Recognizing Sexual Addiction in Friends and Family

Posted on June 19th, 2014

Recognizing Sex Addiction in Friends and FamilySex addicts are not as easy to spot as one might think. This is because they work very hard to hide their problem. Often, the people around sex addicts are fairly helpful in this regard. This is especially common in family settings, where spouses need to believe that their significant other is trustworthy and dependable, children need to believe that their mom and dad are consistently doing the right thing, and parents need to believe that they’ve done a good job raising their kids. 

As such, family members (and close friends) become adept at looking the other way. Usually, a sex addict’s behavior must create a catastrophic event (or a very large number of smaller but still problematic events) before that behavior becomes so obvious and overriding that it can no longer be ignored. Without dire (or at least continual) negative consequences, most sex addicts are able to secretly engage in their addiction for long periods of time—years or even decades—with their family and friends either not recognizing the problem or willfully overlooking it.

The simple truth is that even if you suspect someone may be a sex addict, it is difficult to know for sure. That said, there are plenty of potential giveaways. Any and all of the signs listed below can be indicators of active sex addiction. None is definitive in terms of saying, “Yes, this person is a sex addict.” But if you spot several of these signs in someone you care about, there may well be a problem.

  • Lying: Sex addicts are deceitful about their behavior. They fib and make excuses with cold, calculated precision. If they are confronted about their lies, they deny, justify, minimize, and externalize (place the blame on others).
  • Manipulation: Sex addicts are adept at getting their spouses (and friends, employers, kids, etc.) to believe the lies they tell. Sometimes they cause the people around them to doubt their own feelings and intuition, causing those individuals to think that they are the one with the problem (lack of trust, imagining things, etc.).
  • Isolation: The easiest way for a sex addict to keep his or her behavior a secret is to withdraw, hiding from anyone who might recognize or be affected by the problem. Sometimes sex addicts are at home with their families but locked in their office or bedroom. Other times they disappear completely for lengthy periods. When they return, of course, they offer up a series of semi-plausible lies explaining their absence.
  • Emotional Withdrawal: Over time, sex addicts become unavailable emotionally. Often this occurs gradually and is difficult to notice. When confronted (most often by their spouse or partner), they either deny this is happening or they externalize responsibility, blaming the person who has confronted them.
  • Mood Swings: Addicts of all types tend to have extreme mood swings—hyperactive and extremely happy one minute, lethargic and irritable the next. Anxiety, paranoia, and anger are also common. Usually, if questioned, they blame their moodiness on the actions of others or events beyond their control.
  • Issues at Work or in School: Over time, sex addicts lose focus on anything that doesn’t directly involve their addiction. Sometimes this manifests at work or in school. Many sex addicts are able to maintain in these arenas for long periods, even though they’re operating at less than full capacity. Usually the decline is slow and difficult to notice, but it is nearly always present.
  • Declining Physical and Emotional Health: Sex addicts are vulnerable to STDs and many other contact-related illnesses. They often have sleep-related issues. They may suffer from anxiety and/or depression related to their addiction. They also may combine their sex addiction with a substance addiction, which creates its own set of problems.

In addition to the somewhat subtle signs listed above, there are many rather obvious indicators of sexual addiction. Finding a huge stash of porn on someone’s computer may be indicative of porn addiction, especially if that stash is well-organized. Finding numerous “dating” and “hookup” profiles on someone’s computer or smartphone, with texts and sexts that show continual activity, can be indicative of serial affairs or compulsive casual/anonymous sexual encounters. Being reprimanded at work for inappropriate sexual behavior can be a signal, especially if the behavior is repeated and results in another reprimand or being fired. Similarly, being arrested for illegal sexual activity can be a signal, especially if the behavior is repeated and results in another arrest or incarceration. Steps that you can take if you wish to confront a potential sex addict and help that person find recovery will be delineated in a future post.

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