Sex addicts live and thrive in fantasy. For some, 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". The addict 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 with whom they have acted out 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.
The ritualization is very narcissistic. No one is allowed into the play—at least not as a person. If the play is to involve others, humans must be dehumanized, and non-human things are humanized.
The play can be called up from memory at any time. When a sex addict cannot “act out,” he can always replay the play in his mind and often get a powerful rush as though he is acting out.
The ritual trance is refined and reinforced as greater pleasure is desired. Nothing is tolerated that might interrupt the trance!
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 such as using animals, inanimate objects, or sex toys; being involved in predator behaviors like voyeurism; using hidden cameras or exhibitionism. Cybersex can escalate to child pornography, which is a Federal offense.
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 an article by Jennifer Schneider . Journal of Sex Addiction and Compulsivity, 12(2-3)).