Marriage to a Sex Addict is a Lonely Business for Both of You

“Why didn’t I see that something was wrong?”

Most partners and spouses of sex addicts feel that they had no idea there were sexual addictive behaviors going on behind their back.  They believe, and correctly so, that sex addicts are world class liars and they cannot imagine how they were supposed to have figured out that their spouse was engaging in sexual behaviors like viewing internet pornography at work, having random sexual hook-ups, or spending a small fortune in strip clubs.  Were they wearing blinders?  Definitely not.  Addicts are great liars.  But there are ways in which the sex addict’s behavior is a symptom of a larger problem, and that larger problem was almost certainly one that pervaded the marriage or relationship in many other subtle ways.   If both addict and partner have some of the same unconscious hang ups, then the partner may not be able to clearly see that something is amiss.  The disclosure of the sex addiction will seem to come out of left field.

Both sex addict and partner have intimacy issues

Sexual addictive behaviors are, among other things, a way to avoid intimacy.  Sex addicts tend to pick partners who do not demand that the relationship be based on emotional maturity, honesty, and equality.  The addict is most comfortable with a partner who is so afraid of abandonment that they are either checked out a lot, keeping distance through drama and turmoil, or through behaving in a needy and compliant way.  In other words, one of the ways that the sex addict’s intimacy disorder meshes with the partner’s intimacy issues is that for both of them there is a tendency to choose partnerships with built-in distance. 

Separateness and loneliness: the addict

Sex addiction is a lonely business.  When sex addicts are active in their addiction, they are “intimacy disabled” – they avoid close relating with a partner and substitute the fleeting excitement of sexual acting out.  Most likely they are coming from a place of fear of intimacy that goes way back to childhood experiences.  The upshot is that their way of relating to their partner may be very superficial, intermittent and outright deceptive.  This is not closeness.  Underneath, the addict has feelings of inferiority and loneliness.

Separateness and loneliness:  the spouses of addicts

The person living with a sex addict is fearful of abandonment too and therefore fears intimacy because it carries with it the danger of getting hurt.  In some way there is safety in a partner who is partly unavailable.  Getting too close is not safe.  So the partner of a sex addict (or any kind of addict for that matter) is not the “main squeeze” so to speak.  The addiction is in some ways the addict’s true love.  Often the relationship started out with the addict seeming to be overwhelmingly in love and seductive and the partner may mistake this intensity for intimacy.  In this way the partner is unconsciously settling for a relationship in which there is intense romanticism (at first) but really, in one way or another, an absence of deeper intimacy.  Worse still, the spouse or partner of a sex addict will periodically have a sense of this lack even if they cannot see the cause.  The partner or spouse will be subjected to periodic but constant episodes of abandonment by the person they love.

Learning to be Intimate:  new skills for both addict and partner

The cure for all this loneliness and fear of abandonment is that through recovery both sex addicts and their partners will be receiving appropriate support and professional help in order to overcome their fears and learn to be intimate.  This is a long process; the old fears are deeply ingrained.  But both addicts and their spouses or partners have many of the same fears and the same lack of ability to feel safe in being open with what they feel and who they are.  In the process of recovery the addict and partner can count on having a lot of common areas for growth, and this in itself will be a basis for genuine closeness.

Living Near a Sex Offender? Be Less Afraid

People are Afraid for their Children

A predatory child molester is a parent’s worst nightmare.  The idea that someone who has committed a sexual offense against a child could be loose in the neighborhood is a truly frightening prospect for the folks who live there.  The reflex reaction is to say that if we can prevent one child from being sexually assaulted then any preventive measure is justified.  Likewise, the reasoning goes we should just lock up sex offenders and throw away the key just to be on the safe side.  

Prison sentences for first time offenders guilty only of viewing child pornography have tended to vary widely but to be often extreme.  The average person tends to conclude that any act such as viewing child pornography is surely going to lead to offenses against children.  Such conclusions are often drawn purely on gut level fear rather than any knowledge of the facts. 

The available research does not indicate that the act of viewing child pornography leads to committing sex offenses even though most actual child molesters do view child pornography.  Some have even argued that viewing child pornography can be a less damaging substitute for child sexual abuse and can therefore be somehow useful for those who have those inclinations.

Nevertheless, a conviction on possession of child pornography alone can in itself lead to the offender being placed on the state’s sex offender registry.   Local law enforcement may also notify their communities about the presence of a registered sex offender under certain circumstances.

In recent years the internet has allowed child pornography to become a rapidly increasing problem.  In 1995 about 50 people per year were prosecuted on child-pornography charges in the U.S. Currently the number is about 2,500 per year.  The U.S. Department of Justice reports that images of pre-pubescent children are becoming more prevalent and are increasingly violent and sadistic.

