Generally speaking there are six primary signs and symptoms of sexual addiction, delineated below. These signs and symptoms eventually occur in nearly all sex addicts, regardless of age, gender, race, social status, or any other external factor.
- Obsession: Sex addicts are preoccupied with sex to the point of obsession. They think about it, fantasize about it, and pursue it for hours at a time. Thoughts of sex dictate how they dress, they gym they go to, the car they drive, where they live, etc.
- Loss of Control: Sex addicts turn to escapist sexual fantasies and behaviors (as a way to cope with emotional discomfort) even when they don’t want to. When the sexual obsession sets in, there is very little they can do to stop it. Most sex addicts repeatedly try to either cut back or quit their sexually obsessive thoughts and actions – without lasting success.
- Negative Consequences: Like other addicts, sex addicts experience a wide variety of negative life consequences. Common consequences include: relationship problems, trouble at work or in school, shame, depression, declining self-esteem, social isolation, financial woes, diminished interest in previously enjoyable activities, STDs, loss of social standing, legal issues, sexual dysfunction, and more.
- Tolerance/Escalation: With substance addictions, tolerance and escalation occur when an addict finds that he or she needs to take more of a substance or a stronger substance to achieve and maintain the escapist neurochemical rush that he or she so desperately desires. Sex addiction is similar, with addicts spending more time in their addiction, or increasing the intensity of their sexual fantasies and behaviors. Some sex addicts, over time, thanks to tolerance and escalation, find themselves engaging in activities that never even occurred to them when they started – behaviors that might even violate their sense of morality and/or the laws of their community.
- Withdrawal: With sex addiction, withdrawal tends to be more of a mental/emotional battle than a physical one, as it can sometimes be with substance abuse. Typically, when sex addicts are unable to “act out” sexually, they become restless, irritable, anxious, and/or depressed.
- Denial: Like all other addicts, sex addicts are amazingly out of touch with the reality of their behavior. They justify, minimize, blame, make excuses, keep secrets, and tell blatant lies (to themselves and others) as a way to protect their addiction. They routinely ignore warning signs that a “normal” person would easily spot and respond to. Essentially, they are either unable or unwilling to link their out of control sexual behaviors with the various life problems they’re experiencing – no matter how clear the connection.
Interestingly, only the first three signs and symptoms listed above are necessary for a sex addiction diagnosis. (The same is true with substance abuse issues and other behavioral addictions.) That said, nearly all sex addicts (and, in fact, addicts of any type) find themselves dealing with the entire list as their addiction progresses.
For more information about sexual addiction, check out my weekly webinars on InTheRooms.com, Friday nights at 6 p.m. PST. These web discussions are free to all ITR members. You can log on to the web chats here. You might also 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/.