Addicts are profoundly lonely. They may be active and sociable; they may have friends. But in terms of the deeper emotional connection to a partner, they tend to keep themselves on a starvation diet. The loneliness of course is self-imposed. Addicts are not addicts because they are making up for the fact that they don’t happen to have a lover. Their addiction and their emotional isolation are both related to a deep fear of intimacy. It has always been striking to me that they should suffer so much in their alienation.

Childhood issues

I find that most often sex addicts are not aware of how fearful they are about intimate relationships.  They have most likely come from families in which they received inadequate or inappropriate forms of connection with adults. Without realizing it, they have adopted a way of behaving based on fear and the avoidance of intimate connection.

I have heard many addicts tell me that as a child they felt ignored discounted, abandoned or invisible. This is their model of close relating; it is one of intense pain and stress. And this can be true despite the fact that their family life and childhood appeared outwardly “normal“.

Intimacy avoidance and sexual acting out

Many sex addicts are using their addictive acting out behavior as a substitute for an intimate connection. Their addictive behavior provides an illusion of some kind of connection, reinforced by sexual gratification in a situation that is safe. Sexual acting out is emotionally safe because it requires nothing from the addict on an emotional level.

For the typical sex addict, this way of finding gratification without intimacy is not a matter of wanting to be selfish and controlling, although that is how it ends up looking. But rather it is a way of finding an escape from negative emotions and achieving some gratification without having to experience intense discomfort and fear. Sometimes it is due to sexual inhibition and shame. Other times it is the fear of letting their guard down and feeling that they will inevitably be hurt. Or it involves feeling so unworthy and unlovable that they cannot feel free to be who they are. Usually it is a combination of the above.

Intimacy avoidance in relationships

The intimacy avoidance that goes along with sex addiction shows up in relationships in a number of ways.

  • Avoiding sex

Sexual connecting in the context of an intimate relationship can be too difficult for an addict to do comfortably. Even if they are very attracted to their partner or would-be partner, they may try to create emotional distance. For example, they may be emotionally absent during sex or lost in fantasy, they may want to drink alcohol as a way to be less present during sex, or they may avoid sex altogether.

  • Avoiding physical intimacy

Sex addicts often come from families in which there was an absence of physical touching and affection. Thus they may feel that hugging, cuddling, etc. are awkward and uncomfortable. Some addicts were smothered by physical touching in an inappropriate way and they too may avoid physical affection due to feeling vulnerable.

  • Not being able to express their needs

Many sex addicts isolate themselves emotionally by avoiding letting the other person in on what they feel, need or want. This is a fear of being unworthy or of being rejected or hurt.

  • Being self conscious around people or in social situations

Often addicts substitute a role or facade for actually showing up emotionally. They may play a role, eg teacher, guru, performer, etc. with people instead of just being able to be who they are and take their chances.

  • Withdrawing into work or another addiction

Some addicts escape the demands of intimacy by becoming swallowed up in work or exercise or other hobbies that take them away from their partner and other potentially intimate contacts.

  • Fleeing intimate connection

Many addicts can enter a relationship but leave before it becomes too intimate. They may think this is a fear of commitment, or not the “right person”, when in reality they feel inadequate to the demands of a relationship and/or fear being abandoned by anyone they are close to.

Intimacy avoidance and loneliness

The same addict who is doing everything to avoid intimacy will often feel desperately needy and lonely. Sometimes the addict is aware of a longing for connection; other times the addict lives without intimate relating but doesn’t quite know what is missing or why they push people away. Isolation and loneliness can then become the excuse and the occasion for sexual acting out such as online sex, sexual massage parlors, prostitutes, etc. It is only in recovery that the addict can recognize his or her own lack of intimacy ability and begin to practice new behaviors to overcome their fears of being known and connected.

Find Dr. Hatch on Facebook at Sex Addictions Counseling or Twitter @SAResource

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  1. Very helpful to me as I seek to understand my partner’s behavior.

