Sexual Addiction

A research paper written by
Kristen Rice
while she was a student studying for her Master's degree in counseling at
Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS)
This paper written in 2007 in APA format

(Clicking on these internal links will move you down this page)

Introduction- The Problem of Sexual Addiction
Sexual Addiction Has Many Different Forms
The Beginnings of Sexual Addiction
The Acting Out of Sexual Addictions
Spiritual Damage
Recovery from Sexual Addiction
Five Commandments to Freedom
"Writing" Therapy and Freedom
Dealing with the Grieving Process
Healing During Recovery

Introduction- The Problem of Sexual Addiction

Sexual addiction is rapidly becoming recognized as a major social problem with similarities more well-known to alcohol and drug addiction or compulsive gambling. Sexual addicts are those who engage in persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behavior acted out despite increasingly negative consequences to self and to others
(All Psych Journal).
Dr. Carnes estimated that after a ten year research 8% of men and 3% of women are sexually addicted. That adds up to 16 million Americans who suffer from sexual addiction

Sexual addicts are currently spending hours reading and watching pornography, with eventually, masturbation as part of their activity. The internet has become the newest, most rapidly, growing form of sexual acting out for many sexual addicts today. They spend increasingly amounts of time surfing the net, downloading and reading information on sex bulletin boards, and exchanging sexual information with others in sexual chat rooms or directing their own live sex shows on interactive sites. The internet just happens to provide many of the things sex addicts seek all in one place:
fantasy materials,
endless varieties,
around the clock availability,
and instant accessibility

(All Psych Journal).

Pornography revenue is larger than all combined revenues of all professional football baseball, and basketball franchises. Child Pornography generates $3 billion annually. The world-wide pornography industry makes $57 billion, $12 billion in the United States
Today there are nearly 60 million internet users and over 300 million home pages. Although the internet provides valuable information, it has also become a dangerous pitfall for the estimated 2 million sexually addicted internet users, both in and out of recovery. For some, the internet has become a virtual community in which sexual fantasy abounds and the gap between addiction and reality become wider. According to The Society of Sexual Health, the internet does not create sexual addicts, but it can and does provide a form of sexual acting out that can lead to the progression of sexually addictive behaviors

According to Authentic Human Sexuality, at a socio-cultural level sexual addiction can be understood as the product of living in an addictive society. The 20th century has been labeled as the age of
value confusion,
lack or meaning,
search for easy solutions,
and quick-fix mentality
are part of the modern culture, which make one vulnerable to addictive behaviors

(Balswick 251).

Sexual Addiction Has Many Different Forms

Sexual addiction has many different forms:
compulsive masturbation,
sex with prostitutes,
anonymous sex with partners,
multiple affairs outside a committed relationship,
habitual exhibitionism,
habitual voyeurism,
inappropriate sexual touching,
repeated sexual abuse of children
and episodes of rape.

Of all forms of sexual addiction, none is more harmful to both the addict and the victim than childhood sexual abuse
(AllPsych Journal).

Physical consequences resulting from sexual addiction are problems such as genital injury, cervical cancer, HIV/AIDS, herpes, genital warts, and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Sex addicts may even place themselves in situations of potential harm, resulting in serious physical wounding or even death. Many types of sexual addictions result in violation of the law, such as sexual harassment, obscene phone calls, exhibitionism, and prostitution

The Beginnings of Sexual Addiction

The beginnings of sexual addiction are usually rooted in adolescence or childhood abuse.

It is found that 60% of sexual addicts were abused by someone in their childhood. The abused child may have grown up in a hostile, chaotic or neglectful home, or the family may have been very normal but the child grows up emotionally starved for love because affection is rarely expressed. Gradually sex becomes a replacement for their unmet needs
(Carnes pp 31).
Many sexual addicts and co-addicts were victims of childhood sexual abuse; as a result they suffer from poor sexual self-image. Among the survivors of sexual abuse, such issues as power, control, trust, and fear pose additional barriers to a healthy sexual relationship
(Earle pp. 232).

