Stages of Sexual Addiction: Breaking The Cycle

Soberlink Recovery Circle

Sex is a natural part of our lives. Many people enjoy sex, but when it becomes an obsession, it’s time to reach out for help.

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In this article, we will discuss the stages of sex addiction and learn how to break the continuous cycle of sexual addiction.

Sexual Behavior Becomes Addictive

When a person becomes a sex addict and starts indulging in adverse sexual behavior, they forget the true purpose of sex: sex promotes bonding within a relationship. 

When sexual behavior becomes an addiction, the person with an addiction loses their connection with friends, family, work, and all his responsibilities.

The sex for an addict becomes nothing more than going around and around the stages of the sex cycle and repeating them to no end. 

The stages of recovery, breaking the chain of events or phases, and getting support can be challenging, but it’s not impossible, as many have recovered from sex addiction.

How does a person know that they have become a sex addict? 

How do you see that addiction has taken over your life? 

How do they know they need to be in rehab and recovery to work on ending their compulsive sexual behavior?

Let’s take a look at the cycle/stages and learn how to break it to end the addiction at the earliest stage possible. For help with sex addiction, get in touch with a trained professional, i.e., an LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), and/or start attending Sex Addicts Anonymous.

What are Sexual Addiction and Adverse sexual behavior?

Sexual addiction is when there are relentless and increasing thoughts regarding sexual behavior with a person or object. These escalated thoughts lead to unhealthy obsessions and compulsive behavior, i.e., addiction and acting out on these addictions.

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The impact of sexual addiction can be very damaging, so much so that the person forgets to lead his everyday life. The addiction, when it takes over, becomes uncompromising, and an object or person will remind you about lust, sexual obsession, and sexual fantasies till you act on your addiction. 

Once the addiction/sexual behavior is acted upon, remorse, guilt, and low self-esteem set in, and this begins the cycle of sex addiction. Because once here, sex addicts want to numb themselves with sex. Thus, the addictive cycle of behavior repeats itself.

Sex Addiction Cycle

Here are the six stages of sexual addiction. These stages are elaborate but have tiny windows between each stage.

The addiction is the hardest to break when it reaches the third stage. This is where the addict is at his highest; this stage is also known as the trance stage, where the addict sees and thinks nothing but sex. It’s also known as the most powerful stage of sexual obsession or addiction.

Stage 1. Triggers (Shame/Blame/Guilt/Other Strong Emotions)

The first stage is the triggers, primarily strong emotions, blame, guilt, shame, etc. These triggers are pain agents. These can include emotional discomforts like depression, anxiety, loneliness, and boredom, or they can also be physical discomfort like losing one’s job, getting a demotion, losing a fight, or such.

When these triggers present themselves, the addict feels the desire to escape, avoid, and dissociate, i.e., given to the addiction and feel the ecstasy they need to dissociate.

The pain agents aren’t always hostile; they can also be positive, like buying a new house, getting a new job, or getting a promotion. When these positive triggers happen, the person with an addiction would want to celebrate with his favorite activity, i.e., sex!

Triggers aren’t always feelings; they can also be visuals like seeing a naked body that arouses the addict’s desires, seeing an object they associate with sex, or sniffing a scent that is related to a past lover. Touch and taste are also sexual triggers. These triggers are hard to recognize, but it gets easier to become aware of them once identified.

Stage 2. Fantasy

Triggers bring memories; once the addict has been triggered, it’s hard for them to escape the sexual fantasies that come after and initiate the stages of recovery. The second stage is most commonly known as sexual fantasies and desires. These desires are the primary coping mechanism. These sexual fantasies can be the dreams they have regarding their sexual desires or the sexual thoughts about the times they have had sex. They will keep playing with these images till they become obsessive, and everything around them becomes a sexual desire.

The addict may think that these are just sexual fantasies and that they are not harming anyone, but in reality, these sexual fantasies don’t take much time to convert into ritualization, the third stage of addiction.

The second stage transforms into the most dangerous third stage. In the third stage of addiction, recovery is the hardest.

Stage 3. Ritualization

This is the third stage of planning the addictive behavior, where the addict is aroused and excited to act out his sexual thoughts. At this point, the reality of sex is becoming increasingly apparent; they know their destination is not far. This is also known as the preoccupation stage.

Logging on to the computer, downloading their favorite porn movie, and driving to find the best places to pick up prostitutes are all part of ritualization. It is the trance-like stage when they see nothing and hear nothing but their goal to have sex, masturbate, and achieve sweet relief.

This phase is the most dangerous stage because, by now, the person with an addiction has lost all sense of responsibility and danger.

The real world can drown someone, but they’d only care about their obsession with sex and fulfilling their sexual thoughts.

This stage may last for days, as the addict likes to plan, they want their fantasy to be perfect, and they would spend hours to find the ideal spot, the perfect porn movie, or the perfect mate or place to have sex.

