Maybe you have been concerned with your sexual behaviors and wondering if you are a sex addict. Or perhaps your partner’s problematic sexual behaviors have been damaging to your relationship, and you are unsure if he/she is a porn addict. As a therapist specializing in sex and porn addiction, I often hear my clients question whether they are actually struggling with an addiction. I believe a thorough assessment by a trained therapist is necessary before confirming whether someone is a sex addict. Included in the assessment process are ten criteria therapists often use to indicate the presence of addiction. These criteria also apply to sex addiction, and all ten do not have to be met to indicate there are addictive patterns. Let me break it down for you with porn addiction as an example.
1. Loss of Control: Behavior in which you do more than you intend or want – Your porn use goes longer than planned. You plan for 30 minutes, but end up using for two hours.
2. Compulsive Behavior: A pattern of out of control behavior over time – Your porn use increases from three times a week to daily.
3. Efforts to Stop: Repeated attempts to stop the behavior, which fail – You tell herself it will be the last time you will spend that much time watching porn, but you do so again.
4. Loss of Time: Significant amounts of time lost doing and/or recovering from the behavior – You lose sleep due to watching porn for hours. The following day, you feel depressed and frustrated thinking about how much time you wasted watching porn.
5. Preoccupation: Obsessing about or because of the behavior – Your mind is preoccupied with thoughts of porn you have watched and the next time you can watch more.
6. Inability to Fulfill Obligations: The behavior interferes with school, work, family, and friends – You find yourself watching porn at work when others are not around. Instead of doing homework, you spend time watching porn.
7. Continuation Despite Consequences: Failure to stop the behavior despite problems because of the behavior (e.g., social, emotional, financial, legal, and/or physical consequences) – Your porn use is negatively impacting your romantic relationship, but you continue to use.
8. Escalation: Need to make behavior more intense, frequent, or risky – You begin watching more aggressive porn, and you begin watching porn even when your partner or family is home.
9. Losses: Losing, limiting, or sacrificing valued parts of life such as hobbies, relationships, and work – Your partner leaves the relationship due to your excessive porn use. You lose interest in other activities due to your depression around your porn use.
10. Withdrawal: Stopping behavior causes considerable distress, anxiety, irritability, and/or physical discomfort – You experience anxiety and irritability when you haven’t watched porn for a few hours or days.
Does any of this sound familiar? Instead of internet pornography, maybe you are using sex chat rooms, online hook up ads, massage parlors, or escorts/prostitutes. While these ten criteria alone do not necessarily indicate the presence of sex addiction, it can be a helpful guideline to reflect on some of your sexual behaviors. If you or a loved one is struggling with problematic or compulsive sexual behavior, please feel free to reach out to me here. You don't have to struggle alone!