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Affairs: The Relationship Between Infidelity & Addiction
Part 1: In the first of a 3-part series, Dr. Haltzman explores the relationship between addiction and those who cheat.

There's a similarity between cheaters and those who have an addiction.

Most of the people I have treated, however, even those who use pornography or visit prostitutes… do not have a sexual addiction.”
After decades studying human behavior, I had a revelation that has since colored my perception of infidelity: Almost everything that happens to an addict happens to someone who has an affair.

Think about drug and alcohol abuse for a moment: Not only does the syndrome result in abuse of substances, but it includes hiding behaviors from others, lying about activities, investing time and money seeking a chemical high, and changing just about every aspect of one’s life. Moreover, most of these individuals have wished to break away from their substances of abuse, but doing so has proved very difficult. Doesn’t that sound an awful lot like what happens when someone has an affair?

So, we’re talking about "sex addiction," right?


Sex addiction is a specific kind of addiction, the existence of which is highly contested by researchers in psychiatry. When sex addiction is addressed as a problem, experts refer to individuals (mostly men) who crave sex—specifically sexual release—as in orgasm.

Now, there’s nothing wrong for wanting sex. After all, it’s encoded in DNA for sex to be pleasurable. I’d venture to guess that there was a time during virtually every teenage boy’s life when sex constantly consumed his thoughts.

But sex addiction is different than enjoying sex or wanting to experience a sexual liaison.  For sex addicts, it’s an obsession. Things that remind them of sexual release will initiate a cascade of intense yearning, and drive them to seek sexual release in whatever way they can. Often these people have learned how to skillfully entice other men or women into having sexual relations with them, even though their desire for sex is not driven by feelings of emotional connection or love. Often, sex addicts will hire prostitutes or pay for "happy ending" massages. Sometimes, in the absence of contact with other people, the sex addict will turn to pornography and masturbation as a way to find relief from these urges. Like other addicts, this person will spend an inordinate amount of time preoccupied with the thing that gives them a high—sex—while hiding the obsession from others.

If you’ve gone to a therapist after an affair and you’ve been told that you or your partner are addicted to sex, look carefully at the paragraph above. Does that describe either one of you?  In most cases of infidelity, the issue is not about sex addiction. Enjoying sex is normal. Feeling that there are others who may give you more sex, or better sex, than your spouse is, regrettably, also very common. It doesn't prove you’re addicted to sex, though. Ask yourself the following questions to help understand whether your problem is a sex addiction or something else.

* Even before the affair, I was obsessed with sex to the point where my desire interfered with being able to accomplish important things.

* I have a deep yearning for sex as one of the only ways I can feel "normal" and sometimes it doesn’t even matter whom it is with.

* I use sex as a way to escape my typical problems either at work or at home.

* I spend hours every week on the internet looking at images of sex or sexually provocative images of people I don’t know.

* I spend several hours a month on the internet engaging in sexual-related chatting or IMing with individuals I don’t know.

* I usually have to masturbate or have sex at least twice daily in order to concentrate on normal work or relationship requirements.

* I frequently pay for or exchange favors for sex with people I don’t feel an emotional connection to. When I complete the act, I feel temporarily satisfied, but the feeling quickly goes away and I feel ashamed or guilty.

* Anonymous sex appeals to me, and I feel more comfortable with it than sex with someone I know.

If you have answered "Yes" to four or more of the questions, then you may suffer from sex addiction and you’ll probably need more individualized help for your problem than this article can provide for you.  (Sex Addicts Anonymous is an excellent resource for getting help.)  Most of the people I have treated, however, even those who use pornography or visit prostitutes, answer no to most of these questions. They do not have a sexual addiction.

I began this article by looking at affairs and drawing parallels to addictions. Then I described a specific type of addiction, sex addiction, and concluded that most affairs do not happen for that reason. Confused? At this point, you might ask, "if people having affairs like people who have addiction, but they don’t have a sex addiction, what kind of addiction is it?"

Infidelity is a flame addiction. In my next article, I’ll describe the phenomenon of flame addiction, and discuss what you can do to help conquer it.

Part II - Affairs: The Flame Addiction
Part III - Affairs: Beating Flame Addiction

Scott Haltzman, M.D., is the author of "The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity" (Johns Hopkins University Press). He served as a Brown University assistant professor of psychiatry for 20 years, is board certified in Psychiatry, and is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. Dr. Haltzman is also the author of "The Secrets of Happy Families," "The Secrets of Happily Married Men" and "The Secrets of Happily Married Women." You can get more information at his website, www.drscott.com.

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