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Types of sex addiction

There are ten (10) different types of sex addiction. Learn about sex addiction types, levels of consent, and the most

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Sex addiction is an ever-developing therapeutic field that treats a specific range of sexual issues. But how many people are sex addicts? And what types of sex addictions can people have?

Nearly 1/4 of a million people search for information on Google about “sex addiction” monthly. Despite some who contest the validity of this term, sex addiction clearly surpasses any other self-diagnosis for which a patient might seek therapy for a variety of out-of-control sexual urges or behaviors.

When is sexual behavior addictive?

The criteria for whether or not sexual behavior is addictive include the presence of obsession, compulsion, loss of control, and continuation in spite of negative consequences. The majority of sex addict clients that come to our Los Angeles clinic seek help to control addictive behaviors mainly related to serial infidelity, prostitute solicitation and porn. We explore with them the reasons why people have an affair or pay for sex or porn… and help them return to healthy sexuality and sexual expression.

S Fellowships and the concept of sex addiction

The concept of sex addiction has only emerged in the mid-1970s when members of Alcoholics Anonymous sought to apply the principles of 12-Steps toward their own self-defined sexual recovery. These members applied the 12-Step structure to create new support groups like Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (S.L.A.A.), Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), Sexaholics Anonymous (SA), and Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA) that all seemed to independently surface spontaneously within that same era. As a whole, these are known as the “S” programs or S-fellowships because they all focus on sexual recovery.

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How do professionals treat sex addiction?

In 1983, Dr. Patrick Carnes published the first known book on the subject Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction drawing on 12-Step philosophy fused with clinical psychology. This early work became the basis for the current therapeutic field of sex addiction treatment. Later in his book Don’t Call It Love (1992), Dr. Carnes would identify 10 types of sex addiction (see below). Currently, the standard treatment for sex addiction includes assessment and consultation with a licensed therapist who is a member of The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH) and/or a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT). Ideally therapy for sex addiction is accompanied by participation in a peer-based recovery support group such as S-fellowship 12-Step programs.

3 levels of sex addiction

Dr. Carnes also described the three levels of sex addiction in Out of the Shadows, which correspond to varying degrees of consent.

Level One – Level One sexual behaviors include compulsive masturbation, pornography, and consensual sexual liaisons both heterosexual and homosexual.

Level Two – Level Two behaviors are illegal activities but considered as “nuisance offences,” even though they are non-consensual therefore they all involve a degree of victimization. These include flashing, voyeurism and indecent phone calls.

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Level Three – Level Three behaviors are serious criminal behaviors that are dangerous and abusive, and result in serious consequences for the victims. These include child molestation, sexual abuse of vulnerable adults, and rape.

10 types of sex addiction

Following are the types of sex addiction and their characteristics.

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1. Fantasy Sex – Sexually charged fantasies, relationships, and situations. Arousal depends on sexual possibility. How to stop fantasizing?

2. Seductive Role Sex – Seduction of partners.  Arousal is based on conquest and diminishes rapidly after initial contact.

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3. Voyeuristic Sex – Visual arousal. The use of visual stimulation to escape into obsessive trance.

4. Exhibitionistic Sex – Attracting attention to body or sexual parts of the body. Sexual arousal stems from reaction of viewer whether shock or interest.

5. Paying for Sex – Purchasing of sexual services. Arousal is connected to payment for sex, and with time the arousal actually becomes connected to the money itself.

6. Trading Sex – Selling or bartering sex for power. Arousal is based on gaining control of others by using sex as leverage.

7. Intrusive Sex – Boundary violation without discovery. Sexual arousal occurs by violating boundaries with no repercussions.

8. Anonymous Sex – High-risk sex with unknown persons. Arousal involves no seduction or cost and is immediate.

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9. Pain Exchange Sex – Being humiliated or hurt as part of sexual arousal; or sadistic hurting or degrading another sexually, or both.

10. Exploitative Sex – Exploitation of the vulnerable. Arousal patterns are based on target ‘types’ of vulnerability.

Who does sex addiction affect?

Sex addiction affects all types of people from all cultural backgrounds and all economic classes because ultimately sex addiction is a coping mechanism in response to trauma or extreme stress in some area of one’s life, something that may be common to all classes and backgrounds. Both men and women can be sex addicts, although statistics guesstimate that only 8-12% of sex addicts seeking treatment are women. As you might imagine, there is a need for greater statistical information on the subject of sex addiction due to the evolving understanding and acceptance of this diagnosis. Still, for healthcare professionals to ignore the reality of the various types of sex addiction and corresponding professional treatments can do a grave injustice to any patient who struggles with this specific problem.

Questions about types of sex addiction

Please leave us your questions about sex addiction here. We will be happy to try to answer your questions personally and promptly, and/or refer you to sex addiction treatment when possible. All questions about sex addiction are welcomed.

