The Difference Between “Cheating” and Sex Addiction

The Difference Between “Cheaters” and Sex Addicts


Research shows that up to 30% of individuals, both women and men, admit to cheating while in a relationship. Within the past few years, many celebrities caught cheating have cited sex addiction as their problem, causing debate on the difference between a cheater and a sex addict. In some cases, sex addiction is referred to as hypersexual disorder, but experts note that the only about 5% of individuals truly have this disorder. However, while sex addition may not be as prevalent as celebrities and the media portray, it still is important to be able to tell the difference between a cheater and someone dealing with an addiction.


“Cheaters” vs. Sex Addicts

Clinically, a sex addict shows a preoccupation with sex and may be unable to resist the urge to engage in sex related behaviors. Over time, the behavior may escalate and they may not be able to stop despite dealing with negative consequences. A sex addict often cheats or has multiple affairs as a pattern of using sex like a drug, and most addicts have other sexual behaviors that go along with their affairs, such as anonymous sex, internet sex, pornography or phone sex.


On the other hand, “cheaters” rarely engage in other types of compulsive sexual behavior, although they often tend to have a pattern of behavior that is irresponsible, self-indulgent and somewhat impulsive. In many cases, “cheaters” tend to stray from their relationships to get their sexual and emotional needs met, but for sex addicts, it is usually a compulsive behavior with an attachment disorder at its root. Sexual compulsivity is an acute symptom of an underlying issue.

Common Sex Addiction Symptoms

Just like other types of addiction, sex addiction is a mental health issue and comes with several symptoms. The following are common symptoms noted among sex addicts, and most display at least seven of these symptoms of addiction.


  • Longer or more extensive acting out sexually. Just as with an alcohol addiction, an addict may say they’ll only engage in sexual activity for a short period of time, but then inevitably act out longer than they intended to.
  • Sexual behaviors take time away from important domestic, academic, social or occupational obligations.
  • A sex addict often shows more than one compulsive sexual behavior.
  • An addict may spend an inordinate amount of time being sexual,  trying to obtain sex, or recovering from the physical and/or emotional effects.
  • The behavior continues in spite of negative consequences, such as arrests, lost partner, risk of STDs, unwanted pregnancies, etc.
  • Occupational, recreational or social activities may be deliberately limited to leave time available for acting on sexual impulses.
  • Over time, a sex addict may require increased intensity or frequency of sexual behavior to get the result they desire, which may lead to an increase in risk taking.
  • Irritability, restlessness or distress may occur when unable to engage in sexual behavior. Withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, body aches, depression, mood swings, headaches, dizziness or headaches, may occur.


Sex Therapy and Other Treatments for Sex Addicts

Sex addiction requires treatment, just like other types of mental disorders. Also, a sex addict often deals with other mental issues, which may include substance abuse, mood disorders or past trauma. Sex therapy may be an important treatment, but addicts should see experts trained in multiple mental disorders, since hypersexual disorder is often accompanied by other problems. Treatment for a sex addict not only includes sex therapy, but psychiatric medications may also be needed. Counseling, group therapy and relearning intimacy skills may be part of a treatment plan.

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