The Cheater vs. The Sex Addict

Many times, I’ve heard sexual addiction be referred to as “people who are just cheating.” There is a vast difference between “cheating” and sexual addiction, but this can be difficult to see from the outside.  Here are 7 key factors that could help you identify the difference in yourself or others:


1) Shame

Cheaters are frequently not exposed to the shame. However, those who continuously use sex as a tool for manipulation and self-gratification as a result of sex addiction experience deep shame. Shame originates from engaging in sexual behaviors that goes against one’s core values. These behaviors can negatively affect their partner, families, friendships, finances, employment, or themselves.

This is not to be confused with someone who masturbates or watches porn occasionally. which may go against their religious core values resulting in an internal value system conflict.  This often does not lead to severe life negative consequences, such as getting fired from work because of acting out.


2) Negative Consequences

The cheater experiences fewer negative consequences.  One of the worst consequences for the cheater is that they have a 50/50 chance of ending up alone.  This issue does not cause adverse consequences to outside relationships, work, etc…  


3) Multiple sexual behaviors

The cheater is also usually not engaging in other sexual behaviors unlike sex addiction.  Sex addicts typically engage in other sexual behaviors outside of physical sex or their primary addiction (porn, phone sex, internet sex, etc.).  Cheaters often engage in one behavior that doesn’t lead to engaging in other sexual behaviors.


4) Preoccupation with sex

Sex is used as a drug to soothe anxiety or depression.  A sex addict spends most of the day consumed by sexual urges, fantasies, and activities.  They have a repetitive cycle that ends in guilt and remorse.  A cheater is not obsessed with sex. If a sex addict is unable to “get a hit,” they feel great distress.  The urge to act out is irresistible.  


5) Escalation over time

The sex addict’s obsessive urge for sexual behaviors increases over time and results in a gradual escalation of behaviors.  The addiction may begin as simply masturbating or watching porn, then intensify to escorts or massage parlors.  Sex addiction is driven by impulsive and compulsive behavior.  Impulsive behavior includes control problems and the inability to make good decisions (sex in places where likely to be caught).  Compulsive behavior consists of obsessive thoughts, constantly planning how they will engage in sexual activity.  This may be the greatest difference for the cheater who may mature out of the behavior.  Change is determined by self- interest rather than treatment or necessary change.  


6) Being “ok” vs. not ok with the behaviors

As mentioned earlier, a cheater does not experience shame at the levels of a sex addict.  They have no qualms boasting about their conquests, apart from their partner.  It’s only kept secret from their partner due to the inconvenience it would cause, possibly hindering their pleasure-seeking activities.  Ironically, a sex addict does not want to be identified as a “cheater.”  They will rationalize and lie to self and others to seem perfect.  Another reason for secrecy is to hide their shame through denying the acting out behavior (indulging with prostitutes, sex web chats, “happy endings,” etc.)  


7) Objectification

Acting out partners for a sex addict are in positions where they are either paid to be objectified or can easily be objectified or manipulate.  A cheater only wishes to wine and dine, manipulate multiple partners to feel superior amongst peers, attain amusement, or some other personal gain.  Just as with a drug addict or alcoholic, sex addicts feel the need to control something because of the depression or anxiety they feel as a result of the lack of control they perceive in their life.  In sex addiction this concept is presented by having objectifiable acting out partners.  They don’t manipulate for self-gratification, they manipulate for control and to hide their pain.


Although the actions of both the sex addict and the cheater are deceptive and amoral, the sex addict deals with much adversity that the cheater does not experience. We understand the struggles that come with wanting to extinguish cheating or sex addiction and we are here to help.

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