Sex/Porn: Casual vs. At-Risk vs. Compulsive/Addicted

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Not every person who engages in non-intimate sexual behaviors, like viewing porn, webcamming, and hookups, experiences problems related to those behaviors, just as not every person who drinks alcohol or uses drugs experiences problems. In fact, most people are able to engage in potentially addictive behaviors recreationally, without consequences, and without fear of addiction.

Generally speaking, there are three categories of users of sexnology (and/or substances): casual, at-risk, and compulsive/addicted.

Casual Users

Casual users of porn, webcams, hookup apps, and the like are individuals who find these behaviors fun and perhaps distracting for short periods of time. They engage in these activities intermittently, more or less often depending on their life circumstances. These behaviors are an occasional form of recreation, escape, relaxation, or even part of healthy socialization. In the same way a casual drinker might unwind after work with a cocktail, a casual porn user might log on for a few minutes to experience a bit of sexual arousal and pleasure.

Casual use is:

  • Intermittent, and rarely (if ever) to excess.
  • Often driven by curiosity, novelty, or social settings.
  • Sometimes driven by life events of life stages – i.e., more porn use during adolescence or after a breakup.
  • Not a hindrance to long-term friendships, family relationships, or longer-term romance.
  • Not used to cope with unresolved early-life trauma – i.e., neglect, abuse, family dysfunction.
  • Not shameful to the user, or a coping response to feelings of shame.
  • Not an interference with hobbies and other fun activities.

At-Risk Users

At-risk use exceeds casual use but has not hit the level of compulsivity or addiction. At-risk users may have periods of intense engagement with sex/porn, even using it as a distraction from stress and other forms of emotional discomfort (as addicts do), but they are able to step away if they start to experience negative consequences.

At-risk users:

  • Can be impulsive in many areas of life.
  • Often have drama-filled relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners.
  • May keep their potentially addictive behaviors secret.
  • Often struggle to cope in healthy ways (i.e., reaching out to others for support and guidance) with life stressors, choosing instead to numb out or escape their feelings with a potentially addictive behavior.
  • Tend to avoid conversations about their potentially problematic behavior, becoming irritable if they are confronted about it.
  • Tend to escalate their behaviors by engaging in those behaviors for longer periods of time or engaging in more intense versions of those behaviors.

Compulsive/Addicted Users

Addicts compulsively engage in addictive behaviors regardless of the consequences, both actual and potential, to themselves and others. They consistently use escapist behaviors to distract themselves from emotional (and sometimes physical) discomfort. They struggle to quit or even limit their compulsive actions without assistance, even when they consistently experience negative life consequences and have a genuine desire to change.

Compulsive/addicted users:

  • Use compulsive/addictive behaviors as a coping mechanism, rather than turning to other people for comfort and advice.
  • Typically have a family history of neglect, abuse, and other forms of family dysfunction.
  • Lack empathy for others who are harmed by their behavior.
  • Live a double-life, telling lies and keeping secrets about their behavior.
  • Tend to be superficially engaged with others, but emotionally distant.
  • Consistently experience negative life consequences related to their compulsive/addictive behavior, but ignore those consequences so they can continue the problematic behavior.
  • Tend to escalate their behaviors by engaging in those behaviors for longer periods of time or engaging in more intense versions of those behaviors.
  • Avoid talking about their compulsive/addictive behaviors, becoming irritable and defensive if they are confronted.

As you may have noticed, at-risk and compulsive/addicted users can look quite similar. The primary difference between the two categories is that at-risk users still have control over their behavior. When they want to quit, they are able to do so without outside help. Compulsive/addicted users have lost that ability.

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If you or someone you care about is struggling with compulsive/addictive sexual behavior (including the compulsive use of pornography), help is available. SexandRelationshipHealing.com offers a wide variety of free resources for addicts, loved ones, and even therapists. Meanwhile, Seeking Integrity: Los Angeles offers residential treatment for sex/porn addicted men and online workgroups for both male and female sex/porn addicts.