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Sex with a Stranger: Addiction to Anonymous Sex

“Anonymous sex” is sex with someone you don’t know.  The literal meaning of anonymous is “without a name” but it could be that you know the person’s name but don’t know much else about them.

In fact, sex between people who know almost nothing about each other is a generally accepted and has even become a cliché scene in the movies.  Two people who just met are so overcome with attraction that they go somewhere and proceed to rip each other’s clothes off and have sex.  Often an explosive attraction to someone is the stuff of romantic legend– love at first sight.

As with any other particular sexual behavior, sex with a stranger may not be part of an addiction.  It may be a normal part of life experience at some point or it may be a compulsive, destructive pattern.

Addictive sexual behaviors differ a great deal: going to prostitutes, frequenting strip clubs, exposing oneself, sex chat rooms, serial seduction, sexual massage, secretly videotaping others and so on.  But I would argue that they are all in some way anonymous.  First let’s look at the “anonymous sex” addict.

Types of anonymous sex

There are many ways to experience sex with someone you don’t know besides the old meeting in a bar and going somewhere and having sex, as in the Diane Keaton movie “Looking for Mr. Goodbar,” about a woman addicted to anonymous sex.  An anonymous sexual relationship can be carried out in chat rooms, on the phone or arranged through online hook-ups.

Other typical venues are  “bath houses” and adult bookstores.  Rob Weiss has a recent Psych Central post about the technological advances that make possible ever more bizarre ways to experience sex remotely.

I had one patient, a heterosexual professional man, who probably set a record by finding the time to hook up with eight different sex partners in one day!

The bottom line is that this type of sex is with someone you don’t have any real relationship with and never will.  It is usually a one shot deal.

Characteristics of an anonymous sex addict

The characteristics of the “classic” anonymous sex addict, the addict who has actual sex with another person (vs. some kind of virtual experience) are described by Dr. Patrick Carnes roughly as follows:

  • There is no seduction and sex is immediate
  • There is no payment or force involved
  • Excitement is fed by risk and danger
  • The addict spends time cruising beaches, parks, parking lots etc. to find sex
  • Sex in showers, locker rooms and public restrooms
  • Can use the internet for risky encounters

Excitement, fear, danger and the unknown can in some ways fuel arousal for all of us.  But for the person who prefers anonymous sex and who compulsively seeks out anonymous sex as their ultimate form of sexual arousal there is often a history of early sexual experiences that were frightening and that lead to lack of healthy attachment and an avoidance of intimacy.

Is all addictive sex anonymous sex?

While not all anonymous sex is part of an addiction, all sexually addictive behavior is anonymous in the sense that it is carried on out outside a relational context.  Addictive sex is split off and compartmentalized, separate from “real life.”  The voyeur who is aroused by watching people who are unaware, the porn addict who has imaginary encounters with an image on a screen, the obscene phone caller — all are unable to consistently integrate sex and relationship.

And the sexually addictive behavior is effective as a “drug” in part because it takes the addict away from the realm of normal life and into the realm of fantasy relationships.

Sex with a Stranger: Addiction to Anonymous Sex

Linda Hatch, PhD

Linda Hatch is a psychologist and certified sex addiction therapist specializing in the treatment of sex addicts and the partners and families of sex addicts. Linda also blogs on her own website at

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APA Reference
Hatch, L. (2019). Sex with a Stranger: Addiction to Anonymous Sex. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Dec 2019
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