Reasons to be Less Afraid

  • Residency restrictions may not make communities safer.  An article entitled “Studies Question Effectiveness of Sex Offender Laws,” reviewed two studies which showed that registration does little to increase public safety.
  • Most convicted sex offenders do not re-offend.  Most estimates of recidivism rates for sex offenders are under 20% which is lower than for other types of crimes. 
  • Most sexual offenses against children are not committed by strangers.  The NY State Criminal Justice Department in their “Myths and Facts” about sex offenses reports that for offenses against victims age 16 and under, 93% were assaulted by someone they knew, usually a family member or acquaintance.
  • Treatment of sex offenders is thought to be effective.  According to the above link, studies show a reduced rate of repeat sex offenses for offenders who successfully complete their treatment goals.  Treatment with youthful offenders appears to be particularly effective.

There is also growing concern about the possibility that excessive restrictions on registered sex offenders as to where they can live, where they can go, whether they can be on social media sites, GPS monitoring, etc. may lead to their lives becoming so disadvantaged that they are actually at greater risk to reoffend.  In other words, where their life options are so narrowed they may be hindered from leading a normal life even if they start out motivated to do so.

What to Do

On the whole I believe that the lesson is that rather than trying to increase the controls on those offenders who have been convicted, we should channel our anger and fear into efforts to catch and treat young sex offenders, place increased emphasis on treating all sex offenders both incarcerated and in the community, and continue preventive efforts to increase public awareness and awareness on the part of youngsters about the prevalence of and dangers associated with internet pornography.  We need to focus on efforts to prevent children and adults from becoming either sex addicts or sex objects, either predators or prey.



Sexual Addictive Behavior is Hazardous to your Health

Sex addiction is hazardous in general

The standard ten criteria for sex addiction listed under the “defining addiction” tab above illustrate the many possible detrimental results when out-of-control sexually addictive behaviors gain a hold on your life.  Some of the criteria suggest that sexual addictive behavior has a negative impact on the addict’s relationships and occupational functioning.  Obviously spending hours a day looking at pornography or hooking up for anonymous sexual encounters costs people their marriages, jobs and connections to people in their lives. 

The more severe varieties of sexual addictive behavior such as exhibitionism, voyeurism, stalking, and molestation carry the additional risk of arrest and incarceration.

Sex addiction is physically and emotionally hazardous to you (and others)

Other defining criteria for sexual addiction point to the direct negative effects on the addict’s mind and body that such behavior can have.  Three of these defining criteria jump out at me:

  • Continuation of the behavior despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent social, financial, psychological, or physical problem that is caused or exacerbated by the behavior
  • The need to increase the intensity, frequency, number, or risk level of behaviors in order to achieve the desired effect; or diminished effect with continued behaviors at the same level of intensity, frequency, number, or risk
  • Distress, anxiety, restlessness, or irritability if unable to engage in the behavior

Mental and Physical Diseases

Physical hazards include first and foremost exposure to sexually transmitted diseases.  The sexual addictive behaviors which involve multiple sexual partners, anonymous sex, or sex with prostitutes etc. involve the possibility of unprotected sex which could lead to the addict contracting HIV, HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases.  The indiscriminate sexual contact with a number of partners could also lead to the exposure to other diseases as well.  These diseases are then potentially transmitted to the partners and spouses of the sex addict as well.  I know of one particularly sad case in which an addict unknowingly exposed his pregnant wife to a pathogen that caused a birth defect in his child.

Mental distress and depression are common among people with sexually addictive behavior patterns.  I have encountered any number of sex addicts who have been suicidal due to their addiction at one time or another.  Recently a man in his 50’s who had been arrested for viewing child pornography died while awaiting sentencing.  He died of a heart attack but my suspicion is that the stress of his situation was the precipitating factor.

Erectile Dysfunction

By definition, an addiction involves a process of gradual desensitization, a numbing of a specific pleasure response in the brain.  As more and younger men who are addicted to internet porn exhibit ED, it is clear that the process of desensitization to sexually addictive behaviors operates in exactly the same way as any drug.

Affects on Women

Women are affected from two directions.  (1) More women are becoming sex addicts (although still fewer than men) and (2) images of women in the media are becoming increasingly sexual across the board.  Sexualized images of women are everywhere in media, film, advertizing etc.  These are images that are:

  • Increasingly pornographic
  • Increasingly violent
  • Increasingly idealized (thin, airbrushed)
  • Increasingly intended to look extremely young or even childlike

It is well documented that the dissemination of idealized images of women has many negative impacts on women and girls such as eating disorders, emotional disturbance and lack of sexual self protection.  Body dissatisfaction is common and from 2002 to 2003 the number of girls 18 and younger who got breast implants tripled.

