1. Introduction to the Intimacy and Sexual Avoidance Aspect of Sex Addiction

1.1 Terminology

Here is a brief explanation of some words and phrases which are commonly used in talking about the intimacy and sexual avoidance side of sex addiction.

  • Intimacy: “Intimacy means a close, familiar, and usually affectionate personal relationship with self, others, or Higher Power.” (An Intimacy and Sexual Avoidance-Focused First Step Guide
  • Intimacy avoidance: preventing or sabotaging closeness and connection (either sexually or non-sexually) with self or others
  • Acting out: addictive sexual behavior
  • Compulsive sexual avoidance (sexual anorexia, “acting in”): an obsessive state in which the avoidance of sex dominates one’s life; starving oneself of sexual nurturing and affection as a means of control.

1.2 Sex addiction can show up in different ways

“Sex addiction is a disease affecting the mind, body, and spirit. It is progressive, with the behavior and its consequences usually becoming more severe over time. We experience it as compulsion, which is an urge that is stronger than our will to resist, and as obsession, which is a mental preoccupation with sexual behavior and fantasies. In SAA, we have come to call our addictive sexual behavior acting out.” (Sex Addicts Anonymous, page 3)

  • “Acting out”

For most SAA members, our sex addiction became apparent in acting-out behaviors such as “promiscuity, infidelity, compulsive masturbation, prostitution, sexual assault, molestation, and exhibitionism. (Intimacy Avoidance – Another Aspect of Sex Addiction) 

  • “Acting in”

“Many sex addicts compulsively avoid their feelings or have difficulty being emotionally vulnerable with others. When this intimacy avoidance becomes focused on avoiding anything to do with sex, it’s sometimes called, ‘acting in.’ ” (Intimacy Avoidance – Another Aspect of Sex Addiction) 

“For some of us, the compulsive avoidance of sex and intimacy became a destructive pattern, dominating our thoughts and actions. We may always have felt unable or unwilling to be sexual. Or we may have experienced periods of feeling “shut down” alternating with other periods of sexual acting out.” (Sex Addicts Anonymous, page 6)

Some might wonder, “How can I be a sex addict if I never have sex?

“Practicing avoidance of sexual thoughts, feelings, and behaviors,” as well as having “obsessive sexual thoughts (about having sex and/or avoiding it)” are common symptoms of the compulsive sexual avoidance side of sex addiction. This is also known as sexual anorexia or “acting in.” (See Intimacy Avoidance – Another Aspect of Sex Addiction)

For more symptoms, see the Intimacy and Sexual Avoidance Self-Assessment.

“Some of us didn’t have many acting out behaviors, but realized that not doing something is a behavior in and of itself. Still others of us needed time to realize that our sexual avoidance was part of the problem and not the solution to our acting out.” (An Intimacy and Sexual Avoidance-Focused First Step Guide

  • A spectrum of behaviors  

The physical urges and the mental preoccupation with sex and fantasy that we experience with sex addiction can take many forms, ranging from the compulsive avoidance of all things sexual to acting out sexually with others. Behaviors like escaping into fantasy while being physical with a committed partner, using pornography, or jumping from one relationship to another might be symptoms of both acting out and acting in.

In SAA, members “define for themselves, with the help of their sponsors or others in recovery, which of their sexual behaviors they consider to be ‘acting out.’” (Sex Addicts Anonymous, pages 14-15) We also may define which of our behaviors are symptoms of the compulsive avoidance of intimacy in sexual matters, or the avoidance of sex altogether.