied with sex

I don’t mean this in a “Wow, look at that chick’s ass!” kind of way. I mean, you can’t concentrate on anything for more than 10 minutes without going back into your place of fantasy. Or if you aren’t fantasizing, you are planning your next move. And if you aren’t planning your next move, you are having sex. Which then makes you feel ashamed, so to combat that you go right back into fantasy.

You have sex without regard to potential consequences

You’re out of control. Your wife is upstairs and you are banging her best friend on the couch. It isn’t enough to have sex with a co-worker; you have to do it on your boss’s desk. You just spent your mortgage payment at the strip club, or you just gave your credit card number to your dominatrix.

If you are doing things that are going to screw you over in the future, and you KNOW they are going to screw you over in the future, then your sex life has crossed the line and is now officially a problem.

Your kink needs to be fed more and more

Some people are into some odd stuff, some aren’t. There are a myriad of different things that people do to get off, and whether or not you like to be tied up, or walk your girlfriend on a leash isn’t the issue. What is the issue, is if the kink you have becomes your whole scene, and you need to go deeper and deeper into the world to get off. What can start off as fun, can wind up as something deeply destructive down the road.

You masturbate all the time

And I do mean all the time. You do it in the morning, you do it on your lunch break, and you do it before you go to sleep. I would sometimes even masturbate right after sex—with my partner passed out next to me. It’s just a sign that there are some issues, not a judgment. Do what you do. But if you have some of these other signs and you are beating off 20 to 30 times a week, then you’re a sex addict.

Your relationships are always messed up

The key word here is “always.” I always knew my relationships would end because I did something insane related to sex. It was just a matter of time before I would do something totally off the charts, get caught at it, and have to move on. It wasn’t like I learned a lesson. It was a lifestyle. This isn’t “Oh, I got caught cheating and my girlfriend dumped me.” It is that you are always cheating; you know you’re going to get caught, and you can’t stop.

You feel powerless

You can’t stop acting out. You try to stop, but you lose everything. Little by little, you lose everything. You keep on going until it’s all gone, until you are lying in a corner in the fetal position, until you feel like dying. Try not to get here. Go talk to someone you trust.

You hate yourself

Who knows, you could always be a sociopath. But, if you aren’t, and you are going through life hurting other people and destroying yourself, you are going to start disliking yourself quite a bit. I know I did. And the worst part—I was so sure, so entirely sure, that if I told anyone who I was, and the things that I did, they would hate me, too.

If after reading this you think you might be a sex addict, talk to someone you trust. If you don’t have someone you trust, talk to a professional. It isn’t easy to get help, unless you live in an urban area, you aren’t going to find someone that has any sort of specialization in it. But that isn’t a reason, or an excuse, to keep acting this way.

Brian Whitney is an author and a ghostwriter, his book Raping the Gods is available in the Spring of 2015.

Please read our comment policy. – The Fix

Seven signs you’re dating a sex addict

He likes a little porn, so do you. Maybe you even like to watch it together. Maybe she wasn’t exactly single when you met. He doesn’t care how many partners you’ve had; it’s all in the past. Or is it? To find out the answer, fall back to the fundamentals: identifying the addict is the first step. And when it comes to sex addiction, that first step is a doozy.

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The list of behaviors associated with a sexual addict is so mundane, practically anyone can tick off at least a couple. Consistent use of pornography. Unsafe sex. Phone or chat-room sex. One-night stands, extra-marital affairs, GPS hook-ups, obsessive online dating. The list is long and gets darker the further down you go: compulsive masturbation, exhibitionism, voyeurism, prostitutes.

“If you’re married, your acceptable sexual behavior may be defined differently than if you’re single,” says Mike Weiss, a certified addiction therapist and founder of The Sexual Recovery Institute. “Sexual addiction follows a certain repetitive pattern; if you’d rather ask forgiveness than permission, that’s abusive.”

Compulsive sexual behavior, the clinical phrase for sex addiction, is what experts call a “progressive intimacy disorder,” meaning that it worsens the longer it’s left untreated. However, this does not mean every addict eventually transforms into a sex offender. “People don’t escalate outside their arousal templates,” says Weiss. It’s about spending more and more time to get your fix and disregarding the negative consequences. Weiss adds that it’s like any addiction, and the addict increasingly “needs to have this intensity-based experience.”

