Have you ever secretly wondered, “Am I a sex addict?” or “Am I addicted to sex?” (because you might not be comfortable labeling yourself as an “addict” yet). If so, we will explain the signs, stages, symptoms, and some possible solutions to sex addiction. All addicts are liars by nature, which means a self-assessment isn’t going to produce the most reliable result (I know this because I was an addict). But, try to be honest with yourself.
What is Sex Addiction?
Let’s start with a basic definition. Sex addiction refers to a range of sexually-related, compulsive behaviors that significantly interfere with normal living and cause severe negative impacts on relationships, including family, friends, and loved ones.
Not everyone who performs sexually immoral acts is a sex addict. But, every sexually immoral act is on the same path as addiction, and, under certain circumstances, can lead to addiction.
“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end, it leads to death.” –Proverbs 14:12
A Sex Addict Self-Test
Are you a sex addict? Read through this list of statements and answer them honestly:
- I cannot control or decrease my sexual thoughts and actions (even though I’ve tried).
- I use sexual fantasy and/or encounters to feel better when I’m stressed out.
- I cannot focus on normal, everyday tasks as a result of my sexual thoughts.
- I was sexually abused in some way when I was young.
- I have taken significant risks in trying to live out my sexual fantasies.
- I’m constantly overwhelmed by shame, guilt, and regret after sexual encounters, real or imagined, with someone other than my spouse.
- I bounce from relationship to relationship in search of the person who will satisfy my sexual needs.
- I absolutely must have someone in my life to fulfill all of my emotional and sexual needs.
- I hate myself.
- I experiment in more and more unusual sexual activity in order to be aroused.
If you answered even a few of these affirmatively, then it’s possible that you’re a sex addict. If you still have questions, continue reading.
Behavioral Signs of Sex Addiction
Think about your real and imagined sexual activity. If you’re still wondering, “Am I addicted to sex?” then here are four signs that your sexual activity may constitute a sexual addiction:
- Secretive: the sexual behavior occurs in the shadows, whereby one is living a double life, and as a result, is full of guilt and shame. Examples might include habitual masturbation, pornography consumption, sexual chat rooms, anonymous apps and sites (i.e., Omegle, Chatroulette), and voyeurism.
- Hollow: the sexual behavior is not part of the one-flesh union you experience with a spouse and instead occurs strictly as a result of sexual passion. Examples might include prostitution, pornography consumption, habitual masturbation, and promiscuity.
- Abusive: the sexual behavior is not beneficial to yourself or others in any way, and leaves both in a worse emotional, relational, and at times, physical condition. These are acts of exploitation and degradation. Examples might include molestation, incest, rape, prostitution, or pedophilia.
- Mood-altering: the sexual behavior is used to provide a quick solution for painful emotions. Every sex addict has experienced some form of abandonment. Acting out sexually is a salve for the aching heart. All forms of sexually-related compulsive behaviors can be used for this purpose.
What is the Cycle of Sexual Addiction?
All sex addicts follow a predictive pattern of behavior that includes two distinct stages that can pull individuals further and further into darkness.
Stage 1: A Sequence of Distorted Thoughts
According to June Hunt, founder of the Hope for the Heart counseling ministry,
“No one lives in more shame, isolation, and fear of alienation than the sex addict. Addicts believe that they can’t help the way they are. Each time they surrender to sexual temptation, sin’s tenacious grip gets a stronger and stronger hold on their hearts. Sexual addicts believe that the only solution to getting their love needs met is through sexual stimulation. Their minds and bodies are held captive to sexual passion.”
In Romans 7:19, the Apostle Paul gives a well-known explanation of his struggle against doing that which he knows he’s not supposed to do,“I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”
During this stage, there are a number of lies believed by the sex addict. Like a list of indictments, these feelings direct the emotions and actions of the sex addict. Examples include:
- “I just can’t control my sexual urges.”
- “I’m a failure.”
- “I’m not a good person.”
- “I can stop whenever I want.”
- “If people really knew me, they would be disgusted.”
- “If God really knew me, He would never accept me.”
- “Sex is my greatest need.”
- “If I have more sex, I will be satisfied.”
- “I am a sexual being and therefore require sexual acts.”
Individually or in the aggregate, statements like these form a powerful false identity and/or belief that then drive the behavior of the individual.
Stage 2: A Cycle of Distorted Behaviors
Stage two involves a series of behaviors that result from the false statements believed during stage one. They include:
- Mental obsession with sex: the struggler obsesses on sex, using it as a salve for the addict’s emotional pain. His or her thoughts constantly race through different sexually-charged, fantasy scenarios, causing distraction throughout the day. Nothing is off limits in his/her mind. The sex addict finds that his/her “real” relationships are now a nuisance because they interfere with the constant adrenaline-like rush that accompanies the mental fixation.
- Uncontrollable habits: the struggler engages in compulsive behaviors to feed his/her need for sexual arousal. This most often takes the form of viewing pornography in its many forms. As explained in The Porn Circuit from Covenant Eyes, there’s nothing that fires up the brain’s rewards center like sexual arousal, and viewing pornography unleashes a fireworks display of chemical activity in the brain. Dose after dose of dopamine can overpower the pre-frontal cortex, lessening will-power. Often, the struggler “just can’t stop clicking.” As the brain desensitizes to the initial stimulation, escalation to more explicit or shocking media is required in order to achieve the same stimulation. Habitual masturbation is (almost) always part of the experience.