  2. I’m sorry but how anyone is able to translate “my childhood was bad” to “I am addicted to sex” is beyond any scope of reason. Intimacy disorders are real and can be worked out through reliable therapists. When a man cannot appreciate his wife or children enough to put them above his penis then it goes way beyond an intimacy disorder. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it’s probably a duck. Cheaters are just cheaters.

    • Bev, I’m sorry for what you are going through. I can tell you that I’m a sex addict and I’m alone. I have ended every relationship I have had before acting or just after acting, because I feel they don’t deserve it, they are really nice people. I also feel I don’t deserve to be with anyone and probably that’s correct. I also have a lot of friends who brag about they conquests, all I can say is I hate them, because even when I’m with the most beautiful girl, I think that all my problems will go away but they don’t. No matter how much sex with the most beautiful girl I have, I will always be depressed, I will always feel I need something else.
      I don’t mean to ease your pain, please leave any cheater caught in the act. I was never caught actually, I told my ex girlfriend that I cheated on her and she didn’t deserve me. I wanted her to leave me, but didn’t work that well. Anyway, she never loved me again but wanted to be with me, that hurts as hell and didn’t end well. I just do this so you can understand a little better that when the Doctor writes this is because she knows how we feel, and we need it sometimes. But as I said, not every person feels like that, not every person is a sex addict.

      • I am in love with a sex addict (but i refused to ‘consume’). I have tried to become his friend because i am afraid for him; but he has refused all the attempts to turn this relationship into a friendship. What could i do to help him out of it??

    • So, people are not correctable, redirectabler, trainable, then? Hard to do, but not impossible. Given the right carrot, the efforts might just stick.

  3. I’m pretty sure wife-beaters, thieves, and serial killers all have FOO issues at the root of their behaviors too, but no one would tell a spouse to stay with them.

    • I don’t think this is for spouses. And of course, if you are a healthy nice person and can move on, please do. That would be more relief for an addict than being with someone that hates him.

      • Thank you Rick. I hate my husband. He has given up porn but cannot initiate sex with me and is cross with me most of the time. I believe he does not want an intimate relationship because it interferes with his alone time. He has seriously intimacy disordered despite 17 months of therapy of all sorts. He says he wants to stay married yet repeatedly pushes me away. I need to help us both and end our misery. His childhood is not my fault. Thanks.

        • This is awful. People, don’t stay with someone if you hate that person. If you stay, you are as guilty of creating a problematic relationship as the other.

  4. Sex addiction while in relationship is intimate partner violence. While you state all of the rationale for how they feel and why they do what they do, you leave out that they put there partner in danger of STDs that she is unaware of, of her (usually a her) living a false reality, of her being profoundly interdependent for housing, finances, children, emotional connection with an untrustworthy person, etc. These “addicts” are intentionally lying. When they are caught, often they care little about what their behaviors have done to harm others. They care about their shame. They routinely lack empathy for their victims, i.e., their family. They might say they care, or say they will get treatment. Often, it is actually faked and they continue being sexual outside of their relationships while in treatment. 12 Step Groups can increase hook up access. Many “sex addicts” may be better described as sociopaths or predators. We need to be aware of very dangerous men taking easy cover with the sex addict label.

    • I have seen scores of partners who do not view their addict partner in this light. Sex addiction deniers do more harm than good for partners.

  5. Thanks for your response. Partners will not know this is abuse unless someone tells them. These behaviors must be recognized for what they are – domestic violence. I will respectfully say that I have interacted with scores of partners who come to the sad reality I described the long, hard way sometimes after decades of trying to make a good life with the “sex addict”. Towards the end they are so traumatized they can’t eat, function, work or even fry an egg. They can barely get of of bed. They cry for days, if not weeks at a time, they go numb. They lose their memory. The sex addict model is provided upon discovery and the partner engages in some form of hope that her spouses can get better. She does everything more RIGHT. Only to discover “relapses” or not mentioned history like it wasn’t just porn and online sex but it was prostitutes and affairs…….all along……sometimes for the entire relationship. Now what is she dealing with? It was all a sham. Even lying throughout therapy.

    I walk alongside partners with severe trauma from all of this. They are profoundly Ill from this trauma which often goes untreated. I have spent years among them. I know of what I speak.

