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How is Sex Addiction Related to Sexual Offending?

Sex offending simply means “committing a sexual act that is non-consensual.” If both partners do not fully agree, or if both partners do not have the ability to fully consent to a sexual act (if one partner is too young or inebriated) and the act is carried out anyway, a sexual offense has taken place. The formal use of the term “sexual offender” is a legal one, most often referring to those who commit illegal acts involving sex.

Sexual addiction often has progressive features. Whereas most sex addicts do not progress beyond self-destructive behavior, such as compulsive masturbation, hustling, cruising, or the compulsive use of pornography or phone and computer sex services, others may escalate to victimizing activities such as exhibitionism, voyeurism, or viewing child porn. Sex addiction can also lead to increased risky, intense, and exploitative acts. The lack of appropriate assessment and treatment of sexual addiction in its early stages may result in failure to prevent more assaultive sexual acts.

For many years, sex offender specialists have emphasized the non-sexual components of sex-offending behavior while minimizing the role of sex itself. A need for power, dominance, control, revenge, sadistic satisfaction, or the expression of anger have been the most frequently cited causes for sexual assaults. More recently, an understanding of addictive sexual patterns and their mood-altering functions offers additional explanations of the many motivations for sexual offending.

The intent of sexually addicted and non-addicted sex offenders differs. Some non-addicted sex offenders consciously attempt to inflict pain, do harm, and attack, and are driven by hatred, rage, or anger. Addicted sex offenders are usually motivated by an attempt to use others for self-gratification, and to escape loneliness, shame, and low self-esteem. Others want to utilize the intensity of the sexual experience to escape their own internal stressors, denying the exploitive features and harm or pain the acts inflict.

The percentage of sexual addicts who have sexual offenses in their background is quite low at about 20%, meaning that the majority of sexual addicts do not go on to become sexual offenders. However, by denying the potential harm caused that addictive sexual behavior can cause to the self and to others, the individual is well on the road to being able to deny the harm caused by an offense.

With increased professional awareness of the role that addictive sexual disorders play in over half of all sex offenses, it is imperative that treatment specialists and counseling facilities incorporate appropriate sexual addiction assessment and sexual disorder treatment components into their work. A failure to respond to the addictive features of sex offenders adds unnecessary risk for recidivism (re-offending) and may result in additional victimization.

Adapted from the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health,