Many people, both men and women, cheat on the person they are in a relationship with; at least 20-30% admit it depending on which data you are looking at and how the research questions are phrased. Some people cheat very rarely and others cheat a lot.
Some people cheat repeatedly but do not meet the criteria for sex addiction.
Others who cheat repeatedly use cheating as a sexually addictive behavior and can definitely benefit from being given appropriate treatment.
So how do you tell the two apart?
The generally accepted clinical criteria have to do with things like being preoccupied with and unable to resist the urges to do certain behaviors, escalation of the behavior over time, inability to stop despite negative consequences, and distress if prevented from engaging in the behavior. But many of these criteria would be hard for a spouse or partner of a cheater to see.
For sex addicts cheating, or having “serial affairs,” is part of a larger pattern of using sex as a drug. The majority of sex addicts who cheat usually have some other form of sexual behavior in addition to affairs, such as porn, internet sex, phone sex, flirting, sexual hook-ups, and so on. And in general they tend to view the world through sex colored glasses, sometimes without realizing it.
Serial cheaters on the other hand may or may not engage in other kinds of sexual behavior and their cheating tends instead to be part of a larger pattern of behavior that is impulsive, self-indulgent, irresponsible or amoral. Sex is not used as a drug but is one of many forms of manipulation and opportunistic self-gratification.
Now I can hear some people saying “yes, but sex addicts are self-serving and amoral too.” It is true that both cheaters and sex addicts can be masters of deception but I believe that there are differences.
Some signs that your cheater may be a sex addict
Sometimes a cheater is just a cheater
Repetitive cheaters who do not have a sexual addiction may decide that it is a good idea to quit cheating, but their quitting is determined by self interest rather than by treatment or basic change. Some cheaters may just “mature out” of the behavior. Cheaters who are not addicts probably cheat in a lot of areas of their lives. They may be secretive but only because it would be very inconvenient if their partner knew the truth.
Cheaters are not obsessed with sex and they are certainly not riddled with self doubt and shame. They are not acting against their value system because they genuinely feel that what they are doing is justified. They do not wish they could stop; rather their motto is “if you can get away with it, do it.”
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How to Tell a Cheater from a Sex Addict | familyinnocenceproject (April 30, 2013)
Last reviewed: 10 Jun 2013