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Why Does a Sex Addict Act Out?

August 15, 2012

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Sexual addiction is like all addictions devastating to the addict and his or her family. It is considered an intimacy disorder because it affects the natural process that occurs when two people love each other and work on building ongoing closeness, communication, and trust. I recently received an email from a client who had heard my internet radio show on Sexual Addiction, and she wanted some answers to some difficult questions. In an effort to answer her questions, I suspect they might be helpful to you as you explore how you will recover from the addiction in your family.

1. How can a sex addict supposedly love their family and yet do what they do?

When someone has a sexual addiction, they “compartmentalize” their feelings and behaviors, which means they categorize the feelings, behaviors, and thoughts and try to keep them separate. They may get up in the morning and have breakfast with you and the kids, get ready for work, and then have every intention to “be good” and not “act out” that day. The second you leave… the addict takes over and convinces the person that looking at porn just this one time won’t hurt anyone, and the addictive cycle begins. Two hours later, the addict runs off to work and tries to be the good employee he/she wanted to be. The only way they can tolerate their behavior is to tell themselves that they are still a good spouse or employee, and simultaneously, they feel self-hate and shame.

2. Why do they think it is O.K. to do that?

They don’t feel it is ok to partake in sexually addictive behaviors. Still, they use defense mechanisms like minimization- “I didn’t hurt anyone but myself,” justification, “I need to do this to reduce stress,” or rationalization, “I will only do it this one time, then I will stop!”

3. Even if something happened as a child, can they not realize a wrong and make it right in their own lives?

Is that not how we learn for ourselves? Often times the addict has experienced such emotional, physical, or sexual abuse that they act out their anger which we refer to as “eroticized rage,” by recreating the process as an adult. This is a very self-destructive coping
the mechanism, and unfortunately, it reinforces to the addict that they are neither worthy nor deserving of real intimacy and love.

When a client has been in counseling and/or 12-step meetings, and his/her behavior has not improved, it may be necessary to go into intensive therapy or residential treatment so that the addict can get out of his/her natural environment and seek the safety and focus to get the help and develop the strategies to break the patterns that contribute to the abuse.

4. Why aren’t they mindful?

Most addicts have EVERY intention of breaking the cycle of addiction, but if all the infrastructure is not in place, they find that the addiction is stronger than they are. It is my belief that the addict needs a trained and certified sexual addictions therapist, 12-step groups that they attend with frequency, a sponsor who holds them accountable, technological supports like filters for their phones and computers, a community of friends who share the same problem, bibliotherapy to read every day, a spiritual relationship, and more. Suppose the addiction cannot be managed with these supports. In that case, it may be necessary to utilize more intensive mechanisms like a specialized treatment center, residential center after hospitalization, and polygraphing to help hold the client accountable.

**** Polygraph tests are not used to catch the addict in a lie but to assist the client in staying true to his program and
to his loved ones. It can also help a spouse to develop trust that he/she is not being lied to and that the addict is walking his/her talk.

These are just 4 of the 10 questions my client asked me to address on the radio show. Stay tuned for a future blog that will address the following questions.

5. Why is there a sense of entitlement?

6. Why the selfishness?

7. Why is bullying and anger always in the picture?  To stay hidden from real life?

8. Is it not immoral and illegal?

9. Can they not feel their feelings?

10. Even in recovery, why can they be intimate with other addicts and not their families?

Carol Juergensen Sheets LCSW, PCC, CSAT is currently in private practice in Indianapolis, IN. She speaks nationally on mental health issues and is featured in several local magazines. She currently has an internet radio show on and does regular television segments focusing on life skills to improve one’s potential. You can read her blogs at To contact Carol about sexual addiction: