The vast majority of sex addicts work diligently to hide their problem (as do alcoholics, drug addicts, compulsive gamblers, and other addicts), mostly because they don’t want their family, friends, employers, doctors, or anyone else to spot the issue and attempt an intervention. Most sex addicts maintain a façade of normality and functionality—holding jobs, paying bills, and showing up physically (though usually not mentally or emotionally) at family functions and other important events.
As such, it can sometimes be difficult to identify sexual addiction, even for trained professionals. This is problematic because the longer a person’s addiction goes unrecognized and untreated, the worse it gets. The worse it gets, the worse the consequences get. As such, early intervention is always the goal when dealing with sexual addiction. The sooner the addiction is recognized, the better.
General Addiction Giveaways
For the most part, the recognizable signs and symptoms of sexual addiction are similar to the signs and symptoms common with other forms of addiction. Easily spotted manifestations of addiction (sexual or otherwise) include:
- Lying: Addicts are deceitful. They fib, cover up, make excuses, and rationalize their behaviors (to themselves and others) to protect their addiction. If confronted when caught in a lie, they minimize, justify, and point the finger at other people. Sometimes they even get angry and self-righteous.
- Manipulation: Addicts are expert “gaslighters,” convincing loved ones to believe that the sometimes outrageous lies they tell are actually true. As such, spouses and partners of addicts often begin to question their own judgment and perception of reality.
- Physical/Emotional Withdrawal: The easiest way to hide an addiction is to isolate, pulling away physically from anyone who might care enough to spot the addiction and attempt intervention. Addicts also tend to withdraw emotionally, so even when they are in the room with their families and friends, they’re not really present.
- Moodiness: Addicts can be extremely moody. One minute they are hyperactive and seemingly happy, the next minute they are lethargic and irritable. They may also experience periods of deep depression or severe anxiety. If they are questioned about their moodiness, they typically blame other people and/or events beyond their control.
- Life Issues: Addicts of all types eventually experience negative consequences related to their addiction—disintegrating relationships, problems at work or in school, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities (hobbies, exercise, time with family and friends), declining physical and/or emotional health, financial woes, legal trouble, and more. Over time these problems typically become both more severe and more frequent.
Any and all of these markers can be indicative of active addiction (sexual or otherwise), though none is definitive in terms of saying, “Yes, this person is an addict.” Nevertheless, if you spot one or more of these addiction giveaways, it is a good idea to investigate further. The person may well be an addict of one type or another. Or the individual may simply be coping poorly with either current situational trauma (loss of a job, death of a loved one, criminal victimization, and the like) or unresolved early-life trauma (neglect, physical/emotional/sexual abuse, poor parental attachment, and the like). Addicted or not, the person will almost certainly benefit from therapeutic intervention.
Sex Addiction Giveaways
If you suspect sexual addiction, look for the following:
- The individual obsesses about sexual activity and/or the pursuit of romantic intensity.
- The individual spends increasing amounts of time engaged with sexual activity and/or the individual increases the intensity of the sexual activity (progressing from standard porn to fetish porn, from porn to real-world sex, from affairs to prostitutes, etc.).
- The individual has experienced negative consequences related to sexual activity (reprimands at work for looking at porn on company-owned equipment, STDs from casual/anonymous/paid-for encounters, threats of divorce, etc.).
- The individual has made (but failed to uphold) promises to self or others to limit or quit the obsessive pursuit of sexual/romantic intensity.
- The individual becomes defensive and irritable when confronted (or even asked about) compulsive sexual activity.
When one or more of these indicators is present, sexual addiction is a definite possibility, and intervention and treatment—outpatient and/or inpatient, preferably with a sexual addiction treatment specialist—may be in order, along with twelve-step recovery in sex addiction self-help groups like Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sexual Compulsives Anonymous, and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S, founded the Sexual Recovery Institute and is the author of Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction and Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men. He is coauthor, with Dr. Jennifer Schneider, of Always Turned On: Sex Addiction in the Digital Age, Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Parenting, Work, and Relationships and Untangling the Web: Sex, Porn, and Fantasy Obsession in the Internet Age. Rob has served as a media specialist for CNN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Today Show, among many others, usually discussing either sexual addiction or the intersection of technology and human relationships. He currently holds the role of Senior Vice President of Clinical Development at Elements Behavioral Health and has developed clinical programs for The Ranch, Promises, Right Step and numerous other facilities. Rob is a regular contributor to Psychology Today, Psych Central, Counselor Magazine and The Huffington Post.