Everybody seems to know one– that person who bounces from relationship to relationship in a very short amount of time. Their romantic partners appear to be almost interchangeable and there are so many of them that it can be difficult to keep them straight. In conversations with your serial dater friends, you might find yourself struggling to remember, “Are they with Joe this week? Or is it Brandon?”
Your friend’s behavior might be confusing– and fun to tease them about, perhaps– but deep down, we know it’s unhealthy. However, despite this knowledge, we rarely tend to assume that serial daters are mentally ill. Instead, we just see them as people who “play the field” or people who are enjoying the fact that they have a lot of romantic options. But it might surprise you to know that sex addicts and serial daters aren’t the same at all. Although these terms are sometimes used interchangeably in a light-hearted way, the truth is that sex addiction is a dangerous mental illness that can quickly wreck someone’s life! In this article, we’ll explore the difference between these two terms and learn how you can help someone who’s struggling with a sex addiction.
What is Sex Addiction?
To put it simply, sex addiction is much more than just enjoying sex. Many people have happy, healthy sex lives and frequently enjoy intercourse. But for someone with a sex addiction, sex has ceased to become enjoyable in the way we typically think about enjoyment. Rather than a pleasurable sensation or a feeling that leaves us saying, “That was great!”, sex has become a need in the same way as food, water, or air. For someone with a sex addiction, their pursuit of sex is closely tied to a cycle of guilt and shame. If you’re in this position, you may feel that your need for sex is controlling you and that you have lost all control over your own impulses. Eventually, you may find that the thrill has decreased; the same behaviors, fantasies, or pornographic material no longer produces the thrill you’re chasing. This can force your behavior to escalate, requiring you to engage in increasingly risky behaviors to chase the high you crave.
This can lead to a pattern of risky and stress-inducing behavior that jeopardizes a person’s mental health, job security, and personal relationships. For example, many sex addicts feel an overwhelming and compulsive need to masturbate. This urge can grow so strong that a person may feel the need to masturbate as much as 15 times a day. Even if the act is painful and leaves you sore and exhausted, you might still feel the need to satisfy the urge at all costs. So, if you feel a compulsive need to masturbate 15 times a day, you can easily imagine how this might interrupt your work schedule or your relationships with family and friends. A person with a sex addiction might feel a need to find sneaky ways to masturbate at work or during family events. Unsurprisingly, this can be dangerous, stressful, and inconvenient to say the least! But even if a person doesn’t want to engage in these behaviors, they may feel powerless to stop. That’s what makes sex addiction different from simply pursuing multiple relationships.
What’s The Difference Between Sex Addicts and Serial Daters?
The core difference is that sex addiction is a medically recognized addiction with serious consequences that can alter someone’s life. By contrast, people who pursue multiple romantic or sexual relationships may simply have commitment issues. They might enjoy feeling attractive and desirable and they may be eager to seek attention from everyone who finds them attractive. Likewise, they might be uninterested in monogamy and have no desire to settle down with only one romantic partner. Although hyper-promiscuity can also be indicative of mental or emotional problems, many people who bounce from one relationship to the next are not mentally ill.
They are also not guaranteed to struggle with sex addiction. For many serial daters, it isn’t about the sex at all. It’s about the rush of a new romantic relationship, the thrill of falling in love with someone new, and the delight of finding that someone likes you. Although a person might be driven to chase that feeling, they might not feel an overwhelming urge to satisfy sexual urges at all costs. And, as we saw in the previous section, that’s the key difference that separates serial daters from people with sex addictions.
So, if you or someone you love is struggling with a sex addiction, you should know that you always have the option to reach out for help. Although many people are ashamed of their addictions, a therapist isn’t here to condemn you for your struggles; their job is simply to help. You can take the first help to get help by taking this free sex addiction quiz. This free and confidential quiz will enable you to assess your symptoms and outline your path to recovery. So, if your addiction to sex is preventing you from living the happy, healthy life you want, remember that help is available and you can reach out at any time!