If I were to ask you, “What is sexual addiction anyway?”  “Is it a real condition?”  “If, it is real how would you identify it in your own life or someone you are connected to?”  “Can a man or a woman be sexually addicted?”

Here is what I would like to talk to you about today.

Sexual addiction is not a myth and it is REAL. Like alcoholism and the way AA terms the addiction of alcoholism, it is cunning, powerful and baffling. Acting out sexually is so innocent in the beginning stages and in the innocence it begins to unravel one’s life one sexual act after another sexual acting out. It begins as exciting and the adrenal rush is incredible and then the person feels the preoccupation, ritualization, compulsion and despair of the addiction. In the aftermath of the sexual acting out now come the feelings of shame, guilt, isolation, loneliness, remorse and the unworthiness. Here in lies the questions that begin privately with the sex addict, “What got me here to this place in my life?” “I want to stop, but I can’t stop.” “I do the very thing I do not want to do.”

Dr. Patrick Carnes, writing in Out of the Shadows, explained sex addiction as “a pathological relationship with a mood-altering experience.”

Marnie Ferree puts it like this, “Pornography is the drug of choice among Christians.  For many years, Marnie, the daughter of a minister, struggled herself with promiscuity and extramarital affairs.  Ferree suggests, “Women definitely struggle with pornography and other forms of sexual sin — at almost the same rate as men.”

Sex addicts, she said, are people you might suspect — scantily clad women, leering men. But they’re also people you would never expect: “By and large, it affects average people who are in the pews on Sunday mornings and across all socioeconomic lines.”

Acting out behaviors may include, but this list is not limited as there may be other forms not mentioned here. They may include masturbation, the use of pornographic magazines, books, videos and as well as the internet. It can include affairs, anonymous sex, phone sex, cyber sex and chat rooms or the virtual world.

Addiction can also include voyeurism, and exhibitionism. Visiting porn stores, strip clubs, topless bars, lap dances and cruising is also addictive.

There is an endless list of sexual acting out.

As Patrick Carnes says in his research, “If you knew who I really was you would not love me nor would you like me.”

Sex addicts – like most other addicts – believe their lies and rationalizations, a trait referred to as sincere delusion. In their denial they will try to convince other’s with, “I am not a sex addict, I don’t have a problem, what are you talking about.”

Part of the delusion is often blaming others for their actions:

“The addict’s blame of others for all problems is another way to protect their secret life. Fault lies with spouse, children, parents, work associates, or boss. The addict is self-righteous, critical, and judgmental. There is no acceptance of personal responsibility for mistakes, failures, or actions. This appearance of integrity further insulates the addict’s world from reality. The blame dynamic provides further justification for the addict’s behavior.” (Carnes, P., Out of the Shadows)

Patrick Carnes, the pioneer researcher of sexual addiction has defined below the cycle of sexual addiction which sex addict’s experience:


For sexual addicts an addictive experience progresses through a four-step cycle that intensifies with each repetition:

1. Preoccupation—this is the trance or mood that the addicts’ mind is completely engrossed with……thoughts of sex. Mentally it is a state that creates an obsessive search for sexual satisfaction/stimulation.

2. Ritualization—in this step the preoccupation in step one intensifies which causes arousal and excitement.

3. Compulsive sexual behavior—in this step the sex addict is unable to stop or even control their behavior of their end goal…..sexually acting out.

4. Despair—with this step the addict now advances into the feelings of hopelessness which they have about their acting out behavior and their powerlessness over their sexual acting out.

Sexual acting out has now occurred and the repetitive cycle of the addiction begins again and again with preoccupation, ritualization, compulsion and despair.  A vicious cycle for the sex addict with personal messages of, “I will never do that again” and then the addictive cycle starts all over again.

What drives sexual addiction are the four core beliefs which Patrick Carnes writes about in his book (one of the best in my opinion) “Out of the Shadows.”


1. Self-Image

“I am basically a bad, unworthy person.”

2. Relationships

“No one would love me as I am.”

3. Needs

“My needs are never going to be met if I have to depend upon others.”

4. Sexuality:

“Sex is my most important need.”

 “I am basically a bad, unworthy person.”  In the sex addict’s childhood the family system was not as connected, affectionate or loving as it could have been.  According to Carnes, 73% of addicts come from homes where there is not much affection and are rigid and “black and white.”

“No one would love me as I am.” In the SA book, Sexaholics Anonymous, it says that, “insides never matched what we saw on the outsides of others.” For the sex addict they have a tendency to hide and isolate. For obvious reasons with this belief the sex addict not only hides their acting out, but they hide their feelings, their thoughts and their insecurities.

“My needs are never going to be met if I have to depend upon others.”  In this belief the sex addict is saying internally, “I will surely be let down if I depend on others.” Patrick Carnes states, that the addiction has become the ‘trusted source of comfort.’ The SA book Sexaholics Anonymous states, “connect with me and make me whole.” The sex addict has not depended on anyone other than themselves and their addiction to sex.

4. “Sex is my most important need.” It has become their higher power or God. Many addicts won’t admit this. When a sex addict is faced with a feeling, situation, person or place where they feel disturbed, they will run to sex rather then find another way to feel comfort.

I like how Erik Bohlin puts this insidious addiction. It is a:

Disease of Perception

Addiction is a disease of perception. The person is blinded and cannot see what they are doing and how it affects those around them. They see things from the their own ego-centric point of view. Both therapy and the 12 steps assist them in seeing the world from a more realistic point of view.

Disease of Disconnection

Addiction is also a disease of disconnection. The “acting out” or “high” disconnects them from their own feelings, from their morality and value system and from those they love. The addict connects with the lust/drug rather than people or God. When one loses their sobriety, they often report a feeling of being isolated and not able to connect as they did when they are sober.

If you have been trying to figure out whether or not you have a problem with potentially addictive behaviors you can go to this website www.sexhelp.com and take the Sexual Addiction Screening Test (SAST) a cost-free, no-obligation questionnaire. It provides a profile of responses that help distinguish between addictive and non-addictive behaviors.

Also, if you are or have been in a relationship with someone who has a sex addiction, you have inevitably been affected by your experience. You can go to this website www.sexhelp.com and take the Partner Sexuality and Sex Addiction Survey (PSS) it will help bring you clarity about your own sexual health and provide you with a brief report about your own sexuality.

About the Author: Relationship Therapist  and Sexual Addiction Expert, Vicki M. Wotring MSW, ASAT, CADC, EMDR has worked with countless couples and individuals who have been betrayed by someone they love who struggles with sexual addiction and with those individuals who have become entangled in the web of sexual addiction. She has also provided a group “Women’s Healing Ministry” for women who have been sexually betrayed for the past three years. She can be reached at celebratelife3@aol.com regarding this group.


Carnes, P. J. (2001). Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction. Hazelden.

NOTE: You can freely redistribute this resource, electronically or in print, provided you leave the author’s contact information below intact.

Posted December 3, 2012 by Vicki M. Wotring MSW, ASAT, CADC, EMDR


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