Sex addiction and sex offending

Sex addiction and sex offending are often confused, and while there are some similarities, there are also significant differences.

The first thing to make clear is that the vast majority of people who become addicted to sex or pornography, or any other kind of compulsive sexual behaviour, do not break the law. Most are aware of a line they will not cross and even though they may find themselves close to the line, especially on some porn sites, they maintain the awareness not to cross it.

Porn addiction and offending

People who are addicted to pornography may be at greater risk of crossing a line than those who’s compulsive behaviours are primarily offline. The vast majority of pornography is free and the goal of porn websites is to lure their viewers to the paid-for material, including the kind of material that borders on illegal, with many of them being blatantly advertised as ‘barely legal’.  When dopamine is pumping and sexual curiosity is high, these sites can be difficult to resist and then you’re just a few clicks away from illegal porn. Whether that’s images of under 18’s or porn that would be deemed ‘offensive’ under the Extreme Pornography Act.

Many people are unaware that sexual images under the age of 18 are illegal, which is perhaps understandable when the legal age of consent (in the UK) is 16. So whilst having sex at 16 or 17 is legal, taking pictures, or viewing images of people in that age range is illegal and can result in prosecution.  The level of prosecution depends on the offence, for example someone who is caught in possession of a handful of teenage images would most likely receive a lighter sentence than someone who was distributing images of children being abused. But both are against the law and can result in being put on the sex offender register.

Other offending behaviours

In addition to viewing pornography, sexual communication with a child under the age of 16 is also against the law. This includes in-person and online via a website or social media. For people who regularly use chat as part of their acting out behaviour, this is another potential danger zone. Another common area of offending is voyeurism and exhibitionism, sometimes that may be in-person, but the advent of technology has made both of these offending behaviours easier and more common place.

What to do if your behaviour has crossed the line

If you know your sexual behaviour has crossed a line and is illegal, then the most important thing you can do is stop immediately.  This is not a scenario where you can afford to spend time building motivation or considering options, you need to stop now and get help.  The kind of help you need will depend on whether or not your behaviour is an escalation of addiction, or if it is something you have always done. In other words, is the illegal behaviour a small percentage of your sexual behaviours? And ‘before’ you crossed the line, were you aware that your sexual behaviours were getting out of control?  You may find completing our ‘Am I an Addict’ assessment useful.  If your behaviour is a symptom of your addiction then Pivotal can help you to get your compulsive behaviour under control and help you build confidence that you will never act out again. But if your behaviours have been a part of your sexuality since adolescence; and/or if your behaviours include physical contact, then you can find further help and support at either of the following organisations. or

To summarise, the vast majority of people who become addicted to sex or porn do not commit offending behaviours. And not everyone who is a sex offender is addicted. But if you’re someone, or you know of someone, who does struggle with addictive or compulsive sexual behaviours, and the behaviour has crossed the line into offending, then Pivotal Recovery can help.

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