Identifying Sexual Addiction

Dear Neil: Several weeks ago, you wrote about a husband in New Zealand who has been unfaithful to his wife for decades. He said he couldn’t help himself from straying, seeing prostitutes and watching porn. You advised him to look at why he feels so empty, offer his wife a truthful description of his behavior along with an apology, and share the pass codes to all his electronic communications.

But you missed the most likely cause of his behavior. This guy’s an obvious sex addict. Addicts are very adept at living on the edge of disaster. If he gives his wife all of his codes, his addiction will encourage him to find new ways of acting out. In my opinion, you blew the advice you offered him. He needs a 12 Step program.

A Sober Sex Addict in Denver

Dear Sober: You’re right. I did miss the signs of sexual addiction. So let me cover that topic in today’s column.

A sex addict, according to two 12 Step programs devoted to this subject (Sexaholics Anonymous and Sex Addicts Anonymous) displays the following behaviors. S/he:

  • Has lost control of lustful desires, and therefore no longer has the power to stop. Similar to an alcoholic, a sex addict is hooked on sexual acting-out behaviors and cannot exercise normal checks and balances on his or her behavior. S/he no longer operates under the code of what’s right or wrong. Sexual behavior has become out of control.
  • Leads a double life. Needs a greater variety, increased frequency or more extreme sexual activities in order to gain excitement or relief. This may lead to sex with people, or in places, or under conditions one would not normally choose. These activities may involve coercion, violence, the threat of disease, the threat of legal problems, and often jeopardizes employment, marriages and a family.
  • Has a preoccupation with sex or sexual fantasies, which drives risky behavior, and interferes with day-to-day life. Such behavior may include the use of incessant pornography, one-night stands, multiple affairs, inordinate masturbation, contact with prostitutes, making obscene phone calls, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, frequenting sexual chat rooms, placing or following personal ads or acting on sexual fetishes.
  • Continues these behaviors even after getting caught, getting in trouble with the law, getting discovered by a spouse, getting physically hurt, hurting other people or jeopardizing one’s employment. Continues these behaviors even when s/he wants to stop, but finds that s/he simply cannot.

A recovery group, such as the two I mentioned above, is a good place to start if you think these behaviors may describe you. Medications may be of help, along with psychotherapy that challenges your thinking, that improves your self-esteem and addresses your personality disorders would be very useful as well.

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