What does “Acting Out” Mean in Sex Addiction?

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People anyone struggling with a sex addiction,  the phrase “acting out” refers to the actual behavior that is associated with the addiction. These behaviors are self-defined. For example, a person with a porn addiction might run up a credit card bill by purchasing internet pornography or sneak off to the adult theater to watch a movie. For some people with sex addiction, acting out might mean engaging in acts of voyeurism or exhibitionism, engaging in sexual acts with strangers, or other illicit types of sexual activity. The behaviors are often very compelling to the individuals with sex addiction before they engage in them, but afterward leave the addict feeling shameful and remorseful. The uncontrollable, nagging urge to engage in these acting out behaviors is generally referred to as “compulsive desire”. For some, viewing pornography may not be a problem but affairs may be and are considered acting out to that person.

Acting out is often painful, costly, high-risk or somehow dangerous. The consequences of these behaviors, and the individual’s inability to stop in spite of these consequences, are often what allows for a sex addiction diagnosis. Simply put, if a person was not a sex addict then he or she would stop these behaviors based on their consequences. When it becomes clear that sex addiction is at work, it is time to implement a program of recovery.

In sex addiction, acting out behaviors gradually worsen over time. For the watchful eye, it can be seen that acting out includes:

  • Behaviors that are obviously dangerous to the addict or to another individual, and that they must be stopped to avoid major medical, financial, or legal consequences.


  • Behaviors that could cause the addict to lose either a job or primary relationship.


  • Behaviors that risk the physical safety of the addict.

For the person who is actively participating in a recovery program of some kind, there are signs to watch for that can indicate that the addict may be about to engage in sex addiction behaviors. These signs include:

  • Behaviors that indicate that the addict is dealing with  shaky sobriety
  • Recognizable and characteristic patterns of ritual behavior that has accompanied acting out in the past
  • Seductive or trust-building behaviors toward others, which may indicate the addict is grooming someone to accept sexual advances

The individual familiar with sex addiction and with acting out will acknowledge there are some positive consequences to the behavior, though they tend to be short lived. For the person dealing with sex addiction, acting out can bring a temporary “high”, or numbing of negative emotions. There can be a sense of relief, the feeling that everything is okay again. If the acting out behavior associated with an individual’s sex addiction is infrequent, some addicts have reported a temporary lessening of anxiety and depression. It is important to note however that these seemingly positive consequences are always short-term and do not last.

There are also negative consequences for acting out. These consequences, unfortunately, are not necessarily short term and may require damage control; there can be medical, financial, and legal consequences for acting out on sex addiction behaviors. There are also relationships that can be negatively affected, as well as threats to the physical safety of both the addict and surrounding individuals.

Almost always the addict will feel shame, guilt and self-hatred following a period of acting out. The person struggling with sex addiction will have moodswings as a result of the cycle of acting out and withdrawal (which are the physiological and psychological symptoms that occur when the behavior is stopped).

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