Sex addicts tend to be perfectionists.  And this is especially true in their attitude toward sex.  They are known for their all-or-nothing thinking, the tendency to view the world in terms of extremes.  In their sex life with a partner, sex addicts in recovery tend to carry with them an extreme and basically intolerant set of expectations. Just as an aside, there have been a slew of blogs and research survey findings that suggest that we are all having our sexual expectations distorted by the increasing pornification of our culture.  Some in the “feminist porn” movement and elsewhere have attempted to fight the idealized images and expectations shown in mainstream porn and in the “ambient porn” of movies, games, magazines and TV.  See also my journal article the findings of the APA task force on the sexualization of girls in our society.

The over importance of sex and orgasm

Sex addicts have as a core belief that sex is their most important need.  Thus sex addicts place an undue emphasis on sexual arousal and gratification.    Even before the advent of internet porn, sex addicts have always tended to be in a hurry to get to the sex act and to achieve the perfect orgasm.  If this didn’t happen all was lost. Having permission to have “bad sex”, i.e. sex that doesn’t match some perfect ideal, is a way to counteract the desperate need that sex addicts feel.  It can help relieve the pressure and can allow for times when the partners feel less energetic, more sensual etc.  It takes the focus off of “getting my needs met” and places it more on just having a sexual, physical experience with someone you are close to.

Fantasy standards of desirability

Because sex addicts are used to engaging in sex that is excessively loaded with fantasy content, (sex with strangers, cybersex, escorts, strip clubs, and of course pornography) they usually have perfectionistic (fantasy ridden) ideas about how women’s and men’s bodies should look.  This then results in the feeling that any sex with someone who doesn’t measure up to a fantasy standard of beauty or prowess is no good.  Hence the saying that to an addict “sex with a real woman is just bad porn.”

Unrealistic expectations about sexual behavior

Sex in the context of a relationship may seem boring to a sex addict.  In a real situation the addict has to deal with all kinds of awkward, messy and most importantly unpredictable elements.  These will almost certainly burst the addict’s fantasy bubble. In addition, sex addicts are used to fantasy scenarios that may involve all kinds of erotic behavior that their partner may not wish to engage in. We are asking the recovering sex or porn addict to adjust to what they may see as “plain vanilla” sex.

Paradoxically, sex in real life may also be more unpredictable and less boring.  Sex addicts are used to controlling the sexual experience from beginning to end.  In sex addiction, the addict has a preferred scenario or arousal template. This can evolve and escalate into more extreme behaviors, but the addict knows what he or she is going to get.  Real, relational sex is not so predictable.  This means things may end up unusually exciting and passionate or they may end up less so.

Expectations of hyper-arousal and porn induced ED

In addictive sexual acting out, the addict seeks a very extreme form of arousal and often seeks to prolong it.  This level of extreme or hyper-arousal is unlikely to exist in any everyday situation.  Furthermore there is beginning to be evidence that porn addiction in particular can lead men to experience erectile dysfunction when they attempt to have sex with a real person.  This porn induced ED, as it is called, is reversible when the addict abstains from porn use for a period of time.

The use of ED drugs like Viagra is becoming increasingly prevalent, even among younger men and men who don’t need it.  Addicts in particular may have exaggerated ideas about what they need to be able to do to “perform” sexually and may be very anxious in trying to have healthy sex with a partner.  It is normal for men to have a physical response to what is going on around them and sexual “performance” can vary for any number of reasons.  It is unfair, inaccurate and inhumane to see these fluctuations as a sign of something wrong or bad.  In recovery there is often a period of insecurity about sex but this is not a signal to panic and reach for ED drugs.

Sex can be a good thing no matter how it turns out

Sex addicts are so zeroed in on sex as central to life that they don’t realize that it is only one aspect, not the be-all and end-all.  Sex addicts find it hard to fathom the idea that, for many people, sex is great but has its proper place among many other great things in life.  In relationships sex is no doubt very important but it is a source of bonding as well as excitement and gratification.  The behavior of the partners and the level of arousal will exist in a broader spectrum or array of experience.

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

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  1. Hello, I wanted to thank you for your blog. My name is Sabrina and Ive been married to a man for 21 years who I just found out is a sex addict, so he says. It’s either that, or I’m losing my mind and possibly both. One thing I didn’t read is that my husband has a perfectly willing partner, and has begged at times to get some attention. He would rather take care of it himself watching porn. I didn’t realize it but he is viewing this at every given second including going to the bathroom. I’m at a loss and need to get away from him but I’m so afraid of him. He has a time or two physically injured me and I have as well. But it’s the crazy aggressive behavior and talk. I’m scared to take baths anymore for fear he will hold me under. I’m having trouble sleeping because I have horrible dreams. I simply don’t understand. He spends no time with me yet he will fight tooth and nail to make me stay. Don’t get me wrong, I can leave. But the home is mine and I have one minor child that I’d like to stay in this home. This is all crazy, I know. But it’s my crazy life and I need to sort it out. I was just hoping to have someone to talk too because I’m feeling alone and hopeless. But I’m also very angry because I’m a very open, honest person and I told him from early in our relationship what I wanted in life. He agreed, but he has destroyed my daughter with abuse. For whatever reason he treats my son very differently. I’m glad he is treated better but my daughter has been devastated by the abuse and the difference in treatment. And of course, she doesn’t feel loved by him nor do I. Have a good evening. Sabrina

    • Sabrina- first off, if you let your daughter be around anyone who is abusive toward her in any way (including emotionally) then you are guilty of child endangerment. You need to get yourself and your children away from this man if you feel as you say. I suggest you contact law enforcement and explain your fears, and also that you make an appointment with a therapist as soon as possible for yourself.

