Sex Addiction

What is Sex Addiction?

Sex addiction can go by many names including: Hypersexuality, Compulsive Sexual Behavior, and Sexual Compulsivity.

While some people are immediately repulsed at the idea they might be a sex addict, for others it is freeing because the term finally explains why they continue to return to destructive, compulsive, sometimes dangerous behaviors in spite of sincere promises to stop.

Approximately 5 to 6% of the population of the United States has some form of sexual compulsivity (Coleman 1992, Schaffer & Zimmerman, 1990). That means between 14,786,000 and 17,744,000 persons in the US struggle with some form of compulsive sexual behavior. To get an idea how that stacks up against other disorders, consider the prevalence of some commonly observed disorders.

  • Schizophrenia: .05 – 1.5% of the population suffers from this disorder.
  • Bi-Polar Disorder: .4 – 1.6% of the population has this disorder.
  • Panic Disorder: 1 – 2% of the population has this disorder.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): 1 – 2.3% of the population has OCD.

In other words, there are probably as many sex addicts in the US as all of these disorders combined! Or to look at it another way, there are as many persons struggling with compulsive sexual behavior in the US as there are in the populations of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Boston combined!

Sex addiction can affect people regardless of education, race, economic status, religion, or occupation. Factors contributing to sex addiction may include:

  • History of abuse, especially of a sexual nature.
  • Early sexual experience.
  • Experiencing significant life stressors such as on the job or in relationships.
  • Other members of immediate or extended family have addictions.
  • Raised in family with "rigid" boundaries or a family that is "disengaged."
  • Presence of depression or other mood disorder.
  • Presence of some other addiction(s).

Behaviors by Addiction Level

Compulsive sexual behavior is commonly broken down into three levels. Some persons who meet the criteria for diagnosis of sex addiction have behaviors that are confined to one level. While sex addiction is generally progressive, their behaviors may have begun at that level and never progressed beyond that level. Still others find that their acting out behaviors started out as level one behaviors and then escalated to level two or level three behaviors.

In the background of sex addicts, there is frequently a history of abuse:

  • Sexual
  • Emotional
  • Physical

For every three men who are sex addicts, there is one woman who is a sex addict.

Children who have their needs met inconsistently or not at all will generally make two decisions about what to do about their needs. One is, "I'll take care of them myself, and I don't need anyone but myself." This decision leads to the solo activities like masturbation and cybersex.

The other decision is, "If I'm going to relate to other people, it's only going to be in terms of their body parts—their genitals, their breasts, their legs, etc., but I will not relate to them as persons. I'll relate to parts of clothing, or videos, where people aren't real, because every time people get into the drama they mess it up, and I want this to be perfect. I want to stay in the trance exactly as I want it, and when I want it." (Dr. Jennifer Schneider, 2005)

But childhood trauma doesn't adequately explain the origin of sex addiction for every addict. There are some sex addicts that have not experienced any childhood abuse or abandonment. Also there is also a belief by researchers that some people who are sex addicts would never have gotten addicted if it were not for the powerful draw of the Internet.

Regardless of the cause, sex addiction can threaten relationships, occupation, and health. It can be a life-threatening condition.


Have you gotten the idea something is going on behind your back that your partner/spouse does not want you to know? Are you continually finding clues that your partner may be involved in sexual behavior outside of your marriage?

Diagnosis of sex addiction should be left to a health care professional. However, partners/spouses sometimes observe behaviors that are unusual and may lead them to believe their partner is hiding something.

Is My Partner Cheating?

The following are some of the things that may be present when a person is involved in compulsive sexual behavior or may be a sex addict. Important: The presence of any one or even several of these items is not proof your partner is a sex addict. Diagnosis of sex addiction should be deferred to a health care professional. Treatment for sex addiction should be referred to a health care professional who has expertise in dealing with sex addiction.

  • He has a sudden interest in doing things with you sexually you have not done before.
  • New sexual moves or positions suddenly appear.
  • He seems to be texting more frequently than usual and when you ask who he is talking to he abruptly stops.
  • He erases the history of his computer and/or the record of his phone calls and text meessages.
  • Arguments become more frequent, sometimes followed by your partner/spouse leaving.
  • Questions about your schedule are more frequent.
  • You catch him in lies, large or small ones.
  • He is unavailable frequently for family outings and activities.
  • He gets defensive if you ask if he is cheating (or looking at pornography, or visiting an adult-oriented business, etc.)
  • Their desire to be sexual with you diminishes.
  • He purchases a webcam, scanner, or digital camera, for no reason, for what seems like a contrived reason, or tries to convince you of the need to make such a purchase.
  • He has unexplained credit card purchases.
  • There are unexplained cash withdrawals or he chose to use cash more frequently for purchases where he would have otherwise used a credit card.
  • Back pains or other ailments suddenly appear that necessitate the need for periodic to frequent massages. (This is not meant to be an indictment of legitimate massage therapists and physical therapists.)
  • Gasoline usage suddenly grows greater than normal and/or there are gasoline charge card purchases from stations that are not in their usual traffic pattern.
  • You experience frequent “hang ups” when you answer the phone.
  • When your partner gets cell phone calls he has to take in private. (Certainly there are appropriate times where privacy is necessary. An unexplained need for privacy causes suspicion.)
  • He gets cell phone calls he tries to end hurriedly or seems to get a large number of wrong number calls.
  • You discover a secret checking account, webmail account, Post Office box, or charge card.
  • He insists on his employer paying his expense account reimbursement by separate check or in cash.
  • He has a sudden interest in his looks, losing weight, working out, coloring his hair, purchasing clothes that are more trendy, etc.
  • You discover he has a suggestive screen name.
  • He waits until you go to bed to get on the computer and then stays up for several hours to "work on the computer."
  • He quickly “click, click” on his computer whenever you enter the room.
  • He gets up in the middle of the night “because he cannot sleep” and you find him on the computer.
  • You have caught them previously secretly accessing pornography or in some other secret sexual activity, and they promised not to do it again. But lately you have been wondering if the activity has returned.
  • He describes his relationship with a co-worker as “just friends.”
  • You find that they have inexplicably laundered some of their clothes or have “just dropped off” a single piece of clothing to the dry cleaners.
  • He suggests that you perform sex acts with which you are uncomfortable.
  • He asks you to go to sexually oriented or “adult” businesses when that has not been your practice.
  • He purchases a phone “calling card.”
  • You discover they have purchased an additional cell phone that is kept in a secret place or left at work.
  • He has to suddenly have to work overtime when that has not been required, or they “have to work late” more and more frequently.
  • He has to go to work on weekends when this has not been a practice.
  • When you try to contact him at work, he is frequently unavailable.
  • There are no “sure signs” of a cheating spouse. If you are noticing some things that seem unusual, they may or may not be anything to be concerned about.

