The Cycle of Sex Addiction

As with any addiction there is a cycle the addict is caught in. This blog will simply cover the facts of the sexual addiction cycle. Dr. Patrick Carnes has written a book on this type addiction cycle called Out of the Shadows. In his book he states, “For sexual addicts an addictive experience progresses through a four-step cycle that intensifies with each repetition.” Here is the four-step cycle according to Dr. Carnes.

  1. Preoccupation “The trance or mood wherein the addicts’ minds are completely engrossed with thoughts of sex. This mental state creates an obsessive search for sexual stimulation.”
  2. Ritualization “The addicts’ own special routines that lead up to the sexual behavior. The ritual intensifies the preoccupation, adding arousal and excitement.”
  3. Compulsive Sexual Behavior “The actual sexual act, which is the end goal of the preoccupation and ritualization. Sexual addicts are unable to control or stop this behavior.”
  4. Despair “The feeling of utter hopelessness addicts have about their behavior and their powerlessness.”

To add a little more meat to this cycle Dr. Douglas Weiss has come up with his own addiction cycle called “The New Addiction Cycle.” Dr. Weiss lays his addiction cycle out like this:

  1. Pain Agents – Here the sex addict has taught himself how to self-medicate the pain by sexually acting out to avoid dealing with past traumas. Often this pattern was started at an early age (childhood or adolescence) possibly due to some type of trauma(s). Here are four pain agents that might often be involved in this step of the sexual addiction cycle.
    1. Emotional Discomfort – The addict never learned how to appropriately identify and deal with their feelings within their family structure. When the addict feels emotions that are uncomfortable to them, they self-medicate the discomfort by sexually acting out.
    2. Unresolved Conflict – Dr. Weiss says, “Some sex addicts have been victims of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse and have unresolved issues about the abuse(s).” Chances are early on the sex addict learned that by sexually acting out it numbed the pain of unresolved conflict. So now in adulthood they may have some type of unresolved conflict with a boss or spouse and because they never learned how to appropriately deal with their feelings they sexually act out.
    3. Stress – Here the addict acts out to avoid stress.
    4. A Need to Connect – Many addicts act out to connect with others.
  1. Disassociation – The addict begins to disconnect with himself and begins to get lost in his thoughts. This is the very beginning stage of the addiction cycle. This is a very important part of the addiction cycle to understand. It is at this stage behavioral interventions can be used to get the addict grounded. At this point the addict may still be aware they are beginning to check out.
  2. The Altered State (Fantasy World) – Here the addict in early childhood or adolescence may have created a safe place from the world and the trauma(s) they may have experienced. The recovery community often calls this “the bubble.” Dr. Weiss states, “In this fantasy world of an altered state, the sex addict is all-powerful, all knowing, in control, loved, cared for and significant.”
  3. Pursuing Behavior – This stage would be similar to Dr. Carnes’ ritualization stage. Here the addict has a set of behaviors they will go through to prepare for the actual acting out event. Addicts will often have a certain place they go, people they see, and/or phone calls they make. They are in clear pursuit of a repetitious behavior.
  4. Behavior – The addict will now act out with themselves or others.
  5. Time – For addicts there is no set timetable for when or how often they will act out. For some the time between acting out may only be a few hours and for others it may be days, weeks, or months.

The sexual addiction cycle is a messy one. There are many components that make the cycle kick into high gear. Helpfully this blog has given you a little clear understanding of what you or your loved one may be going through as it relates to the sexual addiction cycle.

If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment, please do not hesitate to call the number listed on this website.


Written By:

Reid Wood, MA, LPC, SRT


Speak Your Mind


418-A Barr Rd
Lexington, SC 29072
(478) 984-6949

Got Questions?
Send a Message!

By submitting this form via this web portal, you acknowledge and accept the risks of communicating your health information via this unencrypted email and electronic messaging and wish to continue despite those risks. By clicking "Yes, I want to submit this form" you agree to hold Brighter Vision harmless for unauthorized use, disclosure, or access of your protected health information sent via this electronic means.