    What would be helpful is to know the statistics on sex addicts who become loving, accountable partners. I ask a serious question here. And, in the meantime during treatment how are they held accountable for everything? The lies and more lies? The emotional trauma to the one they professed to love more than any other? Etc.

    Are these sex addicts first screened for perpetration and personality disorders?

    • Sorry, I don’t hear a question. I think this is a diatribe.

      • I see the pain on both sides that is the reality of sexually addicted people and their partners, along with helpers on both sides. It can be a long and painful journey for everyone involved. However, I do believe there were two questions that could be addressed here: Are there statistics that support the recovery of the sexually addicted, so they can lead loving, accountable, and healthy lives? This answer is important to the partners of the sexually addicted, so that they can make informed decisions as to whether they will remain in the relationship until the end of treatment, or not. Which brings up another question: Is there absolute effort to tell partners what to expect during treatment of their sexually addicted “spouse” (relapse, lying, residual coping behaviors, and lack of, or poor relationship skills of the sexually addicted?). I fully advocate the equal treatment/therapy of the sexually addicted AND their partners. Both need extensive care to come to healing and health.

        • Thank you, Yourstruly
          Well put.

          • I am recently separated from my husband. I found out thru his computer from the escorts sites and confirmations of hook ups that he is a sex addict. I found out that this has been going on for most of our marriage of 7 years. This is the most devastating, heart breaking experience I have ever been thru. I actually thought I found my true love finally. I still love him dearly. I am going to be 60 soon and now I am starting over. I am not going back because I have to protect myself. I am retiring in 6 years hopefully and have to focus on that. If I stay what will happen when I’m 65 and still not able to trust him? We get along great and always have been good friends. That’s why this is so difficult, but I have made my decision. I am getting my life set and no one will be able to take it away again. I am done, literally done with relationships. I often wondered why some older women end up not wanting a relationship and now I understand. All the therapy in the world will not fix this. He is going to therapy and I hope he finds his way and can look in the mirror someday, but I will not be in the reflection with him.

      • I no longer attend 12-step for the long suffering spouses of sex addicts. I am sick of hearing the hypocrisy that they “went off their program” by getting angry at their emotional abusers. S-Annon just keeps partners in the perpetual anguish of blaming themselves for reacting normally to each relapse/emotional abuse event. 12-step is the wrong model for spouses. Sexual addiction is by definition emotional abuse of the partner. It must be stopped and defended against, not accommadated.

        • If you are so hurt by a sex addict, if you hate them, can’t trust them, then leave them. Sometimes it takes losing everything for someone to pursue meaningful change. Carrying on with an addiction while maintaining a relationship built on lies is childish. By staying in this relationship, you are sending the message that you can be had through manipulation, and the sex can be had elsewhere with no commitment.

          • I am so sorry for your pain… i will say that Sanon and Alanon ave been life saving programs for me. I absolutely do not blame myself for my partner’s addiction nor do i claim responsibility for his recovery… but I am willing to use the devastating pain as an opportunity for my own growth. My husband is sober and that’s great but for me the 12 steps have made me able to recover and to nurture myself which is an amazing gift.

  6. Fear of intimacy? How about a great deprivation of it? Not experiencing family intimacy as a child might be the profound deficiency that they suffer from. Children, who become adults, live what they learn.

  7. I have to say something, and I hope you understand that this isn’t meant to discourage our critique anyone, especially the author, on a personal level – only add a critique of her professional work.

    This is a terrible, useless article. It is. I feel more and more depressed as I read about how lonely I am as a sex addict. I hate that I feel unwanted and unworthy. I feel worse about myself because of this article because my only thought as I read it is, how do I change? What do I do? How can I begin to remedy this? Yet you don’t give an inkling of an answer. There has to be something I can do, but I can’t find anything about that, any advice or suggestions here. All I find here are reminders that I’m not good enough, that I can’t have a normal relationship with the people whom I so badly want to care about. And while that may be interesting to some who read about the addicts who experience these issues, it is heartbreaking and depressing to me. This is a useless waste of time, to me.

