As stories of sexual addiction circulate among celebrities, most of them enduring severely damaged or shattered marriages, expert conversations are turning to the connections between sexual addiction and infidelity. An act of infidelity may actually be a symptom of a sexual addiction – a life-consuming addiction a partner has kept hidden from his or her spouse for months, or even years.
What Is Sex Addiction?
Sexual addiction is believed to be a manifestation of a person’s deep emotional problems, especially low self-esteem or the lack of an ability to form and keep close personal relationships. It is linked to a root cause at the internal level, and the sexual acts become a way of coping with or escaping emotional pain – similar to drug and alcohol addictions.
If someone who has committed infidelity has a sexual addiction, they may be unable to stop themselves from acting on compulsive thoughts about sex. The person may also experience obsessive thoughts about sex at such a level as to harm their careers, social lives and health.
A growing body of research suggests some elements of sexual addiction exist at the level of the brain’s reward system, carrying a biological component. As the sex addiction progresses, the person needs more intense or bizarre sexual encounters or materials to get the same “rush.” Many people struggling with sexual addiction say their behaviors bring about a sense of “numbing out.”
Signs of Sex Addiction
Sexual addiction connected to infidelity can manifest as multiple sexual partners, an addiction to porn or excessive strip club use. Others may demonstrate sexual addiction through obsessive cybersex activity or sexting. In each case, acting out sexual impulses becomes all-controlling and consumes a great deal of time. Although the person knows the consequences for their marriage and family, they are unable to control the impulses.
There is also a fear and secrecy element to sexual addiction and infidelity. The person with sexual addiction will often feel strong levels of fear and shame following the acting out of their impulses, which can lead to depression and a preoccupation with keeping their actions secret.
Following expert beliefs about sexual addiction, no intimate relationships or bonds are formed with the person(s) the addict is engaging in sex with; rather they become like objects to escape negative emotions or get a “high.” They may also represent an escape from the turmoil the addict feels about not being able to feel an intimate bond with their spouse.
The distorted thought patterns involved in sexual addiction and infidelity are another symptom. The person with the sexual addiction views each extra-marital sexual encounter through the lens of compulsive urges, leading to rationalization or entitlement. Through multiple sexual encounters or activities, they may live a fantasy life completely separate from their marriage, family and workplace. People with sexual addictions may also show co-addictions, such as gambling, drugs or alcohol.
Treatment for Sex Addiction
Treatment for sexual addiction within marriage requires the participation of both partners in a professional setting. Due to the heavy emotional burden sexual addiction places on a spouse, many experts believe success is unattainable without dual participation.
Like other addictions, the inability to control the obsessive thoughts and urges about sex can be relieved through professional guidance and root causes of the behaviors can be identified. Treatment can include individual and couples’ counseling, as well as the support of national self-help groups for sexual addiction.