Spill-Over: A sex addict may have a brush with child molestation

The current typologies:

As it stands there are a number of ways to categorize people whose sexual fantasies or sexual behaviors relate to children.  Each category has its own particular characteristics and these categories become especially significant in the legal arena although they also relate significantly to approaches to prevention and treatment.  There are child molesters who are deemed predatory, fixated pedophiles, those seen as more intractable and more difficult to treat.  There are incestuous child molesters, those who molest a particular child whom they are emotionally close to rather than lying in wait for or grooming children at large and who are seen as less dangerous to society and easier to contain.  There are also of course those who are sexually sociopathic, who have a number of sexually exploitive behaviors and are likely to engage in molestation of a child simply because the opportunity presents itself.  Recently there is a distinction made between people who view child pornography because they are predatory pedophiles and people whose pornography addiction escalates into an interest in child pornography or in child molestation that wasn’t there before.  This spreading out or escalating phenomenon may happen more readily in adolescents whose sexuality, as well as their overall cognitive development, is less well formed.  Probably for this same reason, the recent data suggest that treatment outcomes are better for adolescents who have committed a sexual assault against a child.

The “maverick” molestation

In my work treating sex addicts I have seen a number of patients whose “arousal template,” meaning the well established set of sexual fantasy scenarios that drive their addictive sexual behaviors, have nothing to do with children but who nevertheless have at some point either touched a child inappropriately or had the thought or fantasy of acting out with a child or under-age youth.  In these cases the encounter with a child or adolescent is not part of a pattern.  Also it does not represent an “escalation” of their sex addiction.  On the contrary, the addict may find themselves interacting sexually with a child or contemplating it, only to be shaken by the fact that they have done or contemplated doing such a thing.  They may follow through in the moment and then realize afterward that they have crossed a line that they will never allow themselves to cross again.  Or they may recognize in themselves the impulse to act out with a child in a particular situation and be so taken aback that they never again allow themselves to be in a situation in which that behavior poses a risk.

I can hear you saying “Yes but how can you believe them?  What if they are actually bound to continue the offending behavior but they are keeping it a secret?”  That is a possibility, but if you know the patient well enough and over the period of their recovery from sexual addiction then you know with some certainty that it was a one shot deal.  Such an addict will not stop being an addict and will likely continue their preferred behavior such as anonymous online sexual hook-ups, engaging prostitutes, sexual chat rooms or internet pornography and never have another brush with child molestation.  They may even continue their other offending behaviors such as exhibitionism or voyeurism but never act out against a child.  It is simply not their preferred behavior and they are thus able to veer away from it.

What causes this spill over?

But although they have a distinct arousal template for their compulsive sexual behavior and although they do that behavior or that set of behaviors over and over, and although they may increase the frequency, the riskiness or the bizarreness of the behaviors, they are not destined to become child sexual abusers.  I believe that this phenomenon, if it is a phenomenon, of the random act with a child, represents the fact that:

  • Many sex addicts view the world through sex colored glasses.  As I like to put it, “they could sexualize a ham sandwich.”


  • Many sex addicts grow up in families or living situations in which there are extremely poor boundaries.


  • Poor boundaries do not always represent covert incest

All sex addicts I have known are liable to see any and every situation through a sexual filter.  They project their own preoccupation with sex onto the world at large and react from their own need to put sexuality first.  But that is not enough to explain the spill over phenomenon.  I think that those addicts who are particularly prone to have a one-time sexual brush with child molestation are those who were raised in families or situations in which there were very poor boundaries.  By this I mean situations in which there was a lack of appropriate generational boundaries and a lack of personal boundaries, e.g. sleeping in the same room with teen aged children or in which male and female children and teens were thrown together in sleeping or living arrangements without privacy.  Usually these are situations in which the parents or caregivers had a poor sense of appropriate boundaries themselves but are not engaging in covert molestation.  In these cases, there is likely no history of actual molestation of the addict as a child.  It there were it would raise the red flag of possible child sexual abuse pattern.

I believe the spill over phenomenon is a byproduct of sexual addiction caused by an extreme lack of an appropriate sense of boundaries beginning in childhood.  If this is the case and if it is fully understood then I believe it helps to allay the fears of the patient and therapist alike.  Whatever other challenges the sex addict faces, the behavior or fantasy of acting out with a child may truly be an atypical event for some addicts, one they can walk away from and one that may not signal a larger problem relating to children.

What are your thoughts on this topic?  Post a comment now!

Will Sex Addiction Treatment Cure Intimacy Issues?

Sex addiction treatment lays a foundation

When a sex addict receives enough treatment and support to be able to refrain from sexual addictive behaviors, the addict and those around the addict may wonder if the treatment has also produced a new ability to be open, trusting and devoted in an intimate relationship.  In their addiction, addicts remove a part of themselves from their significant other; they live part of their life in secret or perhaps are unable to form a bond with a partner at all.   And, if the new found abstinence is more than “white knuckle” sobriety, the addict will have made some major changes in a number of areas which are fundamental to recovery from sex addiction.  In addition to getting off the “drug” of addictive sexual behaviors, the addict will have learned some or all of the following:

  • A habit of honesty and integrity in all their dealings with people
  • A capacity for more open communication rather than being ashamed and secretive
  • An awareness that their addiction left them lonely and isolated
  • An ability to tolerate unpleasant and painful situations and feelings
  • A willingness to be seen for who they are rather than playing a role
  • A commitment to continued growth and to helping others

These are all good things and things which will help both the sex addict and their partner or potential partner achieve a healthy, passionate and loving relationship.  But although these abilities form a basis for intimate relating they are not the whole storyThey are necessary but not sufficient.

