In the strictest sense, the answer is no, not all sex addicts cheat. For example there is the addict whose sexually addictive behavior involves pornography and who doesn’t have sex with anyone but their partner. And certainly there are many such sex addicts who lead the typical double life of the addict but who do not have sex with another person. There are also sex addicts for whom actual cheating is their preferred or only acting out behavior. They flirt, they hook up with people or they have “serial” affairs with various people outside their primary relationship. I have previously argued that not all cheaters are sex addicts and that sometimes a cheater is just a cheater.
For many addicts cheating is one of several sexually addictive behaviors
The average sex addict has more than one sexually addictive behavior. He or she may use internet porn and also engage in sexual chat, or he may go to sexual massage parlors and also see prostitutes. So the porn addict may also be having affairs but only admitting to the porn as an addiction or a problem.
The addict may not see the actual cheating as being a part of his or her addiction. The sex addict who has a very obviously compulsive behavior such as watching porn for hours on end several times a week may feel that infidelity does not qualify as part of his or her addiction. This is almost always a mistake. In these cases where addiction is clearly present in another form, cheating is
(a) Part of a pattern of sexual duplicity
(b) Used as a way to feel better, i.e. as a drug, and
(c) Used as a form of intimacy avoidance meaning there is no viable relationship involved.
In other words cheating is part of the addiction even when it is seen as “minor” or is intermittent. When cheating is intermittent it is often easy for the addict and even the partner to think that it is not part of the sex addiction and is not being done as a sexually addictive behavior. This is because it does not appear to be compulsive or preoccupying in the same way as the addict’s other behaviors might. After all it’s only once every year or two or three.
The sex addict who is faithful may be cheating in their fantasy life
Consider the married sex addict who watches porn involving sex with several people at once, or with homosexual content, or with violent or sadistic scenarios, to name just a few possibilities. He may be bringing those addictive fantasies into his sexual experience with his spouse or partner in order to become aroused but without telling her about it. Or the fantasies may just flood in without the addict consciously thinking about it.
Sexual fantasies often enter into sex with a partner and to a great extent they can be private. But for sex addicts, the inability to be mentally present becomes a form of separating their sexuality from their real life with a partner.
This is not to say that people should be fantasy-less in sex with a partner, but it is a matter of degree and of the rigidity with which the person is only capable of sexual arousal and gratification when viewing or recalling a set of fantasy scenarios that remove him or her completely from the real life situation.
All addictive sex can be seen as cheating
If a sex addict is in a relationship, then any addictive behavior can and usually will be seen as a form of cheating by the spouse or partner. One has only to look at the many good blogs and forums by spouses of sex addicts to understand the experience as one of betrayal and disloyalty, not matter what behavior is involved, even if it is solely porn addiction.
The elements of secrecy and intimacy avoidance, i.e. compartmentalizing a part of sexual behavior and leading a double life make it clear that sexually addictive behavior usually has common features and serves a common purpose. To the addict who says “yes, but when I watch porn I’m not harming anyone, no one else is there” the partners say “you (the addict) are there” meaning you are harming yourself and your relationship with someone you care about. Find Dr. Hatch on Facebook at Sex Addictions Counseling or Twitter @SAResource