What Causes Repeated Sexual Infidelity?

Since the damage of chronic sexual infidelity is so obvious, why do some people continue to do it?  Atlanta counselor and psychotherapist Bill Herring shares his thoughts about the forces, drivers and influences of chronically problematic sexual behavior patterns, including sex or porn addiction.

 I'm an Atlanta Counselor Who Understands The Many Complex Causes of Repeated Infidelity and Deception.

Studies suggest that about 20% of men and 15% of women will be sexually unfaithful at some point in life.  Of course, statistics don't matter much if you are one of the people affected.

Healing from a single incident of infidelity is difficult enough, but what about those who cheat over and over? Why do some people keep engaging in sexual deception despite the risks?  As an experienced Atlanta counselor who specializes in the treatment of repeated infidelity, I've learned that the answer is not always simple and generally tends to fall into some combination of the following categories.  None of them are excuses for personal accountability, but they provide helpful context for understanding and addressing the core elements of unhealthy sexual behavior.:

  • Some people have never fully considered the consequences of repeated infidelity.

Just about everybody knows that repeated sexual infidelity is wrong on many levels, yet some people who are doing it never truly considered the magnitude of their behavior. They just haven't let themselves fully think about the consequences of their actions on themselves and others until some crisis happens.   A lot of people became adults without ever receiving healthy lessons about sexual or personal integrity to begin with, for all kinds of reasons.  They may have grown up in households without adequate modeling for a sexually values-based life, including the basic ability to even talk about such things.  Many people got  messed-up messages and  unrealistic depictions of sexuality from hardcore online porn, leading people to not even realize they were numbing themselves to life.    

How counseling helps.  Good counseling helps people explore themselves in ways they may have never considered and develop new and better ways of living.  I've worked with lots of people with millions of dollars in net worth who came to me essentially hollow in some of the most important dimensions of emotional self management, and I have helped them learn to live more deeply and fully in integrity with self and others. Professionally assisted self-exploration and feedback has the potential to result in lasting life benefit because such support and guidance builds greater self-awareness which typically results in a more consistent ability to make healthy choices about sex and other important aspects of life.  It's as straight-forward as that.

  • Some people have one or more subtle medical, psychiatric or cognitive challenges, chemical imbalance and/or substance abuse issue that contributes to poor sexual impulses and decisions.

Psychiatric or neurological issues can have a negative influence on a person's sexual decisions and behavior.  Substance use problems can also compromise a person's sexual judgment.  Even physical impacts and resultant head traumas can influence later events. All kinds of psychiatric disorders or personality traits can affect a person's sexual behaviors. We are all ultimately responsible for our actions yet we need to take account of these powerful forces when designing a plan forward to a better way of life.

How counseling helps.  One goal of counseling is to figure out what's driving a person's behavior.  In my Atlanta counseling practice for repeated sexual infidelity and other forms of problematic sexual behavior I help my clients address all the issues needed to resolve the problem.  When necessary I can provide referrals for medication or other medical evaluation or treatment.

  • A (very) few people who repeatedly cheat just don't care much about right and wrong.

Studies show that about 4% of the population doesn't operate with a strong moral code. People with severe narcissistic or antisocial personality disorders can engage in unprincipled sexual behavior from a sense of entitlement or simple opportunity. The idea that one out of twenty-five people will do whatever they want if they can get away with it is not a statistic to take lightly.

How counseling helps.  Most people with severe antisocial or narcissistic personality disorders don't  demonstrate remorse, empathy and commitment for an extended period of time.  They just will not "do the work" to promote personal growth for long enough to result in true life change.  They may blame others, minimize the severity of their problem and/or try to rush the healing process.  Full recovery from the damage of chronic infidelity requires consistent patience, responsibility and empathy.  I'm happy to affirm that I've worked with many people who seemed to lack these qualities at first but who went on to display tremendous growth in character, conviction and courage. This is why I have written that" sometimes a breakdown is a breakthrough".

  • Many people have some type of sexual turn-on they are too ashamed to admit which drives their behavior.

