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Characteristics of Sex Addiction

The sex is shameful.
It violates one’s own personal values and beliefs. The sex addict feels shame about what he or she is doing, but is unable to stop. Promises are made to oneself not to do it again but the promises are repeatedly broken. Or the shame may be denied by calling it normal for "a real man," or by rationalizing, "I just like sex." After sexually violating one’s personal standards, the shame sometimes is avoided by engaging in it again right away so the shame is exchanged for a new round of pleasure. Thus a married man may feel remorse after having sex with his best friend's wife, having rationalized that his friend wasn't sexually satisfying her. Later that night his shame and fear cause him to avoid going to bed with his own wife. Instead he stays up after she goes to bed and secretly uses the Internet to emotionally medicate himself by masturbating to pornography or having a sexual chat with an anonymous woman.

The sex is secret.
The sex addict more and more comes to live a double life—perhaps well known, respected and admired in his visible life but secretly engaging regularly in sex acts that would be shocking and disgusting to those who know and love him. So a sexually addicted minister could be revered on Sunday morning for preaching on the sinfulness of adultery and fornication and then engage in those behaviors himself at a modeling studio or sexually-oriented massage establishment on Monday afternoon, having told the church staff or his family a lie about where he was going. Or a prominent gay man who advocates for gay rights might be in a committed relationship in which both men have pledged faithfulness, but he often secretly has sex in gay bathhouses and adult bookstores.

The sex is compulsive.
There never seems to be enough. A single man may have several sexual relationships going on simultaneously, often having sex with two or more of them in a single day. Or a married man who in addition to having sex with his wife as often as she is willing, regularly masturbates and may also frequent the Internet to view pornography. Or the person who seldom misses starting each day out with masturbation, may masturbate once or more during the day, and always uses masturbation as a sedative before going to sleep at night—and has maintained this practice for years.

The sex need becomes progressive.
Over time the pursuit of sex expands. The frequency increases and/or new forms of being sexual are added. For example, in childhood there was occasional masturbation; in high school there was masturbation plus dating sex; in college pornographic videos and Internet sex were added and masturbation increased; after establishing a family and career, topless clubs and sexual massage sessions entered the picture; and eventually an escort service prostitute was hired during a business trip for the first time. While it is normal for one to acquire more sexual experience in life, the sex addict’s increases will be dramatic and will include other addictive characteristics.

The sex violates personal values.
The sex addict knows some of the sexual behavior is outside his or her value system but over and over rationalizations are used in order to engage in sexual activities that the addict simply can’t resist because the anticipated high is so compelling. A common example is violating one’s marriage or committed relationship by having sex with others; another is telling lies to conceal sexual behavior about which one is ashamed. Another example is adults viewing sexual images of persons far younger than themselves and who likely are teens, even perhaps the age of one’s own son or daughter. Or priests in recent scandals within the Catholic Church who were representatives of the Church's high standards of morality and who no doubt believed in what they taught and preached, and yet repeatedly were being sexual with their child parishioners.

The sex is abusive.
It violates someone else's choice or exceeds their understanding. There is the young man who routinely manipulates or coerces his dates into being sexual with him; the husband who demands sex from his wife that far exceeds her wishes and that ignores her protests; the woman who typically wears revealing clothing, like a partially unbuttoned blouse that “accidentally” exposes her breasts when she bends down in the presence of men; or the man who seeks out crowded shopping malls so he can meander among the throng to "cop a feel." Or the man who habitually spies on a female neighbor and figures out ways to look into a bathroom in his own home when female relatives are visiting.

And there are adult men and women who manipulate the trust of children and abuse their power over them by tricking them into performing sexual acts with them. This is exemplified by the teacher who becomes sexual with a student, or the neighbor who hires boys to mow the lawn and then invites them inside and lures them into sex. And, as cited above under "The sex violates personal values," there are clergy who have used their spiritual influence and unquestioned trust to seduce children into sexual relations with them. (It is important to add here that not everyone who has engaged in abusive sexual behavior is a sex addict. While the sex acts violate others and in many cases are against the law, it is the drive to keep repeating these acts even though the acts violate the person’s personal values, and despite the consequencest of the acts, that makes the behavior sex addiction.)

The sex can also be abusive to the sex addict him or herself, as in the case in which the addict is so driven to masturbate multiple times a day that physical injury results. And yet the person continues to masturbate in spite of the pain and additional injury. The self abuse can also be a purposeful part of one’s ritualized behavior by cutting or pinching oneself for additional sexual arousal.

The sex causes major problems.
The kinds of sex, the amounts and the secrecy involved start to cause unwanted circumstances. Particularly, problems begin occurring in the addict’s marriage or primary relationship. The relationship partner complains about the frequent absences or the kinds and amounts of sex that are required or about the total disinterest in sex (due to meeting sexual needs elsewhere). While the behavior may be successfully hidden for some time, eventually it comes to light and threats of leaving or actual separations and even divorce are common. Other unwanted consequences are large debt for charged sexual services, sexually transmitted diseases, employer warnings or loss of one’s job, estrangement from friends and family, or arrests.

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