Sexual Addiction

The “Sex Addict”

Most people are familiar with how Tiger Woods’ sexual addiction drove him to have an extraordinary number of affairs.   In fact, many people who have had a Tiger Woods type of affair, describe themselves as relatively happy in their relationship.

However, they’ve never been able to find complete fulfillment from it because they are enslaved by obsessive needs and compulsive behaviors.

Hard as it is for many to believe, sex addicts truly feel powerless in their ability to control their desires.

Just like Tiger, more often than not the sex addict does not want his/her marriage to fail. It’s about something inside of them, not the marriage.  Usually they were addicts before the marriage and may have stopped for a while when first married only to be pick up again when they realize that the marriage can’t meet the needs of their addiction.

They may feel trapped in a destructive cycle of feeling hopelessly trapped by their behaviors and at times by their marriages, but are afraid to come clean because they don’t want to lose their marriage or their addictive behavior.

This type of betrayal can be very difficult for the spouse because

a) the breadth of the betrayal can seem so enormous

b) while most people can understand alcohol or drug addiction, sexual addiction is a tough one for most to have much empathy for.


  • Multiple Partners
  • Impulsive development “Can’t help themselves” – even at risk of losing their jobs, and family.
  • FOO Issues
  • Recovery – slower recovery, but can be successful
  • Length of affair can go over years/ periods of binges
  • The seduction is just as important as the affair
  • The sex addict has little to any relationship with the affair partner
  • Turns to sex when feeling lonely, empty, in pain, or uncomfortable
  • The behavior runs in a predictable cycle
  • Much of the addictive behavior can be seen on porn sites, chat rooms


  • Self-Serving – Often lies, cheats and steals to get the relief needed
  • Has a detached attachment style
  • Compulsive behavior
    • Regular pornography view
    • Visits to prostitutes, “rub & tug” parlors, strip clubs
    • Unprotected sex
  • Multiple partners at same time or going from Partner to Partner
  • Little if any emotional attachment with the affair partner. If there was emotional attachment, it quickly diminishes. “The relationship is about the sex.”
  • The ‘lover’ is typical a lower social position than the ‘cheater’
  • The thrill is in the chase



  • Prone to being “Co-dependent”
  • Will put up with behavior for a long time
  • Presents a brave face to the outside world
  • Partners live rather separate lives
  • Will tend to cover or defend the cheaters behaviour

What is Sex Addiction?

  • Addictions are generally characterized by compulsiveness, shame or guilt, and feelings of worthlessness.
  • Addicted individuals are driven by the high they experience and are unable to resist their impulses despite the potential or actual cost to career, family, or self.
  • The sexual addict is preoccupied with sex.
  • A forbidden act or illicit relationship which increases tension, accelerates physiological arousal, and focuses the drive toward that which offers pleasure. Relief which is obtained through orgasm is only temporary and is followed by regret and shame. The cycle starts again as anxiety builds up which can only be relieved by the sexual behavior.

(NOTE: In contrast, the entitled philanderer feels little guilt, is open to opportunities, but is not anxious during periods of abstinence.)

The Need For Excitement

The need for excitement is an especially compelling component for the sexually addicted man. He must remain married so his wife can assume the important role of the disapproving parent because secrecy and barriers intensify his passion. Sneaking around behind his wife’s back adds to the thrill, even if the wife has no awareness of his extramarital involvements. Living on the edge such as being on the verge of bankruptcy and thrill seeking activities such as Black Diamond skiing or drag racing may also be sought after because of the constant drive for an adrenaline high.

Love Addicts

Men who seek excitement by falling in love with one affair partner after another may be love addicts.

They are addicted to the high associated with the first stage of a relationship (Stage I).

They appear to be incurable romantics who idealize their affair partners until reality bites or someone even more perfect comes along. The marriage suffers because of their perception that although they still love their wife, they are “in love” with the other woman.

They are easily identified as men who engage in sequential monogamy; i.e. they are faithful only as long as the romantic idealization endures, but they bail out as soon as the excitement wears off and start another Stage I relationship.

According to the Sexual Recovery Institute, Sexual addiction is “a persistent and escalating pattern or patterns of sexual behaviors acted out despite increasingly negative consequences to self or others.”

The Sexual Recovery Institute states that the following behaviors are among those that may indicate sexual addiction:

  • masturbation,
  • simultaneous or repeated sequential affairs,
  • viewing pornography,
  • cybersex,
  • phone sex,
  • multiple anonymous partners,
  • unsafe sexual activity,
  • partner sexualization or objectification,
  • visiting strip clubs
  • adult bookstores,
  • prostitution,
  • sexual aversion.

