Sex Addiction - Definition, Treatment and Recovery
How Sex Can Become An Addiction:
Sex addiction is often categorized under impulse control disorders, intimacy disorders, and/or process addictions. A process addiction is a blanket term used to describe any obsessive and compulsive behavior, such as gambling, shopping, or sexual activity, that a person continues to engage in despite a desire to stop and negative consequences.
PROCESS ADDICTIONS ARE:
• A term used to describe any behavioral addiction which does not involve an addictive chemical (i.e. alcohol or drug addiction)
• Process addictions are often overlooked as addiction or minimized
They are often coupled with drug addiction
Each process and chemical addiction needs to be tackled, individually, in order for full, lasting recovery to take place. While it is often easier to comprehend that one can become physically and emotionally addicted to the “high” of a chemical such as alcohol or drugs, we often overlook the strong psychological compulsions of the process addict that can also exist. When a client is struggling with a process addiction such as sex addiction, disordered eating, gambling, or over-spending it is never as simple as “just stopping” or using “discipline” to overcome the behavior. There are real chemical and biological changes which occur in the brain of someone who has a process addiction (i.e. chemicals and hormones such as testosterone, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, oxytocin, and dopamine). A person’s reward center in their brain is stimulated causing a release of chemicals into the body and brain which drive addictive behaviors. Put simply, this chemical charge feels so good that the addict continues to obsess and chase the “high” regardless of its negative consequences. As mentioned in my previous blog on addiction, this disease is complex and is influenced by the individual’s mental and emotional health, genetics, stress tolerance, and history of trauma.
What Sex Addiction IS and IS NOT:
Sex Addiction can manifest in a number of ways. Every individual acts out differently just as those addicted to drugs use different drugs in different environments, behave differently while under the influence, and experience varied levels/frequency of drug use).
The following is a short list of ways that Sex Addiction can manifest:
• Compulsive masturbation (self-stimulation), despite harm from it or desire to cut down
• Multiple affairs (extra-marital affairs) with paid or unpaid participants
• Obsessive dating through personal ads, Social Media, GPS dating apps
• Multiple or anonymous sexual partners and/or one-night stands
• Obsessive or compulsive use of pornography, phone/cybersex sites
• Continuous unsafe sex despite a fear of contracting something
• Exhibitionism, Voyeurism, or stalking
• Sexual harassment
Sex Addiction is not:
A Moral or Ethical Problem. It’s a clinical diagnosis. Addicts/Compulsives are not bad people they are people with problem in their psychological-emotional system
An absence of religion or spirituality – Having an Addiction or being Sexually Compulsive does not mean you’re void of any religious values or beliefs
Exploring sexual orientation or gender identity
A sign of a Broken Relationship-Sex addicts can “wish” to remain with their partner and love their partner but continue to act out
Acting out on fetishes openly, consensually, and without shame
What to do if you or a loved one is struggling with this:
One thing I’ve noticed during my years working with sex addiction is that every SA thinks their sexual acts and struggles are unique; that no one could possibly understand them. I’ve witnessed the relief on clients’ faces when they realize they can share their darkest experiences and thoughts and find others who have been struggling with a similar journey. Often times, SA’s have been pushing loved one’s away in an effort to hide and continue their behaviors. It’s exhausting and painful. There can be a great deal of freedom in coming to terms with this disease and taking steps toward healing and defining your life in recovery.
SAA and other treatment models try to instill the addicts with the following:
Assistance and accountability in defining what sobriety will look like for them
A sense of empathy for those they’ve harmed through their addiction
Accountability for their choices (past, present, and future)
Commitments to their support system to make different choices and seek help before acting out on impulse
My mentor, Rob Weiss, wrote a great article on SEXUAL INTEGRITY. This topic is extremely applicable to sex addicts and their loved ones. When determining what your “sobriety plan” will look like, it matters less what your sexual desires, behaviors, or fetishes are and more about how you choose to execute them.
Consider the following when exploring what your sobriety plan would look like:
Do you explore your sexuality in a safe environment, not risking your health or safety or impinging upon another’s health or safety?
Are your actions inline with your beliefs and values (not others’ beliefs and values) and without shame and guilt?
If you’re in a committed, monogamous relationship with someone, do you uphold and respect that commitment that you’ve made?
Do you ever have to lie, cheat, or manipulate in order to get your needs met?
Those are a few guidelines to explore when defining what your life of recovery should look like.
For those who have been betrayed by a Sex Addict, I encourage you to read my blog on betrayal trauma.
Similar to the points I made on my previous blog, recovery from any addiction takes a supportive "village". Below I’ll list some resources and treatment programs that can help with recovery.
If you or someone you know is struggling with any addiction, please feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns, or potential referral sources.
Sex Addicts Anonymous
Despite The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorder's recent oversight in adding Sexual Compulsive Behavior or Sex Addiction to its list of disorders, I can assure you that Sex Addiction is a legitimate addiction with which many men and women struggle. I ran a mens-only drug and sex addiction treatment program at Promises, Malibu and encountered many men (and partners) who were struggling with this disease. They would struggle with compulsive or even dangerous sexual behaviors that they wish they could stop (and tried many times to stop). These compulsive sexual urges were often clustered together with other neurobiological and emotional issues and the damage from the behaviors was devastating (i.e. loss of marriages and children, loss of jobs, legal issues, social humiliation, and contracting STD’s).
Sex addiction is often mocked or minimized by mainstream media and pop culture as an excuse for people to sexually misbehave without taking responsibility and accountability for their actions. While sometimes that is the case, that does not dismiss the thousands of people who are struggling with these issues and need appropriate social, medical, and mental health support to make it through to the other side.