Many sex addicts don’t know how to date. They crave a normal relationship but do not have a realistic picture of what a good relationship might look like – or how to get there. By the same token, they may think they are dating you when what they are actually doing is using their time with you as one of their acting out behaviors.
Even for non-addicts the term “dating” is ambiguous and increasingly hard to define in this age of random sexual hook-ups. But the non-addict will be capable of normal courtship while the sex addict will have underlying intimacy issues that prevent them from pursuing a dating situation in a healthy way.
Dating in the context of sex addiction
• Almost every sex addict has a number of sexual behaviors that are being carried out, usually in secret, along side any so-called dating situation. They may be using porn, compulsive masturbation, commercial sex, or online behaviors as a constant backdrop. Sometimes the addict convinces him/herself that finding the right partner will make them give up the other sexual acting out behaviors. This is never true in the long run. The sex addict may actually be very interested in the person they are dating but something is always fatally wrong.
• Sex addicts often use the person they are supposedly dating as a “sex buddy”, i.e. someone they get together with basically to have sex. The addict may have some genuine liking or connection with the sex buddy but it is a far cry from the real thing. On the flip side, a surprising number of sex addicts I’ve seen have actually formed “relationships” with someone they know they are not attracted to sexually. A kind of teddy bear or partner-of-record. In both of these cases the addict is unable to share all the parts of her/himself with another person. Sex is cut off from intimacy.
• What looks like dating may be a pattern of constant seduction and infidelity outside another relationship. Serial extramarital affairs are one addictive behavior that very often exists along side other sexually addictive behaviors such as porn use, compulsive flirtation, voyeurism, etc.
• Sex addicts are insecure and often use various online behaviors such as online dating websites as one form of acting out behavior. The distance created between people online is particularly suited to the intimacy-avoidant addict. And allows him or her to create a fantasy version of him/herself and to become immersed in a fantasy about someone else. This can turn into compulsive cybersex, obsessively reading personal ads, and responding to online ads for commercial sex. All the while this is going on, the addict may be convinced that they are just interested in finding someone to date.
Getting at the truth
If you are dating someone who is an untreated sex addict or who is in denial of sex addiction it may not be obvious at first. Any addict is good at lying and leading a double life. If you are interested in dating in order to find a real romantic partner you may be fooled into believing that the other person is looking for the same thing. Aside from your gut level intuition, here are a few things to look for.
Sexual preoccupation. Addicts tend to be very seductive and attentive but often betray their sexual preoccupation by making frequent references to sex or making frequent sexually toned jokes. This is usually unconscious and represents their underlying preoccupation with sex. Also since they use sex as a drug, they may reach for it reflexively as a way to deal with their self-consciousness in any situation including a dating situation.
Addicts kid themselves. Many sex addicts are in such denial that they openly use pornography to excess. They may have a long standing habit of believing that they don’t have a problem and may encourage you to see their porn use as normal. If it doesn’t seem normal or you are not comfortable with it you should trust your feelings and get more information.
Learn about the person’s relationship history. This is probably the biggest source of relevant information that you have (in addition to possibly learning about the person’s childhood). Don’t be satisfied with answers like “I just never met the right person”, or I was too young”. There is a story in every relationship; find out how past relationships or dating situations started, how they progressed, what the people they dated were like, etc. etc. Do not feel that it is ever too early to ask these questions or that it will be interpreted as “pressure”.
Lack of intention is a red flag. If you are interested in finding a partner then there’s nothing wrong with talking about that and asking the other person what they are looking for. If the person you are with can’t articulate any intention, then it’s unclear whether they are able to pursue anything more than a sex buddy situation. Remember, sex addicts are not invested in relationships. At times they may seem casual and offhand about when and if you get together.
Vagueness. If you are talking about a committed relationship make sure that you and the other person know what you are talking about. To some people being “committed” just means “I’m not seeing anyone else right now” (as opposed to “I want to pursue a more serious relationship”.) Likewise the terms boyfriend and girlfriend can be ambiguous. Some addicts are OK with having a perpetual girlfriend or boyfriend without ever needing or wanting to take it to the next level. Their commitment is to their secret addictive behaviors.
Sex dominates the relating. Lastly, and perhaps most obviously, if the dating situation begins with and revolves around sex then the person may be using you to get a sexual experience. This is especially obvious if the person wants you to engage in sexual activities that you are not comfortable with. In this case the addict wants to recruit you to fulfill their addictive fantasies. Ask yourself if it’s really what you want in your relationship and if it’s all you want.
The sex addict needs a major overhaul in the form of addiction recovery in order to be ready to enter into a dating relationship in a way that is honest, respectful and meaningful. If you are dating a practicing sex addict then chances are you are unwittingly playing the role of an “acting-out partner”. And I’m sure you have better things to do.