Affects on Children

As adults become accustomed to being bombarded with sexual imagery, they are likely to be more lax about protecting their children from it and are even coming to see it as OK for children.  Sexualized images of children are becoming much more prevalent than ever and sexualized clothing such as thongs and high heels for young children has led to the coining of the terms “prostitot” and “kinderwhore.”  It remains to be seen what the ultimate affect of all this will be on the development of the current generation of children. 

Recovery is not Prudery

If you are inclined to take the issue of sexually addictive behavior seriously and you help others to do so you are helping to push the social agenda in a healthy direction.  There is still pressure in the sexually addictive direction from many people who see recovery as “sexual repression.”  It is important for sex addicts to get help and for those around them to get help and to carry the message.  This is not being against sex.  There is nothing liberated or liberating about being caught up in sexual addiction.

Intimacy disorder, cybersex and sex addiction: a vicious circle

Are there more sex addicts in the US than alcoholics?

The exploding use of internet pornography worldwide has been well documented of late and has prompted people to use the word “epidemic” to describe the phenomenon.  Even the most conservative estimates based on surveys of college students put the figure at six percent or more. But a recent statistical review concluded that “ten percent of adults admit to an internet sexual addiction.” (Internet Pornography Statistics by Jerry Ropelato, Internet Filter Review)

So since there are roughly 232 million adults in the U.S.that means that 23 million of them are internet sex addicts.  If this is even in the ball park, then the number of sex addicts of all kinds in the U.S. is greater than the number of alcoholics (17.6 million) and the number of drug addicts (3.6 million) put together! 

Recreational users

The Internet Filter Review reports that 40 million people in the U.S. per day log onto internet pornography sites (as of 2006.)  This is up from a reported 30 million 3 years prior ( 2003.)  They are not all addicts but neither are the 22 million Americans who, according to, “use” illegal drugs.  But internet pornography is known to be highly addictive.  Powerful stimuli often tailored to people’s specific fantasies, produce high excitement and arousal chemistry in the brain not to mention the reinforcement of easy, anonymous sexual gratification.

Intimacy vs. sexual addiction

The largest consumers of internet pornography are the 12 to 17 year-old age group (, Statistics on Pornography, Sexual Addiction and Online Perpetrators.)  If as widely reported, the average age of first exposure to internet pornography is 11; this means that tens of millions of young people are forming their ideas and attitudes about sex and sexuality based on alienated, idealized and often exploitive or violent content.  Furthermore they are doing so in many cases long before they will ever have had any kind of intimate physical experience with a real live person.

Sex addiction is a disorder in which the preferred sexual activities take place apart from an intimate relationship with another person.  In other words the sex addict engages compulsively and often in one or more types of sexual situations that have nothing to do with intimacy, such as cybersex, strip clubs, anonymous sex, and sex with prostitutes.  Most people still prefer to have a sex life in the context of a relationship with someone.  But as more and younger people are seduced into spending hours each day in front of internet pornography, they are fast losing their ability to relate sexually in the more complicated, less airbrushed world of real people.  For those kids who started getting hooked on pornography in their early teens, they may never have the chance to begin to learn how to relate intimately.  This very ineptitude will then lead them to flee from sexual relationships into their fantasy world of porn and thus the process feeds on itself.

Not enough addicts getting treatment

The arithmetic is striking.  If there are 10 to 20 million sexually addicted Americans, and there are about 1,500 therapists who specialize in treating them, along with a dozen or so rehab programs (which tend to be costly although very effective) there can be only a tiny percentage of sex addicts actually getting professional help for what is a remarkably intransigent problem.  There are a number of AA type support groups including Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sexual Compulsives Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous and Survivors of Incest Anonymous.  The world headquarters of Sex Addicts Anonymous told me that there are currently 1,300 registered SAA groups worldwide.  If each group has an average of 10 people who belong and attend meetings then there are only 13,000 sex addicts getting help through SAA which is the oldest and biggest of the organizations.  Again, a puny percentage of those needing help.

And the good news?

Sex addiction has received a lot more attention in the media around the world of late and by and large the problem has been taken seriously.  A growing number of therapists are being trained and certified by IITAP (International Institute of Trauma and Addiction Therapists) and more residential programs are being created.  Parents are becoming more aware of the issue and there are serious campaigns and organizations combating the sexualization of media and culture and the sexualized depiction of children.  Also there is growing awareness of the violent pornographic nature of imagery present in games as well as media.

And Sex Addicts Anonymous?  Their office told me that worldwide, the number of groups that register with the central organization every year is increasing by twenty percent!  If the growth keeps up at this pace then this alone will go a long way toward spreading the word.