  2. Excellent article and good advice that you give to Sabrina. Maybe her cell phone number shouldn’t be visible to everybody…

  3. I agree…. Linda, you have to delete her cell number…. NOW!

  4. Thank you for all your information Linda. I recently found out my husband was a sex addict. He has been abstinent for 90 days, I’m not ready to be intimate with him, but I’m wondering what you suggest to start working on our intimacy. Thanks for all you do it really helps


    • Leslie, everyone in the field seems to agree that beginning to build intimacy and trust is a long process, like around a year. Do what is comfortable for you and take your time. Partner sites like POSARC are helpful. Just getting all the support you can is the main thing. I’m glad to hear your husband is taking recovery seriously.
      Best wishes,

  5. My husband is a sex addict. We are struggling right now and one question I have wondered about it should there be guidelines for engaging in sex with the addict? For example, my SA has times that his addiction makes him want to simply orgasm but he doesn’t want to engage in the intimacy that occurs if we have “couple” sex. He states that he feels he would be using me if we were to have sex under those circumstances because he isn’t able to connect emotionally or engage intimately. What is the best way to deal with situations like that?

    In addition, my husband has always preferred to role play during sex and act out taboo fantasies. Now that I am aware of his sex addiction, I feel this behavior is feeding his sex addiction and does more to block intimacy and create a disconnect so he can have sex with me but not emotionally engage. Is this something that should be abstained from?

    I want to be supportive but I am not certain what the right answer is for these scenarios.

    • Mrs C: on your website you stress the importance of getting therapy with a certified sex addiction specialist. But from your story it sounds like your husband is not in an effective recovery program and you are not getting input from treatment people who know these issues. You might be interested in my post “Pushing the Pause Button” which deals with abstinence in early recovery.

  6. Unfortunately your article confirmed my fears. I’ve asked my husband if my weight gain is an issue and he says, “No, I’ve never been turned on so much by anyone in my life.” I’m scared he is lying. Is it possible he is telling the truth? When we were early in our relationship, he told me I taught him what sex was. Now he says that’s because I was the first time he had non-acting out sex.
    I wish I could trust what came out of his mouth but I’m always wondering if it’s true.

  7. It looks like I’m late to the discussion, and I’ve read a lot of your blog posts but this is the first time I’ve commentd or replied. I am a sex addict that has just disclosed to my partner for the 2nd time. A lot of what is discussed here rings true for me as well, but I was as interested in the experience of sex as the payoff of orgasm. I liked the sensuality and touching and foreplay and was sometimes more focused on the pleasure of whatever partner I was with rather than my own. That was my high, that I could please someone else. I am glad to see discussion of hyper-arousal and porn induced ED. I have gone through this and often times, being unable to perform sexually fueled me to seek out the ED treatments again in an effort to prove that I could satisfy my partner and be that fantasy that I imagined myself to be. Where I find myself to be different in this discussion is that I always wanted to have more sex with my wife. I wanted the sensuality, and rarely(i can count on one hand) did I ever have any erection problems when having sex with her. As I begin to embark on my journey to recovery, I am so fortunate that my partner has stayed with me and is being more supportive than I could have ever imagined. I wondering Dr. Hatch if the converse of your statement: “This then results in the feeling that any sex with someone who doesn’t measure up to a fantasy standard of beauty or prowess is no good. Hence the saying that to an addict “sex with a real woman is just bad porn.”, is true. For me, I grew to look for the “real” or “homemade” porn because it fed 2 of my compulsions. The first of voyeurism, watching other people without their knowledge and the other was the sexualization of everyone that I met. Watching this type fed my delusion that anyone and everyone could be potentional sexual partners or conquests. I have begun therapy and feel like your posts(and subsequent comments) are helping shed light on my behavior and how I can face what I am.

  8. I too am a sex addict. It hurts to say it. Just had a relapse. My wife and I fought and were about to split. When I saw how I was hurting my children, I made a list of things I will and will not do from now on. We went to couples therapy. I was told to stay at the studio for a week, to give my wife some space. I insisted that I would nevertheless abide by the promises made in my list. A day into it, I felt weak, and an easy prey to acting out impulses. During therapy, my wife had said that living up to the promises in the list was impossible. To me, that meant that re-lapsing would happen sooner or later.
    Today on the telephone, she changed her stance and told me that I could do it, that she believed it was possible, that she was my partner in overcoming my addiction problem. I felt loved and immediately felt better, stronger. Her support and encouragement were something I had felt was lacking during much of our 30 years of marriage. Now I am ready to fight, and feel like a knight with his lady.
    I am sure this is not the end, but it helped me a great deal and hope her love will continue to do for me what it did today.

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