There is still a ways to go for sex addiction treatment methods

Sex addicts have a variety of intimacy issues that typically underlie their addiction and although these are addressed in treatment, the process of learning new intimacy skills and practicing a new and different kind of relating will be an ongoing process.  Some of the traits of the addict that linger will almost certainly crop up in the relationships that addicts have in the early years of recovery.

Because sex addicts have never had a healthy intimate relationship, they will have had no experience of the day to day reality of relating to a partner in a new way, a way that fits their new sense of self.  They have learned how to be better, but they have not had an opportunity to learn how to be better as a spouse or partner or perhaps even how to approach dating.  The addict most commonly had a problematic attachment with one or more caregivers early in life which left them with a deep mistrust of intimacy.  In addition, the typical addict family of origin is one without committed, open, healthy intimacy between parents, and so the addict has no model to strive toward: he/she doesn’t know what a good relationship really looks like.

Other areas where the addict’s old patterns of behavior may crop up relate to some of the typical ways of thinking and feeling that go along with the unconscious conditioning of most sex addicts.

  1. Addicts may struggle with sexual avoidance with their partner.  Remember sex addicts have been involving part of themselves in a separate very intense sexual life that does not make any interpersonal demands on them.  With a partner they cannot go off into a fantasy world or use the sex as a drug in the same way.  This may lead to a nagging discomfort with sex that can only be overcome with time and practice.  Yes, practice.


  1. Sex addicts are used to living as narcissists.  Narcissism is a defense mechanism that allows addicts to feel superficially good about themselves when they really don’t feel they are worth much at all.  They have been avoiding their own painful emotions their whole life and they are not yet entirely ready to admit that they are imperfect, to listen to other people, and to accept a world in which they can feel OK without having to feel special or over-entitled.


  1. Sex addicts have lived their whole life feeling that they could not entirely trust others and could not rely on others to meet their needs.  This leads to an excessive need for control that makes it hard for addicts in recovery to get used to a new model of relating that requires compromise, mutual respect and a  great deal of faith in their spouse or partner.


  1. Sex addicts are often loners.  Even if they are overtly social or seem to be good team players they tend to feel a deep sense of separateness and isolation.  It is an ongoing challenge for many recovering sex addicts to really bond with another person, to give themselves over to a “oneness” with another person.    They will have to gradually learn to break through that invisible barrier, a process that will naturally occur over time if they consciously let it.

So long as recovering sex addicts and their partners or significant others have a commitment to continuing to grow, they will be able to continually gain new intimacy skills for a long time to come.  Treatment is only the beginning.  As the saying goes “recovery takes a lifetime.”

When Sex Addicts “Hit Bottom” – The Similarities with Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Why Do Addicts Need to Hit Bottom?

“Hitting bottom” is a well known concept among those in the drug and alcohol recovery community which originally gained currency in the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program (AA).  It is also commonly referred to among sex addicts and in Sex Addicts Anonymous 12-step groups.  Hitting bottom is a very individual concept and means roughly that point in your life at which you were so broken down and desperate that you were forced to admit that you needed help. 

The original AA concept of hitting bottom was based on the idea that a true addiction is so powerful that by definition it takes something dramatic to make a person seek help.  In other words, for any addict, sex addicts included, the last thing the addict wants to do is stop engaging in the addictive activity.  Against that overwhelming need, a motivation for seeking help will have to be monumentally powerful.  Furthermore, the concept of needing to hit bottom includes the idea that change is impossible without first admitting that you yourself cannot solve the problem, that the addiction is bigger than you are.  The first step to overcoming the addiction, i.e. step 1 in all the 12-step addiction programs, is admitting this powerlessness.

Sex Addicts are Powerless over the Addiction

Those of us who work with sex addicts have no problem with the idea that sex addiction is just as overwhelmingly powerful as any other addiction—we see it every day. Sex addicts no less than drug and alcohol addicts need to reach a point where they are up against the wall and can no longer believe that they can quit on their own.  It makes no difference what the specific sexual addictive behavior is.  Internet pornography is called the “crack cocaine of sex addiction” because it hooks so many people so easily and so quickly, but other sexual addictive behaviors such as anonymous sex, serial seductions, sexual massage parlors, strip clubs, sexual chat rooms and prostitutes are experienced as just as addictive.  All addictive behaviors escalate as the addiction progresses and the addict finds that despite the best intentions, fiercest exertion of will power and the promises to himself or others, he (or she) continues to give in to the urge to sexually “act out.”

What is an “Intervention” for a Sex Addict?

An intervention is an arranged confrontation of the addict aimed at making him/her see the need for help before they hit a more devastating, absolute bottom.  A large number of the sex addicts who come for help do so because of pressure from outside.  This can take the form of a spouse or partner who finds out about the addiction and pressures the addict into getting help, or it can be an arrest for behavior related to the sex addiction or a brush with the law, or it can be losing a job or being at risk for losing a job due to the addictive behavior or its consequences.  This route into treatment does not guarantee that the addict will automatically believe that he/she needs help or that treatment can cure him/her.  But most sex addiction treatment is geared toward overcoming the initial denial of the addict first and it therefore paves the way for the addict to accept the need for help and ultimately to embrace a program recovery.

Some addicts do “hit bottom” without outside pressure.  They suddenly realize that they have no life, that they are incapable of a good intimate relationship, or that they don’t want grow old and die an addict.  But the pressure from a spouse or partner can be an invaluable tool in creating a “bottom” and propelling the addict into treatment.  Instead of hiring an intervention expert, the partner of a sex addict can often get the same results by saying “get help or else,” that is assuming they mean what they say.