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.
It 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:
- Unresolved resentments
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 must 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.