Sexual Integrity: Sex and Pornography Addiction

DIagram of the addiction cycle.

Like any other behavior, sexual thoughts or behavior can become addictive if they significantly interfere with your normal life. Pornography and sex addiction are brain-based addictions like gambling or gaming addiction. These brain-based addictions are known as ‘process addictions.’”

Process addictions involve powerful reinforcement from chemicals in the brain. The addiction cycle for sex involves preoccupation, ritualization and compulsivity, often with euphoria. However, the high is typically followed by shame and despair, which the addict escapes by a return to the preoccupation. This cycle repeats itself over and over until life becomes unmanageable. 

Sexually addictive behavior can include a wide range of behaviors, including but not limited to:

  • Compulsive masturbation
  • Chronic pornography
  • Phone or internet sex
  • Erotic chat or sexually charged fantasies, relationships, and situations
  • Objectification of sexual partners, rituals associated with sex
  • Multiple affairs or one-night stands
  • Sexual massage, strip clubs, escorts, prostitutes
  • Creating sexually explicit photos or videos
  • Sex clubs, partner swapping, trading sex for money or services
  • Cross dressing
  • Voyeurism
  • Exhibitionism
  • Cruising, anonymous sex
  • Pain exchange sex
  • Sexting
  • Hook-up and/or dating apps
  • Social media

A sign that you may have already crossed the line into addiction is if you are continuing with sexual behavior despite knowing that there will be negative consequences — or there would be if others learned of your secret behavior. Secret is a key word here. If you have secrets around your sexual behavior, secrets you would be ashamed of if they were discovered by your partner, family, boss, church, or friends, then the possibility of an addiction is worth exploring.

Signs of Sex Addiction

Do you lie to protect your secrets? Do you get a rush when getting ready to sexually act out, even though you may feel shame afterward? If important people in your life knew about your sexual behavior, would they think you are preoccupied? If they heard the excuses you tell yourself (it’s not hurting anyone, no one ever has to know, I deserve this, just one more time…), would they agree? Do you find yourself spending more and more time thinking about, engaging in, or recovering from your sexual behavior?

Bottom Line

If any of those questions make you uncomfortable, I would suggest you take time to learn more about pornography and sex addiction. The bottom line is that if you continue to engage in sexual behaviors that could result in negative relationship, legal, career, emotional, or physical consequences, then you have a problem.

If you would like a thorough evaluation, contact us to schedule a Sexual Dependency Inventory assessment.

Not only can a woman be a sex addict, but it is also much more common than most people realize. Studies suggest that females make up approximately 40% of those struggling with online sexually compulsive behaviors. Suppose we add other forms of sexual compulsion and women who might more accurately be considered love addicts. In that case, they are willing to exchange sex for the illusion of love and romance — those numbers would be significantly higher.

If you would like a more thorough evaluation, contact us to schedule a Sexual Dependency Inventory assessment.

Women are less likely to engage in solitary sexual behaviors and much more likely to engage in behaviors that are relationship driven, even if that ‘relationship’ is just a fantasy. Chat rooms are the preferred mode. And women are more likely to progress from online to real-life sexual encounters than male addicts.

Additional Issues

Struggles with binge eating, compulsive overeating, and body image issues, however, are more common for women. The risk for sexually transmitted infections also differs for women. Since STIs can be asymptomatic in women, they may go undetected for longer periods.

Barriers to Getting Help

Females face more obstacles to treatment than their male counterparts. The myth that only men are sex addicts adds an additional layer of shame that women must overcome to seek treatment. My personal belief is that professionals are also affected by this myth and often miss the signs of sex addiction in their female clients. Furthermore, most faith-based and Twelve-Step groups for pornography and sex addiction are predominantly male, and some are closed to women.

If you would like a more thorough evaluation, contact us to schedule a Sexual Dependency Inventory assessment.

The good news is that we now know more about recovery from pornography and sex addiction than ever before. If you are willing to commit to making recovery a priority and are willing to work with a therapist specifically trained in treating pornography and sex addiction to address both the unhealthy behaviors and the deeper underlying issues, you can reclaim your life. Individuals who complete a task-oriented therapeutic approach to pornography and sex addiction treatment combined with recovery group participation have a higher rate of recovery success.

The task approach is a form of treating pornography and sex addiction that was developed by Dr. Patrick Carnes, the foremost authority on the identification and treatment of sex addiction. It involves completing a set of tasks across 30 different recovery domains. The tasks build on each other and are designed to first help you change your behavior and then change your life.

TASKS 1—7TASKS 8—19TASKS 20-30
  1. Break through denial
  2. Understand addiction
  3. Surrender
  4. Limit damage
  5. Establish sobriety
  6. Physical integrity
  7. Culture of support


  1. Multiple addictions
  2. Cycles of abuse
  3. Reduce shame
  4. Grieve losses
  5. Closure to shame
  6. Relationship with self
  7. Financial viability
  8. Meaningful work
  9. Lifestyle balance
  10. Building support
  11. Exercise and nutrition
  12. Spiritual life


  1. Resolve conflicts
  2. Restore healthy sexuality
  3. Family therapy
  4. Family relationships
  5. Recovery commitment
  6. Issues with children
  7. Extended family
  8. Differentiation
  9. Primary relationship
  10. Coupleship
  11. Primary intimacy

Yes! Our team leaders have been trained by Dr. Carnes and are certified to use his recovery method for pornography and sexual addiction. In addition, we are certified by the American Association of Sex Addition Therapy and incorporate elements of the work of Dr. Doug Weiss, as well as integrating the partner-sensitive model of the Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists in our work.

You can contact us discretely for more information about our method for treating sex and pornography addiction.

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