Cheating is a common sign of sex addiction, but unfortunately cheating is also just plain common. Although estimates vary, research suggests that approximately 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women will be unfaithful to a romantic partner at some point in their lives. All of this cheating makes it difficult to tell when infidelity is a sign of a genuine illness and when it’s just run-of-the-mill unfaithfulness.
This challenge is further complicated by the widely held belief that some of the people who claim to be suffering from sex addiction are just attempting to excuse their infidelity. There is little, if any, real data about how often people “cry wolf” in this way, but the idea persists and continues to undermine public perception of sex addiction. Furthermore, this phenomenon almost certainly happens in reverse as well, with genuine sex addiction sometimes dismissed as a cheater’s ploy.
The bottom line is that telling sex addiction and cheating apart is not easy. However, if you suspect that your partner is dealing with sex addiction, here are some things to look for.
First of all, when people with sex addiction cheat, they don’t do it just once. Serial cheating is a hallmark of sex addiction, as addicted individuals seek out sex like a drug. Of course, serial cheating can happen when sex addiction is not present. But someone who only had an isolated affair is very unlikely to be suffering from this disorder.
Sex addiction is frequently part of a pattern of addictive behaviors. A significant majority of people with sex addiction will also struggle with addictions to nicotine, drugs or alcohol. They may also show a tendency toward compulsive gambling, shopping, working or other behaviors that can get out of control.
People with sex addiction also view themselves and their behaviors differently than cheaters do. Sex addiction sufferers constantly battle self-doubt, low self-esteem and shame over their actions. Sex often becomes a way for them to boost their self-worth, but unfortunately the shame that follows sexual behaviors only fuels further doubts and self-disgust. In contrast, cheaters are frequently narcissistic and find that committing infidelity boosts their positive self-image.
Cheating may be a common symptom of sex addiction, but it is far from the only symptom. For someone with sex addiction, sex is more than an obsession—it becomes the single most important thing in her life, and the search for sexual gratification is constant. While she will try her best to hide the most obvious manifestations of her sexual addiction (such as frequent pornography viewing), there are almost always other signs that inevitably become apparent.
People with sex addiction often make frequent sexual jokes and remarks in public and talk about sexual topics, such as other people’s physical attributes, continually in private. They sexually objectify the people they meet, and aggressive flirting or visual fixation in the form of intense eye contact or staring often gives this away.
Sex addiction should never be seen as an “easy way out” for someone who has been caught cheating. A full recovery from sex addiction can involve years of individual counseling, as well as couples’ counseling for those who want to save their relationships. Furthermore, no one is ever under an obligation to forgive a cheating partner just because sex addiction is involved.
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