Dr. Carnes expresses for women sexual addicts the five worst abusers in their childhoods were:
19% other adult
16% father
12% brother
11% mother
10% male juvenile

Men sexual addicts reported that from their childhood their main abusers were:
17% mother
15% other adult
13% male juvenile
8% family friend
8% father

Losing a primary figure in life due to death or divorce can be unimaginably painful and confusing for a child. The need for both parents throughout the years of childhood is very important. When those needs for two parents go unmet, the consequences of emotional pain can set a person up for some form of compulsivity. Although this is not limited to sexual addiction, it is one of the first addictions an adolescent can experience before alcohol and drugs become available as an adult. It can often be the first medication for the pain of abandonment
(Weiss pp. 25).

The Acting Out of Sexual Addictions

Sex addicts don�t necessarily enjoy sex more than other people. In all reality, the sex addict is compelled to act out sexually. The addiction is often mistaken by the sex addict as "love," but love really has nothing to do with it. What passes for love, is really a progressively negative and intrusive behavior that takes away all of the addict�s self-esteem. It has little to do with true intimacy, but more so involves exploration and use of power or manipulation. Sex addicts have no comprehension of the risks they are taking. They feel their life is out of control. To deal with the pain, the addict may resort to other addictions such as alcoholism, eating disorders, and abusive drugs
(All Psych Journal).

The brain is an organ just like the lungs and the heart. Organs have needs, including chemical needs that must be met. Endorphins and Enkephalins are two chemicals that the brain needs. Everyone has the need for these chemicals. As a part of its developmental task, the brain is driven to get this need met. The brain can get these endorphins and enkephalines in several different ways. Drugs, in fact are involved in the form of naturally-occurring peptides such as endorphins which govern the electrochemical interactions within the brain. These peptides parallel the molecular construction of opiates like morphine, but they are many more times powerful
(Carnes pp.22).

The compulsive nature drives the sex addict. While the addict is in the acting out mode, everything becomes secondary,
the job,
and even the color of stoplights.
At times the addict feels as if they are in a trance, driving around for hours looking for sex. According to Authentic Human Sexuality, many addicts report that they have been in accidents because they were so completely unaware of their surroundings. During the act of sex itself, the addict feels good because the addiction is being fed and their feelings of inadequacy are numbered at the moment

(Balswick pp. 256).
Many sexual addicts are well-known and respected and admired for their visible life, but secretly engaging regularly in sexual acts that would be shocking to those who knew them. The addiction doesn�t make a person worthless; it just hides the addict�s true personality and positive qualities
(All Psych Journal).

Most of the men arrested in public restrooms, parks, truck stops, adult book stores, or porno shops are all mostly married and have families. For men unsure of their sexual orientation, acting out may be the only way they feel validated by other men. After the cycle, once again, sex addiction is up as a false idol that promises to numb the self-defeating thoughts but gives nothing except pain in return. During treatment, denial is a major factor that keeps sexual addicts from taking the steps to recovery
(Balswick pp. 261).

Sex addicts use their sexuality as a medication for
and family and life problems.

Many addicts in study reported that:
40% had lost their spouse or partner due to the addiction.
70% reported some marital problems.
13% had lost their rights to their children
8% cut ties with family members
58% had severe financial consequences
27% reported losing the opportunity to work in the career of their choice
38% caused self inflicted injuries
58% pursued activities for which they could be arrested
19% actually were arrested
72% of the tested respondents contemplated suicide when they felt isolated and different from everyone else, they felt hopeless, and when the pain seems so great, suicide seems acceptable.

One of the discoveries that Dr. Carnes discovered in his study was that women addicts seeking help were often sexually abused by their therapists.
(Carnes pp. 25).

Sexual addicts are often dependant on more than one addiction. Dr. Carnes found in his study that
42% were chemically dependent,
38% had eating disorders,
28% were compulsive workers,
26% were compulsive spenders, and
5% were compulsive gamblers

(Carnes pp. 225).
For some addicts, the psychological aspects have a great bearing on their sexual addiction. For other addicts these may be the second or third aspect of their sexual addictions. Many sexual addicts who have sought treatment either inpatient treatment facilities report that they have come from abusive backgrounds including physical abuse, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse and neglect
(Weiss pp. 25).