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However, the idea that sex is clinically addictive remains controversial. As we’ve reported in the the Fix, sex addiction is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a diagnosable disorder. It made an appearance in the 1987 version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), but has subsequently been removed. While many comparisons have been made to drug addiction, Dr. Michael First, professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, disagrees, citing a lack of quantifiable research. “Addiction is a biological phenomenon,” First says. “Whether people are addicted to sex the way they’re addicted to cocaine…is not well enough established yet.”

The number of reported sex addicts varies widely, anywhere from nine to 15 million adults in the U.S., or three to five percent of the population. But according to Weiss, we really don’t know.

“The last reliable study was done in the ‘80s,” says Weiss. “Those numbers said three to five percent.” Besides the fact that he has personally seen a rise in treatment demand since beginning his practice, he points out that the study came well before the rise of Internet porn. “There’s no interest and no political will to research consensual sexual behavior as a problem,” Weiss says. “People want the problem to go away as quickly as possible, and they don’t want anyone to know.”

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Certainly the number of people affected goes well beyond the number of addicts. Take the case of Megan and Frank.

“Things came to a head when our daughter was born,” says Megan, who met and unwittingly married a sex addict in her late 20s. They’d been married about five years when she found out she was pregnant. Routine tests revealed she had chlamydia. “I knew I hadn’t been having sex with anyone else,” she recalls. “He told me it was from his brother.”

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The couple began therapy, where Frank quickly realized he was a sex addict. Megan could have left, but she chose to stay for five more rocky years. “Looking back I think mainly I wanted to keep an eye on him.” During that period they split and reunited several times, and had a second child. “He kept acting out,” she says. “But I couldn’t take the kids away. For one, he’d never expressed any interest in children. But also, I didn’t want to strip them of their father, half of their identity.”

Like many sex addicts, Frank had been sexually abused. Megan understood he needed to recover, but she needed to get on with her life. “He was never going to recover if we kept doing the same stuff,” she says. Today, five years later, she’s happily remarried. “I didn’t realize I even had a libido,” she says, sounding giddy. Frank too, has remarried, and continues to be part of his children’s life.

Dr. First agrees that compulsive sexual behavior is characterized by the same hallmarks as any addiction: escalation of behavior; loss of control; preoccupation and obsession; tolerance and withdrawal symptoms; and increasingly disastrous consequences. But what does that actually look like? How can you avoid marrying someone like Frank? Here are seven signs you might be dating a sex addict:

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1. Consistently flaking out and running late. Sex addicts lose time to their addiction, becoming preoccupied with thoughts of sex and sexual material, and how to seek both out. Everything else comes second.

2. Financial fishiness. Prostitutes don’t take credit cards and fetish shops rarely advertise their businesses on sales receipts. Random, unexplained charges show up. Or he cashed his check and can’t explain where the money went.

3. She’s not over her childhood. Still talking about her daddy issues? She probably has daddy issues. If she attributes feelings of guilt and shame to, say, her Catholic upbringing, the watchwords are guilt and shame. Addicts feel shameful about their sexual behavior.

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4. Unsafe sex. If a dude wants to slip it in without slipping it on, that’s a bad sign. He might not love you enough yet, but he should love himself enough. If he won’t, you can bet it’s not a first, and this could be just the tip of his thrill seeking when it comes to sex. Be wary when a potential partner is unwilling to delay sexual gratification in favor of the getting acquainted stage of a relationship.

5. Serial dating. He hasn’t spent any time in his adult life alone. He goes from one relationship to the next, often with a history of cheating.

6. Lying. Her excuses are inconsistent with the facts, like citing traffic problems on a Sunday morning. Many sex addicts lead a double life.

7. You’re questioning whether you’re dating a sex addict. Why are you asking? Are you prone to catastrophize situations or are you genuinely concerned that he’s given himself a blister due to excess masturbation? Again. No matter what the reason, if you’re uncomfortable with your partner’s sexual preferences, there’s no reason to withstand them. If you are dealing with an addict, eventually the lack of trust will erode intimacy, and the relationship will be compromised.

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