How Do I Know if Sexual Addiction is Causing Me Problems?

Sad woman struggling with sexual addiction

Addiction by definition is a problematic experience. Psychology Today, puts it like this: addiction, “is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance or engages in an activity that can be pleasurable but the continued use/act of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life…”  Immediately we know that your life has been interfered with. The real question is to what extent? There can be a host of different reactions and consequences to sexual addiction; my hope is to help you understand how you, or a loved one may be affected. Let’s start by considering areas in which problems are common.

1.  Emotional Instability

Our healthy, happy selves flourish when we feel as though others accept and enjoy us. This is no accident because your brain is wired that way. Relationships that are meaningful and enjoyable bring a sense of calm and joy because of the neurochemicals they release in the brain. Furthermore, we remember these good things and recall the memory of being enjoyed by people.

When our brains are sexually addicted a common occurrence is hiding and secretive behavior. Very often addicts will spend time seeking out their addiction of choice and retreating from the world. Along with this comes the inability to view people without a sexual overtone to the encounter—focusing instead on bodies, prowess etc. As these changes build up, our brain chemistry is altered along with our social engagement. It is very common for sex addicts to be depressed and/or anxious. Feeling things like: life is out of control, it has no meaning, everything is too much effort, I don’t care anyway, live is constant stress, and I just feel overwhelmed all of the time.

Other emotional experiences can include increased anger and an inability to recognize how you feel. Addiction is commonly a “numbing” or “avoiding” activity that helps us cope with life. The problem with this is we loose sight of unwanted feelings, but they don’t leave. Often unacknowledged emotions are dispelled at unwanted and unwarranted moments in the form of anger or sorrow.

2.  Relational Break Down

This is area continues what I have mentioned already. The biggest addictions to note are how other people react to sexual addiction. Most addicts hide their addiction because others disapprove, and may try to help or petition the addict to change their behavior. Unless genuine efforts are made towards recovery addicts can find their social circles shrinking and partners being deeply hurt. To be in a romantic relationship with a sex addict can feel (and be) a constant experience of betrayal. This painful experience will rupture trust and intimacy in any relationship.

3.  Disengagement with Healthy SexSad man

When an addiction takes hold, escalation occurs—sexually this looks like using more hard-core porn, or moving towards meeting real people, or taking greater sexual risks. Critically, when the commensurate brain changes occur in escalation, it is hard to enjoy “regular” sex with a partner—it no longer has the same “feel good” factor in the brain. This can then act as a feedback loop to strengthen the addiction.

4.  Sexual Dysfunction

Quite simply, when we condition ourselves to specific types of arousal, it may be impossible to perform sexually in another context—for example with a live partner. This is distressing and emotionally painful. Further, extreme use of genitals can damage them physically, and STIs are common in those engaging sexually with unknown people.

5.  Loss of Jobs or Other Activities

Addictions that are not managed can take over your life. I have worked with a number of people who have lost jobs, spent their savings, and given up every good hobby in the name of feeding their addiction. These shifts occur subtly at first, with instances such as being late for work.

Let’s ask some helpful questions to help you discern the extent to which sexual addiction may be affecting your life. I encourage you to think carefully through these questions. Consider if you may need to rethink some aspects of your sexual life.

  • Healing handsWhat problems has my sexual behavior (porn use, flirting, anonymous sex) caused me in the past? How have I had to hide or pretend?
  • Can I look at women or men without assessing their attractiveness for sex?
  • Do I obsess over specific things that make me, or others seem attractive?
  • What problems am I experiencing today because of my behaviors? Am I actively spending money, unable to enjoy sex, or others?
  • How have I been changed by my behaviors and exposure in ways that I don’t like? How am I different now in my use of sex than I used to be?
  • How has my behavior hurt my spouse/partner and others?
  • What problems do I see down the line if I continue my current (or very recent) behaviors
  • Project these into the future.

If you realize that your life is being adversely affected, don’t panic! There are known pathways to recovery from sexual addiction, and many of them start with recognizing the problem, which you may be doing now. If so, then you have already started your recovery.

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Paul LoosemoreAbout the author: Paul Loosemore, MA PLPC, author of “21 Movements Towards Life” – The step-by-step guide to recovering from sexual addiction or pornography. Paul works as a mental health counselor, and consults with those who wish to recover from Sexual Addiction—both individuals and couples. He is the founder of where you can find his guide, or contact him.


[1]: Adapted from: Maltz & Maltz. (2008) The Porn Trap. p. 143.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 5, 2017.
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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.