Is There Hope for Our Marriage?

Yes there is hope! But that is dependent on both you and your husband being willing to do some very difficult work. He will have to work on his sex addiction. You will need to work on boundaries and recovering from the trauma that has been caused by his acting out. And together, you will need to work on your marriage.

One way of addressing all three of these is to participate in a Three-Day Intensive. This is not a three-day cure. But it is good way to get a jumpstart on recovery and lay a foundation upon which your marriage can be rebuilt. You may read more about Three-Day Intensives on our website or you may call us at (704) 464-0065.

Is it my Fault?

If your partner is a sex addict, rest assured that you did not cause it. Not only did you not cause it but you cannot change him and you cannot cure him. Your focus needs to be on yourself, on getting healthy, and learning to set healthy boundaries.

If My Partner Is a Sex Addict, What Do I Do?

Don’t panic

  • Sex addiction is not only treatable, but relationships often prosper as the result of treatment.
  • The relationship need not end.
    • Regardless of the acting out behavior, the relationship has hope if you and your partner are willing to work hard.
    • A great deal depends on his willingness to admit that he has a problem with compulsive sexual behavior and to do whatever it takes to eliminate it from his life.
    • Your willingness to go through the recovery process with him is also a key factor.

Get help yourself

  • It is important for you to realize that you have been wounded by his actions and those wounds will not heal properly without support. An important aspect of this healing takes place as you have contact with other women who have experienced the same trauma due to their partner’s sex addiction.
  • Go to A Woman's Healing Journey. This organization provides Christian support groups for women who have been wounded by their partner's sexual addiction. Therapist and author Marsha Means facilitates very effective groups by telephone and offers a number of resources on this website. You may contact her directly by email: [email protected]
  • Married To A Sex Addict is a website that offers resources and support for the partners of sexual addicts. They offer a wealth of support that includes interviews, stories of partners, a blog, and other resources. In addition, they also offer an online support group for partners called Sisterhood of Support.
  • Contact New Life Partners. This is a non-profit Christian organization dedicated to offering support to women whose lives have been impacted by pornography and/or sexual addiction. They provide a Christian online resource and support group for women whose lives have been impacted by husbands or loved ones caught in the web of pornography and/or sexual addiction. Here you will find sharing, caring, love, hope, and prayer to help you daily walk out the Lord's plan for your life.
  • Attend COSA meetings. This is an organization for people who are in a relationship with sex addicts. In this organization you will find support and guidance. You will meet many other people who are experiencing a situation very similar to yours. Together with these new friends, you will draw on each other’s experience, strength, and hope.

Consider a Three Day Intensive for you and your partner. These have proven to be a good way for couples to begin the road to recovery. Set some good boundaries for what is acceptable in your relationship—and be ready to back them up!

  • You didn’t cause your partner’s sex addiction, but you can be a key in helping him recovery.
  • Determining what behaviors are not going to be tolerated is a first step. An example of behaviors some partners have said are unacceptable to them include:
    • Sex with anyone other than partner
    • Viewing any pornography, print, video, Internet, etc. (realizing that a growing trend is for cell phones and iPods to be used for viewing porn because the “tracks” are easier to hide)
    • Visiting any adult-oriented business (i.e., strip clubs, massage parlors, adult video and bookstores, modeling studies, etc.)
    • There may be other behaviors that you would add here that are boundaries that are nonnegotiable for you.


Before you assume there is no hope, it is important to realize that many people find that after recovery relationships/marriages are strengthened and, in some cases, are better than they have ever been. If a person is being physically abused, separation is certainly in order. In some cases where verbal abuse is present, separation is also indicated. (Your therapist will help you explore the option that is appropriate for you.)

Learning about Sex Addiction

One of the first important steps you can take is to learn as much as you can about sex addiction. In addition to this website, there are a number of good books that can help you learn more about sex addiction. A good place to begin is in reading Hope & Freedom for Sexual Addicts and Their Partners.


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