- Acting–out sexually: after continued sexual stimulation, the need for release is overwhelming. This, combined with a total loss of self-control, requires the struggler to act out sexually–to enact what has been seen and imagined. According to June Hunt, “The acting out feels necessary because the visual experience is no longer satisfying in itself.”
- Feeling despair and self-condemnation: the sex addict feels utter disgust for what has occurred and total hopelessness to escape the cycle. Shame acts as a thick, unbearable blanket over their life, further reinforcing the identity of “I am horrible.”
- Making endless promises to change: with each cycle through these steps, a sex addict often makes repeated commitments to change and “never do it again.” This vow quickly vanishes with the next feeling of worthlessness, plunging the struggler back into thoughts that drag him/her back into the sexual pit. June Hunt says, “Strugglers ultimately believe there is no hope.”
This cycle continues to spiral downward. The feelings of guilt (“I did something wrong”) and shame (“I’m a horrible person because I did something wrong”) that result from stage one only act to strengthen the lies in stage two. This requires an even greater level of fixation in order to numb the pain, a more extreme type of pornography viewed in order to achieve the same neurological response, possibly more extreme levels of acting out, which leads to greater self-condemnation. This cycle continues over and over, with greater darkness and despair with each pass.
Whether you believe everything the Bible says or not, its ability to speak truth into the addictive cycle is astounding. Sexual addiction is an ancient issue that has sunk its teeth deep into the hearts and minds of human beings for thousands of years. Consider these ancient passages:
“After desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” –James 1:15
“Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit [GOD], from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” –Galatians 6:8
Can Women Be Addicted to Sex?
Men are most commonly associated with sex addiction, and although the reasons might be different, many women also struggle. Whereas male addicts often seek sexual passion, female addicts often seek relational closeness and connection.
Sadly, though, sex never delivers on its promises, leaving women more desperate, feeling less significant, and emptier than ever. There is so much more to be said about female sex addiction, which we will cover in a future blog post.
How to Break Sexual Addiction
Can I break free from sex addiction? This is a genuine, deep question often spoken silently in the midst of tearful brokenness. In Sexual Addiction: The Way Out of the Web, June Hunt says,
“Because sexual addiction is an obsessive relationship with erotic passion, healing comes through secure relationships with loving people. Sexual addiction is an intimacy disorder; therefore, those struggling with this disorder desperately need healthy intimacy. A safe place for addicts to begin opening up and moving out of their secret addictions is an accountability group of fellow strugglers or friends—ultimately people who can…truly love the sinner.”
Let’s start with the truth–breaking free from the addiction won’t be easy. Sexual addiction sinks its teeth into core parts of our being, including our neurology and belief structures, our very heart and soul. The lies that accompany this addiction do not give back their territory easily. For this reason, the steps one must take in order to break free will at times feel like a cruel plow breaking through hard soil, in order to prepare your heart and soul for a harvest of healing.
Practical Steps to Break Free
- No sex for at least 90 days: a basic first step is going to involve a strict fast from all forms of sexual activity for at least 90 days. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Remember, it won’t be easy. But, don’t skip over this step. In order to rewire the brain and rewire a belief structure, it’s absolutely necessary to learn that sex is not the most important need in one’s life.
- Purge all sexually addictive items: delete all porn, phone numbers, “little black books,” and anything else that represents old behaviors. This will almost always include removing doorways to erotic and pornographic content found online. Does this mean you cancel Internet service for a time? If necessary, yes. Does this mean you use a “dumb phone” for the foreseeable future? Probably. Don’t just close the doorways, destroy the doorways.
- Seek professional counseling: you cannot defeat this issue alone. You’ve believed that lie for too long. Search for a counselor near you.
- Create strict behavioral boundaries: when and where are you tempted? With the help of your accountability partner, make a list of times and routines that cause or trigger issues, and then establish ways of breaking those routines.
- Take your thoughts captive: this means soaking your mind in God’s Word by regularly meditating on and memorizing Scripture. Read Romans 8 daily at first and then at least weekly to remind you of your true identity as a child of God.
- Pray like a victor: the enemy of your soul will not give up ground easily in the battle for your sexual affections. But, in this battle, we do not go off to war to lose. We go off to war to win. We stand in the authority of Jesus Christ. Will you pray like a victor? Yes, fall on your face and cry out to God, but then lift your head up in confidence and pray as if your life depended on it.
- Live in accountability: this means finding a trusting friend who you can call at 2 a.m. when you’re feeling triggered and who can look you in the eyes and ask probing, loving, sometimes belligerent questions. Can accountability really change a heart? We believe it can.
Does breaking free seem impossible to you? Take heart. God would never call you to do what He is powerless to accomplish through you. There is no pit too deep for the reach of His love, acceptance, and complete restoration. Be encouraged! You are more than a conqueror.