Sex Addiction: Understanding the Role of Denial

If you’re a sex addict, the below excuses probably have a familiar ring:

“If my wife hadn’t turned into a cold fish after our wedding, I wouldn’t be looking for sex elsewhere.” — John, 29

“If my husband spent more time with me and less time working, I wouldn’t be hooking up with other men.” — Amy, 41

“If the cops had been out trying to solve real crimes, I wouldn’t have gotten arrested in that prostitution sting.”   — Rufus, 35

After all, sex addicts tend to blame their problem behaviors (and the related adverse consequences) on anything other than themselves. In fact, they usually see their sexual acting out as the solution to (the way to escape from) their problems, rather than an underlying cause – even when the cause and effect relationship is obvious to even the most casual of outside observers. This is the denial engaged in by sex addicts. They simply refuse to see, or they are unable to see, that the ever-escalating problems in their life – including their own anxiety and depression as well as destroyed relationships, trouble at work or in school, STDs, unwanted pregnancies, financial woes, arrests and all sorts of other issues – are caused by their compulsive sexual fantasies and behaviors.

As a result of their denial, active sex addicts tend to be painfully out of touch with the reality of their circumstances. And they usually continue in this mode until a major crisis slams them in the face. Prior to that, they ignore even the most blatant warning signals, placing their compulsive search for sexual intensity (and the escape from life that it provides) ahead of everything else without a second thought, regardless of what it costs them. Instead of recognizing that they have a problem and adjusting accordingly, they find innumerable (often incredibly creative) ways to rationalize and justify their actions. And their “willful ignorance” often continues for years, with the compulsion, the denial and the consequences all steadily escalating.

Generally speaking, denial is a web of internal and external lies designed to support active addiction. Each lie is rationalized and nurtured, often with other lies, until it sounds like and feels like the truth (to the addict). When described in this fashion, it is easy to see that denial is about as structurally sound as a house of cards on a breezy day, but addicts nevertheless proceed as if they’re living in an earthquake-safe bomb shelter. In fact, they defend their lies, no matter how outrageous, with reckless abandon – likely because their denial is so deeply rooted that they have come to believe their own dishonesty. And when this occurs, they expect others to buy in as well. As a result, they grow deaf to the concerns, criticisms and complaints of the people around them, even those they truly care about. So instead of listening to and perhaps acting on attempted interventions, they blame, accuse, deflect, minimize, etc. They act this way not because they don’t care what the other person is thinking or feeling, but because their addiction has become the most important part of their life.

Five Common Forms of Denial by Active Sex Addicts

  • Entitlement: “I work hard to support my wife and kids, and I’m productive at my job. I think that I deserve a little reward. I mean it can’t be all work and no play, right? So if I go online for a little while here and there to look at porn, nobody should complain, because I deserve this little escape.”
  • Externalization/Blame: “My husband is such a nag. He constantly criticizes the way I look, the way I cook and everything else that I do. Plus, he’s boring in bed. He never wants to try anything new, and he doesn’t care if I’m enjoying things or not. The men I meet on Ashley Madison are totally different. They like me the way I am, and they’re willing to let me take charge in bed.”
  • Justification: “All single guys do this. I’m not in a relationship, so I should be able to chat up as many women as I want on hookup apps. And if some of those women decide to come over for a quickie, so be it. If I was in a relationship and had sex two or three times a day, people would applaud, so why can’t I do that when I’m not in a relationship?”
  • Minimization: “I’m not hurting anyone, and I’m not putting myself in any danger. I mean everyone knows that it’s just a one-time thing and we’re not going to fall in love. And I can tell right away when someone is into drugs or weird stuff, just from what they write or text me, so I don’t get into dicey situations. This just isn’t a big deal.”
  • Rationalization: “I’m not having affairs like a lot of other people I know. All I’m doing is looking at porn, playing a few virtual reality sex games and occasionally getting off on a webcam. I don’t even know anybody’s real name. So this isn’t cheating. And if my partner thinks it is, that’s his problem, not mine.”

Interestingly, even though their compulsive sexual behaviors are harming not only themselves but their loved ones (spouses, kids and possibly others), active sex addicts often see themselves not as perpetrators, but as victims. This is a variation of denial unique unto itself, though it’s often fed by other forms of denial. Essentially, sex addicts see themselves as being at the mercy of other people, and they think that sexual fantasies and behaviors provide them with a sense of control and freedom that they do not otherwise experience. They feel burdened by the needs and demands of those around them, especially their loved ones, and they feel justified in using sex as a temporary escape.

Of note: Denial is not just engaged in by addicts. In fact, family members are often as deeply in denial as the addict. And because of this they tend to either enable or ignore the addiction and its consequences.

Regardless of whether denial is engaged in by the addict or his/her loved ones, it exacerbates the addict’s desire to escape from life. This is because denial is a complex series of lies, secrets and deceptions that expands and takes on a life of its own as the addiction escalates. And the larger and more complicated this web of deceit becomes, the harder it is to maintain. Over time, the stress of sustaining this façade of normalcy becomes overwhelming. And of course the anxiety and fear this produces nearly always triggers a further desire to “numb out” via the addiction. In this way, the addict’s and/or the family’s system of denial directly feeds the cycle of addiction.

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    5 Responses to Sex Addiction: Understanding the Role of Denial

    1. Avatar
      Soheila Shaker August 31, 2015 at 10:28 pm #

      So true….
      But I wonder if Sex Addict is aware of his behavior regarding , justification or other misbehaving ? Or as he has pretended all these years, he is came to the point that what he says is real.?

    2. Avatar
      Soheila Shaker August 31, 2015 at 10:37 pm #

      I tried to submit my Q.
      I don’t know if it submitted or not.
      Anyway I like to know if Sex Addict is aware of all his nonsense excuses or he believes on what he say.?
      Thanks for the respond.

    3. Avatar
      Catherine September 3, 2015 at 2:43 pm #

      The above question is answered reading the compete article.
      It’s pretty heavy and shows how much denial there is not just by the addict but by the family members as well.
      I’m not seeing a way out as my sex addict husband is deeper in denial as time goes on. He makes it more clear he can’t be trusted. He’s playing victim when he’s been the abuser all along. He’s been in therapy and worse. There is no accountability. The therapist has nothing to do with me so whatever he says is believed.
      He scares me he’s so deep in his private world.

      • Avatar
        redsnapper October 22, 2015 at 11:45 pm #

        I’m in the same position. He has convinced himself that if he could just get some affection from me it would fix everything, at least for him. But I know it won’t, and its only a matter of time before he “acts out”. If you don’t fix the heart of the issue, you can expect to be repeating things til you . There in lies the issue, you can’t resolve without facing yourself…and that mile high wall of denial was built to protect against just that. Here’s hoping that one day they’ll get the help they need.

    4. Avatar
      Anonymous March 12, 2016 at 3:03 pm #

      If you substitute “therapist” for “family”, this article would be more accurate.

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