The core signs and symptoms of sexual addiction are the same regardless of age, race, gender, culture, social history, and psychological underpinnings. Nearly all sex addicts report, in some form, the following:
- Obsessive Sexual Fantasy and Preoccupation: Sex addicts obsess about sex. They spend hours, sometimes even days, fantasizing about it, planning for it, pursuing it, and engaging in it. Most of their decisions revolve around sex, including what they wear, which gym they go to, the car they drive, and perhaps even the career path they choose.
- Loss of Control: Sex addicts lose control over their ability to not engage in sexual fantasies and behaviors. They try to quit or cut back, making promises to themselves and others, but they repeatedly fail in these efforts. Sometimes they manage to control their behavior for a few days or weeks, but before they know it, they’re back at it.
- Negative Consequences: Sex addicts eventually experience the same basic problems that alcoholics, drug addicts, compulsive gamblers, compulsive spenders, and all other addicts deal with, such as job loss, trouble in school, financial woes, ruined relationships, declining physical and/or emotional health, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, loss of time, loss of social standing, shame, isolation, arrest, etc.
- Tolerance and Escalation: With substance addiction, tolerance and escalation manifest when the addict must take more of a substance or a stronger substance to achieve and maintain the neurochemical high that he or she seeks. With sexual addiction, tolerance and escalation occur when the addict spends increasing amounts of time engaging in the addiction, or when the intensity level of his/her sexual fantasies and activities increases. Over time, thanks to tolerance and escalation, many sex addicts find themselves engaging in sexual behaviors that hadn’t even occurred to them early in the addictive process. Some act out in ways that violate their personal moral code, their spiritual beliefs, and sometimes even the law.
- Withdrawal: With sexual addiction, withdrawal tends to manifest not so much physically, as often occurs with substance abuse (i.e., delirium tremens when detoxing from alcohol), but emotionally and psychologically. Sex addicts in withdrawal tend to become either depressed, or restless, irritable, and discontent.
- Denial: Denial keeps sex addicts out of touch with the process, costs, and reality of their addiction. They routinely ignore the kinds of warning signs that would be obvious to a healthier person. Often, they externalize blame for the consequences of their sexual acting out. Essentially, they are either unable or unwilling to see the destructive effects wrought by their sexual behavior.