    Just consider that next time you write an article on the subject.

    Thank you for your efforts. I’m sure you have spent much of your professional career trying to help.

    • Look up a support group, get some therapy, every day if you have to. Do the work.

    • I absolutely don’t agree, this article is great. It is very informative. If you need help, seek help, it ain’t gonna fall off the sky.

  8. Linda, I appreciate your article. I’m 34 single, have a BA, and and MDiv. I run my own very successful business. I have scores and scores of friends, many of my friendships span over 15 or 20 year. I can be very vulnerable with friends. I come from a broken home. I was the golden child (and youngest) of my mom, and had an angry and at times absent father.

    I’m also a sex addict. I’ve been masturbating and viewing porn since I was 12 years old. I’m in a 12 step group, but haven’t committed to following my sponsor’s advice or work the 12 steps, thus not sober. I’ve also been running away from women for as long as I can remember. I think I was in 4th grade when I had a first ‘kiss’. I broke up with that girl the very next day because I become overwhelmed with fear and even cried. I have no idea why.

    Every since then, I have dated and broken up with women. I can be into a woman for some time before we date. Then we will start dating, and I always do an amazing job of convincing her to like me (My codependent side plans the best damn dates). I can convince a woman to fall for me within a few dates. And then dating is great for a few months. Eventually something in me flips. I check out. I freak out. And I break up with them.

    I have done this routine, many, many times. I’ll have an emotional freak out at some point where my anxiety becomes so intense I see no other option other than to quit the relationship.

    Often times this overwhelming feeling is accompanied by a loss in attraction or I’ll become overly critical of the woman I’m with in regards to her physical appearance. I don’t say things out loud, but in my head I can’t stop noticing certain things – wrinkles, double chin, any type of physical defect could become an obsession to me.

    Then I will use my obsessive thought or the ideas of what I make up in my head for why this person is only going to hinder me in life or slow me down in life or keep me from living the life I want to live as a scapegoat to get out of the relationship.

    Right now I’m 7 months into a relationship. She is a really kind and great lady. We began sleeping together three months ago and it has really broken down our relationship. Weirdly enough as I call myself sex addict, she is the first lady I have slept with.

    I was very conservative in my 20s, and now that I’m more progressive I was willing to sleep with her.

    When we sleep together, I emotionally check out the next day or so and cause emotional harm to her and myself. This distancing has been so great that we are on the verge of collapse. It makes me sad because she is a new girl, but I have my same problem.

    And now, she can feel my indecisiveness, which causes her pain, sadness and worry. I wish I could find a healthy conclusion, but am eternally trapped in my head.

    Perhaps its a fear of intimacy. I don’t know.

    In a lot of recurring pain,


    • Hi C,
      Relationships don’t work unless you get into solid recovery. I suggest a residential program such as The Meadows, Gentle Path rehab. Contact is Cheryl at (310) 621-2498. Do it!

  9. Dr. Hatch, your article is very insightful. I am a sex addict with nearly 9 years of sobriety and have opened myself to input through SRI, 12-step meetings, my therapists, countless books, and my relationship with God. It has taken me so long to figure out that even though I’ve been a good friend and family member I didn’t know much about intimacy. Your article identifies several of the childhood issues I experienced, so I see the connections you’ve made to present issues, such as avoiding physical touch, and checking out during sex. I have slowly understood that my mate has a soul. My journey of growing as a recovering addict has made me see that it is the soul connection that matters and is such a fulfilling part of a relationship and that sex amplifies and enhances this bond. I also have come to believe this is a need which requires healthy fulfillment; without intimacy and connection we are restless and unfulfilled. I see women differently, not simply as objects but as a person with a soul. Wow! This has been huge for me and I think this has something to do with why I haven’t connected in a meaningful way with my mate in the past. I am bolder now in expressing needs, but have a long way to go in this department, as well as stating boundaries. I have so much work to do still. Your insights are so precise and help me to not only see what the issues are for addicts – where to focus my attention for improvement – but validate that I’m on the right track in those areas I’ve made progress. Thanks,

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