In our society filled with sexual shame it shouldn't be a surprise that some people are scared to tell their sexual partners about an erotic interest that they fantasize about and may want to explore or discuss in some way. When repressed desires can only be acted upon in secret, a never-ending cycle of deception can occur.  Many problems would be avoided if people felt safer to say "this is what excites me sexually".  They can then direct their efforts toward managing their life, relationships and desires truthfully rather than hiding the full nature of their sexual interests and fantasies. 

How counseling helps.   Counseling provides people an opportunity to talk about sexual desires, conflicts and questions they could never before safely discuss.  Shame and confusion melt away with greater understanding about the reasons and meanings of different sexual interests.  Couples counseling can help people communicate their sexual needs and desires more openly, avoid secret-keeping and help partners achieve greater sexual satisfaction with each other.  As a 'kink-aware' Atlanta counselor I am ready to talk about any form of consensual adult sexual behavior from a position of respect and understanding to help the conversation bring the best good for all.

  • Sometimes repeatedly violating sexual commitments or values is a way of “acting out” some kind of painful early life experience.

Some early life traumas can contribute to the development of secret or risky sexual behavior that in some way reflects this painful past.  Childhood sexual boundary violations can result in confusion, shame, fear and a culture of secret keeping that can follow a person into adulthood.  Sometime people bravely decide to "put the past behind" them, only to find that in some way the past is influencing ongoing sexual behaviors that otherwise don't seem to make sense. 

How counseling helps.  Counseling can help people resolve the effects of painful life events that can lead to problems with sexual self-control.  My Atlanta counseling, psychotherapy and consulting practice offers a safe place to heal from past traumas in order to help a person break free from the cycle of unhealthy sexual choices.

  • Sexual secret-keeping can be a symptom of an "intimacy disorder". 

A lot of people find it's not easy to form and maintain a truly intimate emotional connection with a spouse or other committed partner.  It takes lots of work and skills to work through all of what comes up in a life with another person.  Disorderd forms of intimacy development can lead some people to engage in ongoing sexual deception instead of being honest and trustworthy with their partners.  Different attachment styles can contribute to certain sexual challenges.  Some "sex addicts" could as easily be called "intimacy anorexics".  The ability to develop full intimacy in relationship is a great challenge to many people, and some use unhealthy sexual outlets rather than addressing their true intimacy needs. 

How counseling helps.  Counseling can help resolve intimacy problems so that people can feel comfortable expressing their sexual and non-sexual needs and wants instead of living in secret compartments that foster deception. In my comfortable Atlanta office I offer both individual and couples/relationship counseling to help people express their intimacy needs with greater clarity and develop the ability to reach toward their partner rather than away when distressed .

  • Finally, some people simply cannot control their sexual behavior, despite their best attempts. In other words, the issue is a form of sex or pornography addiction.

Some people truly don't have a sufficient ability to effectively control or manage their sexual thoughts, urges or impulses over an extended period of time. Sex addiction is a real deal, and a sexual obsession for a sex addict can be as strong as a drug.  Despite sincere promises to self and others and even after trying very hard to live differently, there are people who just cannot consistently control their sexual behavior over time. And pornography addiction is the affliction of a generation that has unlimited online access to transgressive excitement with little appreciation for its power and the need to establish and maintain safeguards against its inherently degrading effects.

How counseling helps.  As an Atlanta certified sex addiction therapist (CSAT) I have a lot of experience helping people develop or regain sexual self-control and maintain healthy boundaries on their sexual impulses, urges and desires.  I help sex and porn addicts and those whose lives have been impacted by them find a way to put deceptive sexual behavior in the past and develop the kind of integrity, intimacy, trust, freedom and self-esteem that grows and deepens for decades.

In summary, any pattern of repeated deceptive sexual behavior is a serious issue no matter what caused it, what it's called or what other problems are present.  This is why it's important to accurately assess each person's unique situation. 

If you would like my help to address any form of sexual behavior that conflicts with your commitments, your values and/or your self-control I welcome you to schedule an appointment with me for a confidential and comprehensive discussion about your specific needs.