Counseling Men Blog
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How Deceptive Sex Addiction Symptoms Can Really Be

Posted by Dr. Kurt Smith, LMFT, LPCC, AFC on Wed, Feb 22, 2017

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If you want to have sex all of the time that must be a sex addiction symptom, right? Not necessarily. After all, don't most men want sex all of the time, and certainly they can't all be addicts. Actually symptoms of sex addiction are more complicated than this and don't always have an obvious connection to sex.

In order to better understand sex addiction symptoms, let's go back to the first article in this two-part series, Could My Husband Be a Sex Addict? In it we looked at several men who could possibly be viewed as being sex addicts. Terrence, Mike and Steve all struggle with their sexual behavior in different ways.
  • Terrence looks at porn. Does that mean he has a sex addiction? No, he has a porn addiction.
  • Is Mike a sex addict because he sends sexts to women? No, Mike's behavior is really driven by his need for attention, the self-fulfillment he gets when women find him attractive, and using his smartphone and social media without appropriate boundaries.
  • How about Steve's insatiable need to have sex every day, even multiple times? Yes, Steve has symptoms of a sex addiction.
So what is it that makes Steve's behavior symptomatic of a sex addiction and not Terrence's or Mike's?

What are Sex Addiction Symptoms?

It's important to first understand that sex addiction is not an official mental disorder diagnosis, so there isn't a recognized list of features. Sex addiction has many symptoms in common with other addictive behaviors (you could replace sex in the following list with alcohol, Oxycontin, gambling, or gaming). Here are the most common signs:

  • Preoccupation with sex.
  • Sexual thoughts and behavior that is compulsive, secretive, inappropriate, and even dangerous.
  • Using sex to cope with uncomfortable feelings or life.
  • Feelings of happiness or self-worth are dependent upon sex.
  • Feeling shame, anger, or self-hatred about sexual behavior.
  • Feel powerless to stop, and often having a history of failed attempts to stop sexual acting out.
My husband attacks me when we are confronting his severe sexual addiction. One collection was fourteen thousand pictures, most downloaded at work, some possibly illegal, put me in a position to either leave or try to get him help. For 12 years when confronted he would rationalize it and attack me, sometimes violently, going so far as to blame me. He has admitted a problem but I think is still in denial of how severe it is and the real damage it causes and caused to him and our marriage. He is the poster child of their description of a sex addict. I still do not know if our marriage is salvageable, I may hate him and be repulsed too much to stay in the end. But the fact remains he needs major help before he ends up in jail for molestation or something else. -Amber

Real Signs of Sex Addiction

So what do sex addiction symptoms look like in real life? Here are 3 real men that I am currently treating:
  • Dillon has cheated on his wife more than a dozen times. None of the relationships have been anything more than sexual nor have they lasted past a few hook-ups. He talks about sex all of the time and how he feels about himself depends upon whether or not the next women he's interested in he can get to have sex. He sends pics of his penis to women he's just met seeking their interest and validation of his 'manhood.' Dillon's wife knows something is not normal about his behavior, but she's not sure what exactly it is.
  • Nate likes to dress in women's underwear. He has a collection he hides from his wife. He says he's not interested in cross-dressing in public ("I make a horrible woman"), but has tried it on several occasions. His porn interests have grown more and more non-traditional. He says he has not physically cheated on his wife, but he has sexual fantasies that do not include her that often preoccupy him.
  • Kelvin wants to have an open relationship that allows him to have sex with other people besides his wife. Trying to make him happy his wife has gone along with having a threesome with her husband and another woman, had sex with another woman while he watched, and has swapped partners. None of which she wanted to do, but she felt she had to do it in order to keep him happy and willing to stay with her.

All three of these men have sexual behaviors they cannot control. They use sex to feel okay about themselves. Their need to fulfill their sexual interests puts their relationships, employment, and reputations at serious risk, and yet they continue to do it. These are the symptoms of sex addiction.

Our marriage has been strained. He has been controlling, suspicious of me, moody and I believe, depressed. He refused counseling. He said good marriages don't need counseling. He said we must not be right for each other and suggested that I move out if I am unhappy. Then I found emails to several women of a graphic sexual nature, including naked pictures and videos of himself. I told him I found these, now he wants counseling, says he loves me and I am the only one who can fix him. I told him he needs to fix himself. He admitted he has had this problem as long as he can remember and that he cheated on his first wife. He confessed to her, she forgave him. But he never stopped the sexual exchanges with women. He doesn't know why he does it, he hates himself, he doesn't want to live like this any more...he's relieved that I know, so now he can heal...etc... He is overly sexual all the time. He would like to have sex twice a day, he sends me pictures of himself, he wants to "put it in me" in public places all the time. He says it would be romantic. If I could only ask you one question, it would be "Can I believe that he is sincere about loving me and wanting to get help for his sex addiction, or is he in cover up mode and fearing that his secret will get out to his family and friends and co-workers if I tell anyone"? -Lydia

Sex addiction symptoms can be complicated, convoluted, and difficult to recognize, especially if it involves you or your partner. When you're so close to something it's just hard to see things clearly and be objective. While you must be careful not to jump to an incorrect conclusion, you also cannot overlook and ignore what could be a very serious problem.

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