Dr. Carnes estimates that nearly one out of ten men will commit date rape and 1 million women will be raped this year, over half of them by someone they know. Over 40 million American adults were abused as children. Each day an average of 3,000 teenage girls become pregnant in the United States
(Carnes pp. 11).

Spiritual Damage

Many sexual addicts suffered sexual damage from spiritual sources. Religious messages from their childhood equated sex with sin and evil. Lust was to be struggled against for the highest stakes of all:
one�s soul. The result was wounded, abused children who grew up hating their sexuality and possessing a cynical distrust of religion

(Earle 233).
Dr. Carnes explains that our fears or sexual excess emerge in religious teachings, which together express an unwritten cultural code suggesting that sex is dirty and bad. Our fear of sexual excess serves as a sad counterpoint to our own profound fears and self-doubts about our sexual adequacy. The irony is that performance anxiety and some of the same fear-based sexual assumptions are rooted in our culture
(Carnes pp.12).

Recovery from Sexual Addiction

Dr. Carnes uses a significant model called the "New" Addiction Cycle during the recovery process:

Pain Agents:

A. Emotional Discomfort
B. Unresolved Conflict
C. Stress
D. A need to connect
A. The Altered State
B. Pursuing Behavior
C. Behavior
D. Time
Pain agents and others move the addict into the next level of the addiction cycle.
A. Emotional discomfort is one of the primary pain agents that will move the addict to the first level of the addiction cycle. This causes them to disconnect from their feelings. Emotional discomfort is a family of origin issue. The sex addict never learned how to identify feelings while growing up in their family.

B. Unresolved conflict is when some sex addicts have been victims of physical, emotional or sexual abuse and have unresolved issues about the abuser(s).

C. Stress is handled by the way the addict medicates or avoids stress, is usually acted out, creates more stress that makes the cycle going. The stress agent is then repeated and many sexual addicts set up the dynamics in which they repeat this behavior by creating stress so that they can alleviate the stress by acting out.

D. A need to connect this need can move the addict into the addiction cycle if they don�t find other ways to enjoy the true way of meeting the need to connect. Sexual addicts often feel pain because they don�t know how to get the relationship need met.

The addict is faced with the pressure to act out in order to make the pain go away.

Disassociation allows the addict to disconnect from his/her self. Disconnecting is a way that many sexual abuse victims survive from the pain of their past. These victims most likely disconnected during their trauma as well. Disassociation is the stage after the feelings of past or present pain have been felt. The addict needs to do something with his/her pain and so they disassociate. Then they enter into the beginning of the cycle of addiction.
A. The Altered State (Fantasy World) is also called the "bubble." This is a place where the addict created as a "safe place" during their childhood or adolescence. The altered state can be appealing and soothing for the addict, it can be described as the place the addict goes to look at others as they walk the mall. Just as a computer scans a picture into its file, the sex addict may take pictures of people and place it in their computer file in their minds to use later to fantasize in during their altered state.

B. Pursuing their behavior. Once the level of the altered state is created, the addict heads towards a destination. A behavior will be pursued. The pursuit of behavior can be very complicated. The addict has specific repetitious behaviors and once they enter the altered state, they are going to pursue a behavior and act out in some way. During the pursuit, some addicts have specific places they go, people they see, phone calls they make, but whatever their place, they are in pursuit of a repetitious behavior.

C. Behavior can range from being sexual with themselves, voyeurism, pornography, and being sexual with others. Once the sexual addict goes through the stage where they pursue a behavior, they continue by acting out sexually. Every time they go through the cycle and act out, they reinforce neurological and psychologically that the addiction is going to medicate their inner being. The final behavior completes the cycle of addiction.

As in twelve step programs the sexual release combined with the altered state reinforces sexual addiction. Those who are in support groups and continue to act out in one way or another won�t get better and their lives won�t change. The best way they can stay clean is if they don�t reinforce the sexual addiction cycle.

D. Time- (according to Dr. Weiss) has a definite pattern, and knowing their pattern is key to their recovery. For most there is a time for the recurrence of pain and actual acting out behavior. There is usually time between one pain agent and another pain agent. Between these times, if the addict can incorporate their support groups, phone calls and recovery, they can strengthen themselves so that when the next pain agent comes, they can cope with it rather than giving themselves permission to act out due to pain
(Weiss pp. 25-47).

