The addiction lives and thrives in fantasy. For some sex addicts, all of the addiction remains in fantasy. For others, the addiction involves other people. But for all sex addicts, central to the addiction is the creation of a play—this is where we get the term acting out. He is the producer, writer, director, the only star, and the audience. He can speed up the play or slow it down. He can change a scene at will or use an alternate ending. And when not acting out, the play is stored in fantasy so it never ends. Sex addicts can vividly recall images of people they have acted out with or of pornography they viewed many years earlier. The fantasy—the play—gives the illusion that all desires have been met and that all cravings and desires have been satisfied.
For some sex addicts, their addiction includes the use of alcohol and/or drugs. And just as they have rituals around their sexual acting out, they have rituals around the use of these substances. And, they find that they are unable to act out unless all of the ingredients in the ritual recipe are present.
The play may escalate over time and take the “actor” into increasingly charged situations, increased danger, including people where previously the acting out had been solo, being involved in riskier behaviors, using animals, using inanimate objects, sex toys, being involved in predator behaviors like voyeurism, using hidden cameras, or exhibitionism. Cybersex can escalate to child pornography which is a federal offence.
All the while, the sex addict's marital sex life has significantly deteriorated, because all of his energy is going in a different direction.
(Information about the background of the term “acting out” is from article by Jennifer Schneider, Journal of Sex Addiction and Compulsivity, vol. 12, number 2-3, 2005)
Level One Behaviors are generally accepted or at least tolerated by society (though they may not be discussed).
Level Two Behaviors are intrusive enough to carry significant legal penalties. A key to this level is that there are legal sanctions and there are victims.
Level Three Behaviors violate our most significant boundaries.
(From research conducted by Dr. Patrick Carnes)