The Stigma of Sex Addiction Part 2: What to Tell Others About Your Addiction

“I am a recovering sex addict” is something you may or may not feel comfortable saying to people.  On one hand, you may feel guarded about telling people anything, partly because you know that sexually compulsive behavior carries so much stigma and shame.  On the other hand, you may decide you want to be open about your recovery. This openness may be received in a variety of ways, and you may find that people’s response is unpredictable; some may feel sex addiction is a joke, while others may react with extreme fear.

I had a client who came from Ohio for an intensive workshop in California. He was worried about what to tell others regarding his addiction. I naively suggested he could tell his colleagues that he’d been to “rehab.”  After all, I said, “everybody goes to rehab nowadays.”  His answer: “Not in Toledo they don’t.”  Attitudes vary, but in general it’s still the case that talking about alcoholism is a piece of cake compared to the embarrassment and anxiety surrounding sex addiction.

Everyone’s situation is different but I’d like to offer some basic ideas about who should know what and when they should know it.

Telling immediate family

If you have a spouse or partner they will have to know at least the basic truths, preferably in a planned disclosure with therapist(s) structuring and supporting the process.  Sometimes spouses uncover the addiction on their own, but blurting stuff out is never a good idea.

Apart from the initial disclosure process, spouses and partners need to know whatever they want to know as soon as possible in order to rebuild trust.  However, if you’re seriously considering divorce, then formal disclosure is often discouraged.

Anybody close to you who is directly impacted will probably have to be told sooner or later.  Young children will  wonder what’s going on and need to be given the general answers (“Daddy’s had some problems and needs to get help to learn to be better, not hurt mommy’s feelings,” etc.)  Older adolescents and adult children can be given more information, but it may not be appropriate to give all the details.

What to tell friends and associates

The hard part is deciding what to tell friends and other family members.  Resist the temptation to confess until you’ve thought about the situation and the consequences to both yourself and the other persons.  Here are some dos and don’ts.


  • Don’t tell acquaintances, neighbors etc.  You cannot assume that people will be able to understand sex addiction, and if they can’t understand it, they will be unable to contain it.
  • Don’t tell anyone you don’t feel safe with emotionally.  This may change over time but it means feeling that the person will still respect you and care about you; that they will not judge you or shun you.
  • Don’t tell anyone if it could endanger your livelihood.  This often includes people you work with.
  • Don’t tell people who aren’t ready, meaning even extended family if it is outside their universe and if they can’t assimilate this information.  This is a personal judgment call on your part.


  • Do tell your doctor as it may be relevant (and might help him or her learn more about the issue).
  • Do tell trusted friends and relatives including recovery friends from other 12-step programs.  This helps fight the stigma that exists even in programs like AA.
  • Do tell anyone whom you could’ve exposed to a sexually transmitted disease or any other disease.
  • Do tell people to whom you are making verbal (9th step) amends.  This can be in a general form such as, “I had a problem with sexual behavior and I’ve been working on it” etc. Your sponsor will help you with this.
  • Do tell adult children and other close family members about your journey when it will help them understand their family and make sense out of their own experience.  Seeing you grow and change is extremely powerful in helping adult children grow.

This process is never neat, and never goes perfectly according to plan.  Anyone who’s ever been through it will have their own amazing stories to share.

Fake Romance: Understanding a Seduction Addict’s Playbook

“What just happened?”

That can be the feeling you get when you’ve encountered a seduction addict. These are the “nice guys” of sex addiction.  But anyone who has ever dated a compulsive seducer can tell you that they are as intimacy disabled as any other sex addict, maybe more so.  They tend to leave a nasty trail of non-relationships behind them and their future looks pretty much like their past.

We’ll look at what to expect in a typical scenario of a person dating a seduction addict, but first let’s look at the essential features of this kind of sex addict.

Characteristics of seduction sex addicts

  • They are addicted to the rush of falling in love, not the sexual act.
  • They are obsessed with being desired sexually and making a romantic connection.
  • They begin to lose sexual desire for a person immediately after the initial conquest.
  • They are not interested in having a real relationship.
  • They cannot sustain interest beyond the initial romance.
  • They are deeply cynical about lasting relationships because they fear them and don’t understand them.
  • They often carry on multiple flirtations to insure a supply for the future.

The stages in a seduction addict’s romantic scenario

(The seduction addict can be male or female.  I am using “he” for convenience only.)

  1. Predatory Flirting.  He  uses any encounter to start a flirtation.  He finds extremely subtle ways to be romantically suggestive.  For example, he might say “Maybe it’s not an accident that we ran into each other.”  Sometimes he will take a strong interest in you, or he may be very protective.  But he keeps it vague and indirect so he always has an “out.”
  2. Romantic Connection.  Assuming you actually connect, there is the initial romance.  Everything is exciting and special.  This beginning stage in an attachment is called “limerence” and it is an altered state.  One seduction addict admitted to me that the high point of a relationship for him was the first kiss.  However, at no point can you expect the addict to take the lead. Instead of making a definite plan for a date he may call or email on some flimsy pretext in order to get you to take the initiative.  Above all he wants to know he is desired.  He will want to feel that you initiated sex.
  3. The Affair of the Century.  The two of you are perfect together.  You are likely to be swept away and to not notice that you don’t know anything about what this guy really wants for the future.  That’s because the future doesn’t exist.  If you ask what his intentions are you will get only vague hints. You never really get past his “story,” that prefab profile of himself that he uses to win people over.  He will resist appearing socially as a couple. Real life would spoil his addictive “high.”
  4. The Exit.  The final phase is one in which the seducer’s “high” wears off. He begins to feel trapped. Often he will hide his waning interest by “doing things” for you; anything from walking your dog to painting your kitchen.  This is partly to avoid a real relationship and partly out of guilt, as he knows he’s getting ready to leave.  He has already begun noticing new targets for seduction.  He will then exit, perhaps explaining that he has neglected his work, or that he’s not ready to make a commitment.

Compulsive seduction is the same as any other sex addiction

In the end, the seduction addict is the same as any other sex addict.  Voyeurs, exhibitionists, pornography addicts; whatever the behavior the addiction is the same.  The addict uses the behavior to avoid intimacy and kill the pain of low self-worth.

Not realizing he needs help, the seduction addict may think he wants a lasting relationship but he will not realize that the problem is him.  He may go on for a very long time without hitting bottom.