Sexual addiction can be difficult to recognize, especially for those who are mired in it. Because of its highly secretive nature, sex addiction can also be difficult for outside observers (family members, friends, employers, and even therapists) to identify and diagnose. Sometimes it helps to understand the primary differences between casual, at-risk, and addicted users of sexual fantasy and behavior.
- Casual Users are men and women who find non-intimate sexuality (online pornography, virtual sex, digital flirting, casual/anonymous hookups, affairs, and the like) to be fascinating and fun. They get involved in these pleasurable distractions occasionally. Much of the time their behavior is driven by curiosity and novelty or life-stage events. For instance, they may engage in non-intimate sexual activities (online or real world) more often in late adolescence or after a relationship breakup. Typically, casual users of sexual fantasy and activity find non-intimate sexuality to be an intermittent source of relaxation and fun, but ultimately not as meaningful and satisfying as deeper, more intimate connections. Therefore, their interest in non-intimate sexuality is not sustained over time.
- At-Risk Users are men and women who go through periods of intense engagement with non-intimate sexuality, perhaps using it as a distraction from emotional discomfort and other life issues. They may have addiction-like periods, but they can (and usually do) limit or stop their behaviors if/when they start to experience (or even to see the possibility of experiencing) adverse consequences. Sometimes at-risk users look a lot like addicted users, hiding the nature and extent of their sexual behaviors, temporarily ignoring potential and even actual consequences, and escalating the nature and extent of their use. What differentiates at-risk users from addicted users is at-risk users can stop the activity on their own while addicted users cannot. At-risk users retain control and choice over their engagement with non-intimate sexual fantasy and activity. Addicted users do not.
- Addicted Users are men and women who compulsively use non-intimate sexuality as a means of escape and dissociation, regardless of potential and/or actual consequences to themselves or others. They repetitively use sexual fantasy and activity to numb out and not feel stress and other forms of emotional discomfort. Typically, they find themselves leading a double life, separating their sexual activity from their work and home life—keeping secrets, telling lies, manipulating, juggling, minimizing, justifying, etc. Usually they lack empathy for those who are negatively affected by their addiction, including spouses and partners, kids, friends, neighbors, and employers. Sometimes they even blame their “need to escape” on the attitudes and actions of these other people.
If you think you might be sexually addicted but are still unsure, please click here to take our updated Sex and Porn Addiction Screening Test.