According to Robert Weiss, LCSW, the trance stage of addictive behavior is when things are the trickiest. This stage is the most substantial part of the addiction. The trance doesn’t break until something big intervenes. E.g., getting caught, arrested, or caught by parents or spouses.

Stage 4. Acting Out

The fourth stage is their end; they lose it all, the desire ends, and the cycle may restart. The addict will do everything in their power to stay in the 3rd stage, the stage where they are numb and high on seeking pleasure; they more or less dread the fourth stage, the actual act of orgasm.

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Whether they reach orgasm on their own or with a partner, it’s the abrupt halt to their high; this is what they dread, and then comes the avoidance.

This stage manifests as the addict having sex, taking on multiple sexual partners, doing ungodly sexual acts with prostitutes, or engaging in compulsive masturbation for hours. All these sexual behaviors come with negative consequences.

Stage 5. Avoidance

Once they are done with their sexual act or addictive behavior, they try to put as much distance, emotionally, between themselves and the act. They would make excuses like it’s just masturbation, I didn’t commit a crime, or it was safe sex, I used a condom, or what no one knows won’t hurt them. The excuses are a form of denial.

Addicts need to believe that they did nothing wrong, and avoidance is how they do it. The more they believe their lies, the more they get confident in their acts. Their justifications feel natural to them; for example, it’s not cheating if I met her online, mutual masturbation online isn’t the real thing, or it was a Stranger; it didn’t mean anything. The excuses change, but the act and its consequences remain the same.

Stage 6. Despair

This is the final stage, but the last doesn’t mean it ends here; it only ends to restart the whole game again. The anxiety, shame, and depression of giving in to the desires is what repeats the cycle. At this point, the addict is most vulnerable; if he gets help at this stage and gets into recovery, there is a good chance he can beat his addiction. The shame that these desires make the addict feel powerless. The discomfort that they did it again, acting out on the sexual fantasies, becomes the pain agent. Soon, the sixth stage will merge into the first stage sooner rather than later, and once the cycle starts again, recovery becomes hard.  The wheel of shame never stops; the sexual cycle continues until the addict realizes that they need help, and until such a point, nothing can break the chain.

Signs of Sexual Addiction

Clinical sexual addicts are masters at their game; they are hard to catch in the act, and it’s hard to mark out a pattern to be sure about their addiction. However, a close relationship such as a guardian and spouse can see the following signs/phases easily to know that their query is a sex addict and offer help. If you are looking to help yourself, admitting to yourself you are a sex addict is the first step. The following signs will help you see how much of an addict you are and how to stop yourself from getting further addicted.

1. One Partner Isn’t Enough

A sex addict will always find it hard to stay loyal to one partner. Remember, the sexual fantasies, the acting out, the planning all of these are escapes; they are the high the addict

seeks. You can’t achieve these highs with your consistent partner. The cheating, creating new sexual fantasies, is what makes the sexual game more exciting. Seeking multiple sexual partners is risky behavior that makes the addiction fun and enticing. These sexual partners change or may repeat with every encounter, hence increasing the risk of STDs.

2. No Sense Of Responsibilities

If it’s not related to sexual activity or sexual desire, it takes a back seat; that’s how it works when the sex addict is on the move. A full-blown addiction is when everything in life is secondary to sexual activity and acting out on sexual desires. You avoid family members and friends and lose interest in work, home, and things you used to love. The only thing that remains on your mind is either sex or the shame that you acted out on your desires.

The adverse effects of losing sight of your responsibilities may result in:

Losing your job
Losing custody of your children
Destroying your relationships 
And being alone

3. You Stop Caring About The Time Spent on Sexual Activity

Addicts are seldom satisfied; one after another, they keep doing what they believe will get them a sweet escape. But the escape is never enough. In the end, they start spending more and more time around their sexual desires. The period from one cycle to another shortens with every repetition, which is alarming. It is your sign to stop when you get the feeling that your life has been taken over by doing nothing but planning sex, acting out on your plans, and then being guilty and ashamed that you acted out, only to start it all over again.

These are just a few apparent signs of addiction, ones that are easy to spot both by the addict and by people close to him.


The sexual addiction cycle is seldom broken by just telling yourself to end it and get into recovery. No, to break the cycle, the addict needs to know the triggers and eliminate the triggers that may lead to desires and sexual fantasies; only then will they have half a chance to do something about their addiction. The good news is that eliminating the triggers is the easiest way to break the cycle; once you reach the third stage, it's hard to recover. Support groups and seeking professional help are the most successful and healthy ways to defeat sexual addiction.

The six stages of sexual addiction repeat till you break them, but breaking the cycle isn’t enough; you will need a ton of support and help from LPC to not get into the trap of the six stages again. These stages of sexual addiction are meant to suck you in; they are intended to work in a circle where you find no way out. This is the reason why you should be aware of all six stages and know where you can strike to break the addictive cycle of sexual behavior.