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”). 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.
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:
1. Secretive behavior.
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.
2. Hollow behavior.
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.
3. Abusive behavior.
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.
4. Mood-altering behavior.
Fhe 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:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.”
4. 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.”
5. 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
Am I a Porn Addict?
Many people who ask “Am I a sex addict?” also ask “Am I a porn addict?” While porn addiction isn’t the primary focus of this article, I wanted to address it as porn addiction is actually a type of sexual addiction. Not everyone who watches porn is a porn addict, and not every sex addict is automatically a porn addict as well. But if you see porn use being one of your primary outlets for the signs of sex addiction listed above, you may be addicted to porn.
If you’re still not sure if you’re addicted to porn, we wrote more extensively on the topic of porn addiction in the article, “Am I Addicted to Porn? 6 Symptoms of Porn Addiction.”
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.
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. See Biblical Accountability: What It Is And How To Live It.
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.
Thank you for your articles !
I read one article every day and it REALLY helps me. I’m on my 36 day of recovery now :-). I think another important practical step is to keep you informed every day with articles like the one you provide or with books like The Porn Circuit.
Sorry for my English, I’m French.
Glory to God.
great read, I am trying to find an accountability partner and wanted some guidance on that. is it appropriate / can an online person work for something like that? And / or how could I find someone local to me if there are no men’s groups close by?
Peter, there is a tool for Accountability Partners here https://accountabilitypartnerfinder.com. This was developed by Michael Leahy of BraveHearts.
Thank You for this article! God Bless you for all the work that you do.! We have been bless with all of your articles-Thank you for all the information you all have shared, and walking me through this epic devastation of my husband’s betrayal. All the doors have been closed!!! Now I observe! This article just came on time for me! We have Covenant eyes and a big burden has been lifted knowing that you guys care and educate women like ne that has been betrayed by my husband 33 years! My story will come latter- for now I thank you all and continue the goog work that you are doing because there are more wives out there that is in the dark on what is going on with their husbands! GOD BLESS ALL OF YOU- good and faithful servants of God! Judie
Chris Mckenna thank you that was a very insightful post. I think the majority of what you said is probably spot on. Your points about mentally how a person actually harms himself more through excessively dwelling in shame and guilt and that being a trigger for running back to the emotion drug called porn or fantasy I too think is spot on. Please take a look at this article on a study of what actually weakens willpower: https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/psychology-of-willpower/#weakens-willpower
It’s pretty interesting. One thing I would recommend for the practical side of it is to emphasize the 90 days more. What a person needs actually is a whole strategy. The strategy of Reminders/Blogs/, etc. which you guys are doing and a strategy to tackle the problem step by step daily with accountablity tracking sheets, 10 mins of daily meditation/conversation with God (this also builds the prefrontal cortex and strengthens willpower), a mentor which must be informed every 1-2 months of progress and also maybe a group of supportive friends like yourself has said.
It should be practically given to people to do. A 30, 40, or 90 days sheet where they have to tick a sheet every night before going to sleep, until they are able to do it straight without fail. It might take some people years but that’s really what it takes to get cured. No one is perfect, they mess up over and over, but to increase the distance slowly, while being more and more grateful for the successes and distance between sins. People have to keep taking small steps and see that they are progressing more and more over the years, while at the same time building a better relationship with God and people… Take a look at this site http://www.prophetic-path.com and some of their videos. They have a good program. It is a Muslim site but everyone is welcomed to benefit from it’s program.
I have just reconnected with my highschool love. I believe this was a gift from god. I didn’t take the breakv up very well. I was truly in love. I was ready to give up my own family to be with him and join his religion APOSTOLIC CHRISTIAN IF AMERICA. Since our reunion he told me that they are encouraged not to marry an OUTSIDER. I had no idea. Anyway he had been separated from his wife for eight years. There religion marries on FAITH. HIS STORY IS SHE WAS VERBALLY ABUSIVE. ANYWAY SOMETHING SEENS OFF. PORN HAS CAME UP A FEW TIMES IN CONVERSATION. HE SAYS HE HAS HAD A COUPLE OF MEN IN HIS CHURCH ASK HIM TO BE HIS ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER. US THIS LIJE A SPONSOR IN AA . AND THEY ARE ASKING BECAUSE HE KNOWS THE STRUGGLE. HE ALSO SAYS THAT HE HAS ABSTAINED FROM SEX FOR Eight years no even masterbating. He says god will help you when you have sexual urges. We initially vowed to not have sex until he was divorced because that’s the Christian thing to do. I told him we were doing everything but the initial act and as far as I was concerned sex. So we are intimate. I would so much prefer to talk to someone
Thanks. It is Jan 4th 2018 today and I have not looked at porn at all since July 19th 2017. I went from an addict using porn regularly in 2016 to a dabbler in 2017. In July I finally confessed my whole history to my wife! Incredibly hard!!! I’ve had 100 percent freedom since that day. Our marriage is in repair mode but at least the cancer has been removed and there is hope for healing.
One huge step was in December 2016 I got involved in a small bible study of men that was crazy honest about porn and masturbating. That was healing beyond words!!!
Victory is ACTUALLY possible! I didn’t believe that 18 months ago!