Sex addiction can involve a wide variety of practices. Sometimes an addict has trouble with just one unwanted behavior, sometimes with many. A large number of sex addicts say their unhealthy use of sex has been a progressive process. It may have started with an addiction to masturbation, pornography (either printed or electronic), or a relationship, but over the years progressed to increasingly dangerous behaviors.
The essence of all addiction is the addict's experience of powerlessness over a compulsive behavior, resulting in their lives becoming unmanageable. The addict is out of control and experiences tremendous shame, pain, and self-loathing. The addict may wish to stop -- yet repeatedly fails to do so. The unmanageability of addicts' lives can be seen in the consequences they suffer: losing relationships, difficulties with work, arrests, financial troubles, a loss of interest in things not sexual, low self-esteem and despair.
Sexual preoccupation takes up tremendous amounts of energy. As this increases for the sex addict, a pattern of behavior (or rituals) follows, which usually leads to acting out (for some it is flirting, searching the net for pornography, or driving to the park). When the acting out happens, there is a denial of feelings usually followed by despair and shame or a feeling of hopelessness and confusion.