Therapists maintain that sexual addiction is similar to alcoholism. Donna R. Bellafiore, MSW, LCSW, refers to sexual addiction as a brain disease that must be controlled through a 12-step program. “A sexual addict may want to stop the behavior but is unable to do so”, she says, “even when the behavior contradicts his or her own value system.”

There is a compulsive quality with sexual addiction that does not exist in people who have had a few affairs during the course of their marriage.



Underneath addictive behavior is shame, toxic shame. Children who have had emotional needs ignored in favor of the parents needs, learn to abandon their own feelings and display behavior designed to prevent abandonment.


Toxic shame is unbearable and always necessitates a cover-up, a false self. Since one feels his true self is defective and flawed, he needs a false self which is not defective and flawed. Once one becomes a false self, one ceases to exist psychologically.
The compulsive pursuit of sexual encounters is an attempt to avoid the pain of the inner emptiness. The addict rationalizes his behavior, just as the alcoholic or drug addict does, and blinds himself to the risk his taking and the effects of his behavior on others.



sex addiction

This cycle describes what happens inside someone who has a sexual addiction.

First a pain agent is triggered; it could be any kind of emotional discomfort (i.e.. pain, fear, shame, anger, etc.), it could be unresolved conflict (inner or outer), it could be stress, or it could be the need to connect with another.

If the person doesn’t take care of the pain agent in a healthy way, he may then move into the second stage of this cycle – disassociation. In this stage, you begin to disassociate or move away from your self and your feelings; a separation begins to take place between your mind and your emotional self.

If a person does nothing to help himself reconnect with himself at this stage, he may move into the third stage called the altered state. In this stage you become very disconnected from yourself and your emotions, so that sexual acting out makes sense (usually there is a lot of thinking about how good it will be and an absence of any awareness of any negative consequences). Reality becomes blocked out.

From this altered state stage, a person generally moves on to the pursuing behavior stage. In this stage, one begins to take action towards the acting out; perhaps by making a phone call to a sex line, or by getting in a car and taking off to find a prostitute, etc.

The next stage is the behavior itself – whatever it is for each particular person.

Then the final stage of the cycle is time, which simply represents the amount of time until the whole cycle begins again. This is different for each person; it could be several hours, a day or a week.

What is particularly important about this cycle is that it shows how in stage 1 the pain agents are what trigger the complete addictive cycle. What a person needs to do therefore is to work right at stage 1. One needs to learn how to deal with these pain agents in healthy ways, because if you do not you may begin to move deeper into the cycle. It is also possible to work in the 2nd stage by learning to recognize when you are disassociating from your self, and then learning how to reconnect with your self and your feelings.

If you can do this, you can stop the cycle from continuing. However, if a person has done nothing (or has not been able) to deal with one or more of the pain agents, or has not been able to reconnect with their feelings from the 2nd stage, he will most likely move into the 3rd stage – the altered state stage.

In the 3rd stage it’s usually too late to get out of the cycle; in other words, once you get into the altered state stage, you are most likely going to act out. This is why it’s so important to work in the 1st or 2nd stage. This is why it is so important to work with any difficult feelings coming up, or in dealing with stress in healthy ways, or in recognizing that one has a need to connect with another and taking action to get this need met. In addition, one can learn when he is disassociated or cut off from himself and learn healthy ways to deal with it.

A lot of people end up getting down on themselves for not being to get out of the altered state stage. This is the stage usually where your thinking about doing something sexually really gets going. The truth is that for many people, once you’ve gotten to this stage it’s very hard to derail the cycle – it will usually happen, particularly for early recovery people. It helps to know this (especially if you are early in recovery) so that you can be easier on yourself when you do act out and so you can learn to work on the stage 1 thing(s) that most commonly trigger the whole acting out cycle.

The main benefit of this cycle is that it clarifies how the pain agents begin the cycle, and that the most effective way to work on a sex addiction is at stage 1. When working at stage 1, you need to first learn what issues you have that are triggering the cycle, which will be one or more of the 4 pain agents (childhood trauma is included here as it can cause any of the 4). Then you need to begin to understand what these issues are all about, and then to begin both resolving them and learning how to deal with them when they come up.




Exposure and the removal of secrecy really helps the infidel find safety in their marriage, and reattach to their spouse. It helps take the affairs out of the fantasy world and into reality.


The outcome can be fantastic with this type of affair:

  • The relationship will have a routine for connection and quality time
  • The infidel will build to regaining trust by remaining transparent
  • Both people will work on boundaries
  • Both work on more honest and authentic communication
  • Keep working on intimacy and sexual excitement for the relationship – both in touch and shared fantasy.


#1 Marriage Counselor and #1 Infidelity Recovery Coach