Five Commandments to Freedom

Dr. Weiss himself was once a recovering sex addict. In his book, The Final Freedom, he states the five commandments to freedom:

The first commandment according to Dr. Weiss is Morning Prayer. Prayer is hard for sexual addicts because they have been avoiding God due to shame and guilt of their behaviors. Prayer is a behavior that can change the addict�s disposition; prayer is talking and expressing feelings.

The second commandment is phone calls. Making calls can be the thing that saves a person from acting out their experiences for the day. The addict needs to involve others in their lives in the "fight for sobriety".

The third commandment is reading. Reading recovery material that is related to sexual addiction is important to read everyday. The recovery thoughts can be the tool to get them out of a tough situation, and by giving them the strength to fight their addiction.

Commandment four is going to meetings. There are three times, according to Dr. Weiss, when one should go to a meeting:
when they don�t feel like going,
when they do feel like going, and
when it is 8 o�clock.
It is not a matter of how one feels about it, it is about how they behave about it. Meetings are to support the addict and at the same time gives to others what the addict has learned through their own personal journey of recovery.

Commandment five is to pray again. At the end of the day "if they are sober", thank God for keeping the addict sober for that day. If they don�t yet have a relationship with God, they can ask God to help deepen their relationship with Him, and to send people to them to bring this about. It is important to end their day in a spiritual place in addition to starting the day this way
(Weiss pp. 47-52).

"Writing" Therapy and Freedom

In the recovery process biological freedom and conditioning the brain is important.
Psychological freedom involves writing a thank you letter and a good-bye letter to the sex addiction. The sex addict needs to look at what the addiction has done for them. It has often kept them from being respectable or intimate in relationships, justified by their leaving relationships, kept them feeling powerful, and successful in their addictions.

The next step is to write a good-bye letter. In this letter the addict should give a point and time when they confront the psychological dependence. This has actually been a relationship that they have had.

Another aspect is accountability- accountability with their time, money, thoughts, and sexual behaviors. They should find someone to be accountable to whether this is a Christian friend, pastor, or Christian psychologist.

Dealing with the Grieving Process

The next state they will have to deal with is grief. Sexual addicts go through the grieving process at several levels and over several different issues. Often the addiction has been there all their lives. It has been there to run to and to nurture, and has been false intimacy
(Weiss pp.83).

Going through recovery for sexual addiction means the loss of a best friend to many addicts and it can be a very painful process.

This grief stage includes six stages:

The first stage is the shock stage of reality that they are actually a sex addict.

Stage two is the stage of denial of the addiction. Some addicts decide that they are not really addicts, only to finally realize that they are.

Stage three is the anger stage. Anger is a good stage of grief. This means that the addict is finally interacting with the painful truth.

The fourth stage is bargaining, which involves an "if-then" logic. The bargaining can go on and on. It is an attempt to shift the pain and manipulate it to fit into categories and still not experience the full impact of it.

The fifth stage is sadness. Sadness for the sex addict involves feelings that come up. Sadness is over the things lost because of the addiction and the damage that they have caused to themselves and others.

The last stage is acceptance. Acceptance is integration that something is true. In acceptance the addict accepts the addiction and other painful events that have happened in their life.

Healing During Recovery

Sixteen characteristic symptoms addicts identify in the early weeks of recovery:
high sexual arousal,
body aches,
increased food appetite,
genital sensitivity,
itchy skin,
rapid heart beat, and
shortness of breath

(Carnes pp. 258).

The reasons recovery works is because some knew that to return to the addiction meant death. Many had a lower tolerance for pain and did not want to go back to active addiction. Many felt that their emerging Spirituality was important. For the majority, the beginnings of a renewed self-esteem helped resist cravings.

In recovery it is important for the addict to surrender to a higher power. Sexual addicts and co-addicts must surrender the addiction to a Higher Power as in twelve step program. Recognizing that surrendering the addiction can lead to increased feelings of self-worth, a necessary precursor to the development of healthy sexuality. A healthy sense of Spiritual connectedness can promote both individual healing and the healings of relationships, sexually and emotionally
(Weiss pp.234).