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  1. I discovered her watching porn at 10 years old. She began cutting and I immediately got her into counseling and discovered the sexual abuse and exposure. She has been sexting online, videos, chatting to older men, and was sexually assaulted twice. She breaks into every password I get and even buys old phones to talk online. She masturbates on the landline phone w/ strangers. For 6 years I have been fighting this battle and have had her in therapy yet they say she isn’t addicted to sex. She used to be an A student, now all F’s. She is doing drugs and on probation and just went to Juvenile and boot camp. No money for treatment and no treatment for girls with SA. Mental Health says let her go and see what happens. Just let her go and be human trafficked?

  2. Question: is it possible for me to be a sex addict. Started masturbating at 12 at least 3-11 times a day. I need some type of human contact every little while or I get super depressed or angry. I love sex but only with one person. Having sex with someone who isn’t my spouse makes me feel sick. The touch of someone else makes my skin crawl. Could I have an addiction? If so then what kind?

    1. Hi Vicki. If you believe that this issue interferes with your daily life in a negative way you should consider therapy sessions with a sex therapist.

  3. My husband is a sex addict and he’s been this way since I’ve been with him ( 15years) He’s been cheating on me on dating websites and social media and can’t stop. He says that’s his thing and that he never got physical with anyone. So my question is, is that possible? He’s been this way since he was a young teen and I’m wondering without treatment if his ways did develop into a “stronger” high. Meaning did he eventually have affairs because of his illness? He’s such a good liar that I can’t believe any thing he says and I have such a gut feeling that he did 🙁

  4. I can’t sleep with my Husband we only married 2 years He is totally addicted to porn. So is his 22yr old son that lives with us.They cut on the toilet for hours watching porn. I don’t and can’t sleep with my husband when I have seen what wiered type of porno he watches.His son has lived with him and witnessed this for years and can’t get a job or leave home even though he has a girlfriend.He has Dads habits. I am going to leave him.I just let him do his thing as long as he does not get sexual with me

    1. Hi Lana. I suggest that you stage an intervention for your husband to see his problem. Also, consider therapy to help you both.

  5. My boyfriend is a sex addict. He says he gets headaches and feels tired and snappy if he doesn’t have sex, but he says it is a different pain and tiredness than the normal ones. I don’t understand it, is it psicolocical pain that he thinks is physical?

  6. My problem seems to be level one fantasy sex addiction. The concept of it as a disassociative mental coping mechanism really resonates with me, yet I cannot seem to figure out why! My childhood wasn’t the best, but I certainly don’t feel like it was traumatic enough to warrant the depression that I struggle with and fantasies that I turn to in order to help regulate my emotions. I just can’t figure out why I do this. As terrible as it sounds I can remember having sexual fantasies and experimenting with masturbation from about 5 years old. What on earth could have happened to me in my first 5 years to drive me to such extreme behavior???

  7. I have been with a sex addict for over a year now and just started to realize a few months ago. It seems its getting worse and worse. I am inlove with him and know he cant help his permiscuious habbit but everytime my heart just breaks from the marks, scratches, odors, & shame on his face. He wont admit it and im a type who has to hear the truth.

  8. Thank you for a great article.
    When you know the average age an American kid first sees pornography online is 11, it’s beyond frightening. I produced and finished early this year a documentary film about sexual addiction that also shows the immense struggle spouses of sex addicts experience: http://www.sexaddiction.tv

  9. When i want to reach my climax..i will see vids of $ex especially women sexy breast. It can be they showing their breast or they are having $ex with their breast shaking or cajoled by. I prefer this than $ex w my husband. I dont know why. Even when i was preg w my son 8yrs ago…i watched these when i yearn to reach my climax. Is this an illness?

  10. Dear all, I have a small problem with my wife situation.
    I was also addicted to online porn for several years but I found out that this is destroying my relationship. For four years I’m free of this addiction. Year ago browsing history on my wife PC I realized that she watches only swinger party, BDSM swinger and all that kind of stuff. When we spoke about it she admitted and we started BDSM relationship which is great. But problems started when I realized that our sex life depends extremely on her online activities. She is not interested in me during “online” days. And of course she says that she doesn’t want to be involved in swinger party at all. Now I feel hurt because we have 12 years of great relationship and I don’t want a dysfunctional marriage just because stupid thing. She is willing to try to stop online activities but I’m still worried because I know how hard was for me to leave it. So I need your advice and opinion.

  11. I am trying to find out what my problem is. For years I have been staring, and have absolutely no control. Long story short, it is ruining my life. I compulsively stare at women’s chests regardless if I find them attractive or not. I have sought therapy, but have never been given any real course of action. I’ve mostly been told that either I am magnifying the problem, or that it is symptomatic of an anxiety disorder. Bwhat can I do? Please help.

  12. Check out a movie called “Thanks For Sharing”. May or may not explain what truly is going on! Sex addicts are highly skilled and deceptive. They lead a secret life.

  13. Can I get some recent statistics on how many addicts are men and how many are women. Also what percentage of these are of South Asian descent?

