New studies in progress using the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory), The Millon Clinical Inventory and the Sexual Dependency Inventory suggest that different general types of sexually addictive behavior tend to clump together with different personality types or traits. These types vary from less to more severe.
As you might expect, those with more extreme behaviors that involve exploiting the vulnerable tend to have more psychopathology and be more anti-social. Those who are hooked on internet porn, networking for anonymous sex, and using escorts tend to have less or no identifiable psychopathology. In the middle ground are those who have some significant psychological problems with either anger (stalking, domestic violence) or depression (isolated, self stimulation).
But even the porn addict who does not have any identifiable mental disorder, may still share personality traits with other addicts, such as anxiety, insecurity, emotional volatility and so on. I will post more about these studies when they are published.
These “clumps” of traits got me thinking about types of addicts I have known. After listening to hundreds of self identified sex addicts of all kinds in my office and in countless Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings, I have concluded that there are many similarities in the ways addicts experience themselves and their addiction as well as sharp differences.
Most sex addicts lack the confidence to be themselves in many situations. They tend to focus on how they will be seen by others.
Most sex addicts play various roles in various situations and lack a sense of who their authentic self really is.
Most sex addicts are conflicted about sex in some way, especially in the context of an intimate relationship.
Most sex addicts feel freer, more gratified when they are in their acting out world whether it is a means of escape, dissociation, self soothing, or self validation.
Most sex addicts are only dimly aware that there is another way to live.
Obviously it is an over simplification to say that there are two kinds of sex addicts since sex addicts differ along many dimensions. But in my experience there is a divide between those addicts who are more accepting of their addiction and those who are more uncomfortable with it.
We might see addicts who are more accepting of their addictive behavior, as being those for whom the addiction is “egosyntonic”. It more readily fits in with their self concept.
The characteristics of addicts who are more comfortable with their own sexually addictive behavior might include the following:
- They are less aware that their behavior might be condemned by anyone. If they are aware of judgment, they do not internalize it as much or they discount the person doing the judging.
- Their sexual compulsivity creeps out in unconscious ways that seem sexually inappropriate to others. They may tell sexual jokes at inappropriate times, constantly size up people on the basis of sexuality, make sexually toned remarks, or flirt compulsively without realizing it.
- The acting out behaviors can be encouraged in part by friends or people the addict identifies with who accept and thus “normalize” the behaviors. Sometimes this is only a best friend who sees the behaviors as cool or acceptable.
- They experience their compulsive behavior as a preference: “This is what makes life worthwhile,” or as a part of who they are: “I just have a high sex drive.” Hiding the behavior can seem to them like just a necessary precaution.
On the other hand there are addicts who experience their addictive behavior goes against their own self concept. For them it is “egodystonic”.
- Their sexually addictive behavior feels alien to who they really are.
- They are hyper vigilant about being found out and become experts in covering their tracks.
- They consciously experience their addiction as going against a set of behavioral standards they believe in and are ashamed afterward.
- They do not feel they have a choice in that they see the behavior as a compulsion they cannot overcome.
Prognosis for recovery
So many factors play into the addict’s chances for effective treatment and recovery that it is impossible to say that one type of addict has a better chance in any given case. But it seems to me that the two types of addicts enter into recovery in different ways.
For addicts whose behavior is egodystonic, the idea of continuing to act on their compulsions may be a frightening prospect. Sometimes they look in the future and see themselves as “that old guy with no life who just peeks in other people’s windows or watches porn all day.”
I have also seen young people in their early 20’s who realize that this is not a path they can afford to go down. One young woman said she wanted a family some day and did not want to pass these problems on to her kids. A young man found himself getting aroused by child porn and was so frightened about it that he sought out serious treatment.
These are the people who get into recovery on their own steam and usually do well.
The addicts who see their sexual compulsion as more acceptable (egosyntonic) may be much slower to recognize it as a problem and much less motivated in treatment. This is not to say that they are totally OK with the behavior, but they tend to have accepted it as a way of life.
They may get into treatment later in life and/or because a spouse or partner has discovered their behavior or some other life event has caused a crisis.
These are the addicts who are less motivated, more prone to denial, and more inclined to “go through the motions” rather than to actually embrace recovery. For them the motivation to change comes from outside, such as an arrest, the loss of a job or the threat of divorce.
These can be strong motivators too, and these addicts can do well in recovery in the long run. The path may just be a little rockier.
I invite you to share your thoughts and observations.