There is a five step process in recovery dealing with forgiveness:

The first step involves defining the offenses, identifying as much detail as possible the injurious behaviors that often seem unforgivable.

The next two steps require the identification with these offenses and finding an appropriate outlet for expression of this affect.

The fourth step in forgiveness with the therapist�s guidance and support needs to set appropriate boundaries that will guard against future abuses and injuries.

The fifth and last step means to cancel the debt by forgiveness and take charge of life

(Earle pp. 248).

There are two types of professional, specialized treatment available for the sex addict/or the partner of a sex addict:
out-patient treatment and
in-patient treatment.

The out-patient treatment usually consists of counseling sessions in psychotherapy or a counseling office scheduled one session or more each week. The out-patient treatment may be mainly individual sessions or marital sessions with a particular counselor or may be more in the form of a treatment program consisting of individual, marital, group and educational sessions.

In-patient treatment is a very intensive program and involves staying at a special facility on a 24-hour basis for several weeks or a month or more, where treatment, educational and support group sessions are conducted each day. An advantage to this type of treatment is that the patient receives a large amount of information and help over a short period of time. It also permits patients to leave their daily routine and concerns in order to focus fully on their treatment. And, for the patient who is in a more serious emotional or psychological state, the in-patient facility provides more safety and medical support

The recovery program known as the Twelve-Steps was originally written for Alcoholics Anonymous. These steps have been used throughout the world to help millions of people with various addictions such as narcotic abuse, overeating, emotional problems, co-dependency, and sexual addiction. The twelve steps are:

1. We admit that we are powerless over our sexual addiction, and that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a power greater than our-selves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood God.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God�s will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, and tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our day to day living
(Weiss pp.105-106).


Sexual addiction and porn addiction are difficult topics to discuss, difficult to diagnose, and even more difficult to remove. One of the elements that make sexual sin difficult to deal with in the life of a Christian person is that it is often covered by a layer of secrecy and shame. Despite these difficulties, sexual sin can be conquered. If you desire to change, God can heal and bring restoration

What is sexual wellness or healthy sexuality? The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health states that healthy sexuality is a state of physical, emotional, mental, and social well being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction, or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected, and fulfilled

To effectively help sexual addicts it is important to tell them that God loves them and that no matter what kind of sin and selfishness you have immersed yourself in, no matter what your destruction, your sin has produced, confess your sin, and admit it. Understand that it is impossible to overcome sin totally on your own. To get better depend on God�s help, and seek the support of others, saturate your mind with God�s Word.

Pray often, and create barriers to reduce your exposure to temptation. Confess your sin to another Christian (the same sex), and ask them to pray regularly for you and hold you accountable. Continue to read and learn about your addiction. Seek professional help, especially if the problem is severe and your life has been shattered. Get work on rebuilding your life, now...

Sexual Addiction Bibliography

Balswick, Jack & Balswick, Judith. (1999). Authentic Human Sexuality: An Integrated Christian Approach. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. (pp 251-261).

Carnes, Patrick. (1992). Don�t Call it Love: Recovering from Sexual Addiction. Bantam Publishing (pp. 22, 31-35. 62-70).

Counseling Affiliates Sexual Addiction Treatment Program. (2007). Houston, TX:

Earle, Ralph, & Earle, Marcus. (1995). Sex Addiction: Case Studies and Management. Levittown, PA: Brunner/Mazel Publishing.

Ewald, Roschbeth. (2003). Sexual Addiction. All Psychology online Journal.
( (May edition 2003 pp.1-4).

Gross, Craig. (2007). Get The Facts: Christian web site to the Porn industry.

James, Ken. (2001). How to Deal with Sexual Addiction. Eden Communications.

Morrison, Keith. (2004). Battling Sexual Addiction. NBC News, (Feb 24. Pp 1-8).

Overcoming Addiction. (2005).

The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH). (2007).

Weiss, Douglas. (1998). The Final Freedom: Pioneering Sexual Addiction Recovery. Fort Worth, TX: Discovery Press.

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As of July 26, 2007