  14. …was simply looking for the three degrees of addxn, and stumbled upon this work. …incredibly succinct!!! And by the looks of this list, I can’t help but wonder who is not effected. My sense is for those doing this work professionally, the sky is the limit. Of course, this is a “mixed bag,” as no one would wish any of these issues on another.
    sincerely,
    tammy

  15. This is a great resource of the different types of sex addiction. As a Tucson Sex Addiction Therapist, I have worked with many individuals and couples who are dealing with these very issues. It is good to see that there are good resources about sexual addiction, such as this, that people can find on the internet. It is also good to read the above discussion to further elaborate on the definition and types of sex addiction as well.

  16. Hi April. I’d suggest you check out the book: A Couple’s Guide to Sex Addiction. There are references and resources in the book, but you can also get informed yourself about sex addiction and understand more about what drives your boyfriend to this behavior…and how he can learn to be intimate. I truly hope that this helps, as sex addiction is one of the most misunderstood compulsive behaviors that can ruin lives. Please let me know what you think.

    http://compulsionsolutions.com/couples-guide-to-sexual-addiction.html

  17. I am looking for a place for my boyfriend of 4 years to go to that will take our insurance. He works in a field that doesn’t take his type of addiction seriously. It is ruining our lives. I am suffering because of his addiction. It’s constant lies and porn and pictures of random women, websites for prostitutes, affairs, several email
    Accounts, etc. I can’t take his addiction any longer.

  18. Hi Anne. Thanks for your question. To track search trends, you can look into a keyword based tool like Alexa keyword tools, Google AdWords, or the SEO Book Keyword Tool. These are free third party software that allow you to estimate how many people search for certain keywords such as “sex addiction” within a certain amount of time.

  19. Alex,
    I greatly enjoyed this article, thank you. Can you please verify the 1/4 million people searching for sex addiction information on Google monthly? Not that I doubt that it is true, it just seems difficult to quantify. How do they know it is individual people searching and not just searches?

    As a recovery Sex Addict, I appreciate the descriptions of the different types of sex addiction. I was never compulsively promiscuous, but my fantasy addiction was enough to do me in!

  20. You mention homosexuality in your response above.

    Would you consider homosexuality/Same Sex Attraction as a form of sex addiction?

  21. Swinging is not a sign of addictive behavior. As stated in the article, the criteria for addictive behavior includes obsession, compulsion, loss of control, and continuation despite negative consequences. For a sex addict, swinging could fit into many of the types listed above depending on the circumstances and the way the activity is being used to manage underlying pain or trauma, which is the cause of any sex addiction. Recovery would involve stopping the behavior for a while to treat the underlying trauma. But stopping the behavior for a sex addict is an involved process in and of itself.

    Sexuality is personal, and I believe healthy sexuality is self-defined — as long as it does not involve abuse, exploitation, or manipulation. We hosted a lecture on Sexual Paraphilias recently where we underscored the necessity for a treating therapist to try not to pathologize any client’s paraphilia. We try to unpack this information, but not with the intent to change it unless it is the client’s desire to change (and when they desire to change, we also unpack any possible sense of repression around this.) Oftentimes a paraphilia is perfectly reasonable for a client given their history and their arousal template.

    Not too long ago, homosexuality was widely considered to be a mental illness in the psychiatric community. The psychiatric community has reversed course, and I do not know anyone in the field who holds a negative view of homosexuality today although certainly there are political and religious institutions who do so, some of whom offer their own version of sex therapy. But the AASECT-Certified Sex Therapists (CST) and IITAP-Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSAT) that I’ve met respect the individual definition of sexuality with its wide spectrum of expression.

    One aspect of unpacking that we would look at with couples who enjoy swinging might be the level of coercion or codependency in the relationship. Is this an authentic expression of sexuality for these two people? Is one trying to please the other in an effort to hold on to the relationship? What is the capacity for healthy intimacy between the couple? Swinging would probably not be recommended for anyone who identified as a sex addict, due to the nature of sex addiction but again this is something we unpack. Sexuality really is very personal and it is different for everyone — there is no “one size fits all.”

    As far as publishing the positive changes in relationships due to swinging, that would be the work of researchers, although I am sure you can find plenty of sexologists who have published such statements. Among the certified therapists in my field, I don’t know anyone who fears “political or religious retribution.” It’s not really the role of the therapist to judge positive or negative sexual behavior, this would be more meaningful coming from the client’s own experience over time.

  22. And if swinging is a type of sex addiction is swinging a type of fantasy sex…or where else would this sexual behavior fall into the continuum of types of sex addiction?

  23. What is your analysis of swinging between to consensual adult couples. Would you consider it addictive behavior because of its existence or does there need to be some other pathological behavior prevelant to label it as addictive. If the practice of swinging produced positive changes in the relationships of the couples do you or the organizations that you are associated with have the autonomy to say so without political or religious retribution?

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