For the recovering sex addict, it can be easy to confuse normal sexual desire and conduct with addictive compulsion and gratification. A man can actually have a stronger-than-normal sexual appetite and not be an addict. The addict must be cautious, though, that he is not slipping back into old patterns.
Here are some characteristics of addictive sex that can help identify the difference between a healthy sex life and a destructive one.
- Addictive sex is done in isolation.
This does not always mean that it is only done while physically alone. It can also mean that mentally and emotionally the addict is detached, or isolated, from human relationship and contact. What is supposed to be the most intimately personal of human behaviors becomes utterly impersonal for the addict.
- Addictive sex is secretive.
In effect, sex addicts develop a double life through habits such as practicing masturbation, viewing porn online, and visiting massage parlors. To attempt to minimize their guilt and shame, they hide what they are doing from others. In a sense, they also hide from themselves by not wanting to face the reality of where their addiction has led them.
- Addictive sex is devoid of intimacy.
Sex addicts are utterly self-focused. They cannot achieve genuine intimacy because their self-obsession leaves no room for giving to others. Any emotional connection that a healthy sexual life might bring them is quickly dismissed to make room for the fulfillment of their own desires.
- Addictive sex is devoid of relationship.
Addictive sex is merely sex for its own sake, divorced from authentic interaction of persons. This is most clear with regard to fantasy, pornography, and masturbation. Even with sex involving a partner, the partner is not really seen as a “person” but as a replaceable object. They are simply an interchangeable part in an impersonal – almost mechanical – process.
- Addictive sex is victimizing.
The overwhelming obsession with self-gratification blinds sex addicts to the harmful effects their behavior is having on others, and even on themselves. While attempting to avoid the pain in their own lives, they are causing immeasurable pain in the lives of others, and actually increasing the personal pain that they’re trying so hard to dissipate.
- Addictive sex ends in despair.
When married couples make love, they are more fulfilled for having had the experience. Addictive sex leaves the participants feeling guilty, regretting the experience. Rather than fulfilling them, it leaves them emptier than before.
- Addictive sex is used to escape pain and/or problems.
The escapist nature of addictive sex is often one of the clearest indicators that it is present. When someone uses sexual pleasure to try and override negative emotional feelings, they are self-medicating, similar to the use of a drug. They will find that they need more and more of it to continue to escape the increasingly painful consequences.
God intended sex to be a beautiful expression of love and intimacy between a husband and wife. When sex is used in purely selfish ways to fuel an addiction, it is destructive to all those involved. The addict coming into recovery must be vigilant to identify when he may be falling back into these marks of sex addiction.