'I Work With Sex And Porn Addicts. Here Are 5 Signs You Have One in Your Life'

As a therapist, people come to me for help with their most pressing concerns—the ones right in front of them. Often, they're surprised to discover that there are a bunch of underlying issues driving their presenting problem. This is normal. Every therapist understands that a client's presenting issue is merely the tip of the iceberg, and that quite a lot more will need to be uncovered before the client will meet his or her goals for coming to therapy. For example, you might seek therapy for help dealing with your boss and work situation, only to discover and address undiagnosed depression or some other disorder.

As a sex and intimacy issues specialist, nearly all of my clients show up with one of two presenting issues. Either their compulsive sexual behaviors are creating relationship and other life consequences, or they can't step away from porn long enough to create a life. If you've encountered such a person, especially in your dating life, you may think about them as weak-willed, perverted or selfish. What I see, however, is a behavioral problem that can be rooted in unresolved early-life trauma—a "numbing out" mechanism run amok—the same as we see with alcoholism, drug addiction, compulsive gambling, compulsive video gaming, compulsive spending and the like.

Nearly always, as these individuals work toward behavioral change, we eventually work together to uncover and deal with their early-life trauma.

If you are currently involved with someone and you find yourself wondering why the relationship feels a bit (or a lot) off-kilter, especially related to sexuality, an addiction to sex or porn could be the culprit. And it's likely that you, rather than your partner, will be the first to bring the issue up in conversation. If you think that you may in fact be in a relationship with a sex or porn addict, there are a number of signs to look for. Some of these indicators apply to all forms of addiction; others are sex and porn addiction specific. None are definitive, of course, but if you consistently see more than a few of these, you might want to speak up.

Common signs for all types of addiction can include emotional withdrawal, deceitfulness (lies and secrets), unwarranted mood swings, diminished self-care, trouble at work or in school, financial issues, declining physical or emotional health.

If you consistently spot more than one or two of these indicators in your relationship partner, there is a strong possibility that an addiction of some sort is in play. And even if addiction is not the culprit, some type of intervention may be needed.

Here are five signs I suggest indictate a sex or porn addiction:

  1. Sexual preoccupation/obsession: If your romantic partner seems overly focused on sex, and that focus is interfering with other aspects of life—not just romance, but work, school, friendships, hobbies, and the like—that is a strong indicator that sex and/or porn are being used addictively rather than as a way to connect.
  2. Sexual and romantic secrets: Sex and porn addicts typically do everything possible to hide their addiction, especially from the people closest to them. To this end, they may keep secrets and tells lies about where they've been, who they were with and for how long. They may also protect their electronic devices and online accounts—even things as seemingly banal as Facebook—as if their lives depend on it. If caught in a lie or secret, they often try to cover it with more lies.
  3. They are sexually focused but emotionally detached: Even in a relationship, sex and porn addicts tend to be noticeably more focused on sexual activity than on the development of intimate emotional connection. If it feels like your romantic partner is using you as a sex object rather than trying to grow closer and bond, addiction may be the cause.
  4. Sexual or romantic promises are made but not kept: Sex and porn addicts are highly compulsive in their behavior. They repeatedly promise themselves and you that they will stop certain behaviors and for a short while they may keep their promises. But before they (and you) know what has happened, they're back at it. That is the nature of an addiction.
  5. There is an unwillingness to discuss sexual or romantic issues: The last thing sex or porn addicts want to do is discuss their behavior and its consequences. Often, when confronted, they react with anger, denial, or defensiveness. They might even blame their behavior and the issues in your relationship with them on you. Most of all, they lack empathy for your feelings. They seem to just not care that their actions have hurt your feelings and even your self-esteem.

So, what can you do?

sex addiction, porn addiction, therapy
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If you think your romantic partner might be a sex or porn addict, you will probably want to confront them. Before you do so, it is wise to educate yourself about the nature of sex and porn addiction and how they impact both the addict and loved ones. Websites like sexandrelationshiphealing.com offer countless free resources to help any person impacted by sex or porn addiction—whether their own or someone else's.

Eventually, when you feel ready, you should consider confronting your partner. You could start by saying you are concerned about their sexual activity and their emotional—and perhaps physical—welfare. Then let them know that you think sex or porn addiction may be the problem. Be sure to support this belief by listing a few concrete, undeniable facts. Be as specific as possible and speak using "I" statements to reduce your partner's defensiveness. For example: "I worry that you will lose your job because your employer has warned you more than once about using company equipment to look at porn, and last night I woke up and saw you looking at porn on your iPad from work."

Once you've stated the nature of the problem as you see it, you can set some boundaries. One of these should ideally be that you will no longer sit idly by while your partner ruins their—and your—life and relationship. After that, you could offer to help your partner find help—residential treatment, outpatient therapy, online support, and 12-Step sexual recovery as offered by groups such as Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA), Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA).

No matter how much you love and care for your romantic partner, you must understand and accept the fact that you cannot get well for that person. Nor can you create in that individual the motivation that is needed for recovery and healing. The decision to accept help and to recover lies with the addict, not you. You can voice your opinion, set boundaries and offer assistance, but you can't magically make the other person embark on a process of change.

Robert Weiss PhD, LCSW is chief clinical officer of Seeking Integrity Treatment Centers. He is an expert in the treatment of adult intimacy disorders and related addictions, most notably sex, porn, and relationship addictions. A clinical sexologist and practicing psychotherapist, he is the author of Prodependence: Moving Beyond Codependency, Sex Addiction 101, Out of the Doghouse, and Cruise Control, among other books. His podcast, Sex, Love, & Addiction, is rated as a Top 10 Addiction Podcast.

All views expressed in this piece are the writer's own.