Sex Addiction


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Sex addiction is a preoccupation with sexual behavior (masturbation, sex clubs, anonymous or casual sex, and etc.) that is ritualized and compulsive. These behaviors can cause social, economic and interpersonal difficulties, causing one to lose relationships, employment and a sense of self.  Individuals can experience withdraw symptoms when abstinent from sexual acting out behavior, even when the behavior will sabotage meaningful relationship or self-respect.

Sex addicts use sexual behavior to enhance and alter their mood. Their behavior closely resembles the patterns of alcoholics and drug-addicted clients.  Patterns are:  1) a loss of control; 2) a continuation of the behavior despite adverse consequences such as arrests, broken marriages, & financial problems; 3) an obsession or preoccupation with obtaining, using, or recovering from sexual acting out behavior (Carnes & Schneider, 2000).

Sex addiction is a way to cope with life stress and intense emotions. Once someone has developed sex addiction, the behavior can escalate.  Secrets and lies tend to increase to hide from shame and guilt. Often, individuals justify and rationalize their behavior, because “it’s just sex,” and “we’re all sexual beings, right?”

The truth is that, yes, we are all sexual beings. Sex becomes a problem only when we are unbalanced and when sex becomes all you think about, talk about and desire–and when lies and denial become necessary to keep the behavior active.

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Signs of Sex Addiction

  • Unable to complete tasks due to excessive preoccupation about sex
  • Lying to family, friends and co-workers
  • Excessively spending money that you don’t have on sex
  • Spending 2-4 hours cruising the internet, parks or streets
  • Having rituals or ritualized behavior
  • Search for a bigger or better high
  • Downloading porn at work
  • Masturbating or having sex in public
  • Feeling tired or low energy from acting out
  • Feeling shame and guilt after sexual act
  • Sexualizing conversations
  • Fantasizing and sexualizing others
  • Masturbating to the point of injury

Recommended Reading


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Related Links

Internet Sex Screening Test (ISST)
A screening test developed by Patrick Carnes to assess internet addiction
Sex Addiction Screening Test
Patrick Carnes created an assessment tool to assess for sex addiction
Sexual Addiction Risk Assessment (SARA)
A sexual addiction risk assessment assesses the severity of a client’s sex addiction.