sexual "acting out" behaviors

"I have never felt so tired and drained, with my emotions and wounds open. It also felt hopeful, that with work he could change and so could I. The cleaning of the secrets with bringing them out, couldn't be done without it…Thank you for doing what no one else has been able to do, create a window for trust to rebuild. Without it being the intensive, so many hours over a short period of time, I do not believe we would have ever made it this far. The truth would have never been revealed either to me or to himself." CS, Canada
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 [2005]. Journal of Sex Addiction and Compulsivity, 12(2-3)).

behavior addiction levels examples of "acting out" behaviors

Compulsive sexual behavior is commonly broken down into three levels. You may meet the criteria for diagnosis of sex addiction due to behaviors that are confined to one level. While sex addiction is generally progressive, these behaviors may have begun at that level and never progressed beyond. You may find, though, that acting out behaviors started out as Level One Behaviors and then escalated to Level Two or Level Three Behaviors.
Level One Behaviors are generally accepted or at least tolerated by society (though they may not be discussed) and include:
  • Compulsive masturbation, sometimes to the point of injury
  • Compulsive use of porn (from magazines, to video and DVD, Internet, and pornographic video games)
  • Compulsive relationships and codependency; love addiction
  • Sexual boundary violations at work
  • Prostitution
  • Anonymous sex
  • Frequenting adult-oriented businesses (for example, strip clubs, adult book stores, modeling studios and massage parlors, which are typically an unlicensed person working out of their apartment or small shopping center)
If you are engaging in Level One behaviors, you may not believe you have a problem or that you can control your behavior since you do not constantly partake in them.
Level Two Behaviors are intrusive enough to carry significant legal penalties. A key distinction to this level is that there are legal sanctions and there are victims. Level Two Behaviors include:
  • Exhibitionism 
  • Voyeurism
  • Professional boundary violations (applies to professions such as physicians, attorneys, therapists, and clergy)
  • Indecent phone calls
  • Other lewd conduct like frotherism—touching someone in a sexual manner without their permission
Level Three Behaviors violate our most significant boundaries and include:
  • Child molestation
  • Possessing (downloading) child pornography
  • Incest
  • Rape
  • Other sexual behaviors involving violence
(From research conducted by Dr. Patrick Carnes)
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