What is Sex Addiction?
Sexual addiction can be defined as a complex combination of habits, behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs that, when taken together, are meant to provide contentment to the addict. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. In fact, many addicts struggle with constant feelings of shame and self-loathing, and some even sink into depression.
Sex addicts and the Lack of Control
Something that sex addicts share with other addicts is the inability to control their behavior and impulses. And because many tend to have more than one form of addiction, sex addicts often struggle with the seemingly insurmountable challenge of dealing with multiple destructive impulses and their individual and combined consequences.
If left untreated, sex addiction can affect a person’s life significantly in many different ways. Unfortunately, in most cases, these effects are harmful as well as destructive. The reason for this is that the addict is mostly powerless against these impulses and behaviors. Furthermore, they provide such a powerful sense of satisfaction and reward that most are unable to keep from indulging in the very thing that is causing them so much harm.
For most addicts, the addiction almost takes on a life of its own. Often, it serves a protective role, an insulation agent against whatever ails the addict, whether physical, emotional, or psychological. As a result, emotions are suppressed, along with feelings of negativity, self-doubt, and self-hatred.
Obstacles to Getting Better
Unfortunately, when the addiction is taken away, sex addicts are left to confront the underlying issues that led them to become addicted in the first place. This can be pain, trauma, or emotions that haven’t been dealt with or problems that have never been resolved. Given a choice between confronting and avoiding these, it’s hardly surprising that many sex addicts remain addicted.
Some supposed “sex addicts” aren’t addicted to sex as much as they are compelled to engage in sexual behavior. Some may be driven to these behaviors or patterns of behavior only when they are alone, agitated, or depressed.
The truth is, many people are drawn to sexual thoughts and impulses when they are in these states. The difference is that while most are able to control themselves and refrain from actually going through with the destructive behavior, sex addicts don’t have the same measure of control.
The sex act itself can be a source of considerable anxiety, disgust, and even fear for sex addicts. Contrary to the feelings of satisfaction, affection, and acceptance that most people feel when they engage in sex, giving in to their sexual desires makes addicts sink deeper into self-loathing.
Sex Addiction: Seeking What Isn’t There
It is also interesting to note that what many sex addicts desire isn’t sex itself. Instead, they engage in such activities to feel calm, contended, and comforted. Some are in search of the affection and intimacy that they cannot get within the bounds of a traditional relationship. But what they get instead are overwhelming feelings of shame and disgust, which leads them to continue on their destructive downward spiral.
Other examples of sex addiction emphasize the futile nature of the condition. For instance, one longtime sex addict struggled with stubborn and recurring thoughts about indulging in his addiction. For this particular individual, life was reduced to a never-ending cycle of planning what sexual activities to do next and how to go about performing them.
Even the most mundane impulses can trigger this cycle. For example, even thinking briefly about sex could set off a binge that could last for days. These episodes are often disruptive and get in the way of work and personal responsibilities.
A Dead-End Cycle
Like all addictions, sexual addiction has a way of heaping damage upon more damage. One other sex addict described how his entire life centered on his addiction, leaving no time or energy for other things.
Even the loss of this individual’s friends, family, and social standing wasn’t enough for him to refrain from destructive patterns of behavior. And when sex became the only source of relief in an increasingly desperate and empty life, leaving the addictive lifestyle seemed further and further out of reach.
Hope For Sex Addicts
Despite the seeming hopelessness of being mired in the addictive lifestyle, there is hope for sex addicts. Therapy-based treatment has proven to be effective at helping even longtime sex addicts return to a healthier and less destructive way of life. In time, it may even be possible to enjoy a fulfilling and rewarding sex life.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1. How do I know if I am a sex addict?
Ask yourself, “Am I repeatedly engaging in sexual behaviors that I cannot stop even though I want to stop, that leave me feeling shame and guilt, that involve living a double life with secrets and lies, that may lead to negative consequences?” If yes, and you cannot stop, there is a strong chance that you are addicted. Call today for help. 208–755–7114
2. Why do people become sexually addicted?
There are several reasons, such as negative early sexual experiences, history of trauma/anxiety/depression that leads a person to want to get high or escape the doldrums of everyday life through sexual acting out or obsessive fantasy. People who are either ADHD or obsessive-compulsive are drawn to sexual addiction too.
3. What’s the difference between sex addiction and sexual offending?
Sexual offending is not indicative of sexual addiction. By definition, sexual offending involves illegal or non-consensual sexual behavior. Sexual offenders that identify as sexual addicts may knowingly do so not to avoid punishment but to avoid judgment – to my knowledge. Others may have different views on why they identify as sexual addicts and not sexual offenders. Another view of on this is that the sexual offender may lack the knowledge that these two are different.
4. What’s the difference between sex addiction and a high sex drive?
Addiction involves continuing a behavior a person wants to stop, but they feel unable to stop even when there are clear negative consequences to the actions taken. A high sex drive may be related to many factors some healthy and others not. It is best to sort those factors out with help by a trained sex addiction therapist such as a CSAT (Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist).
5. Can women be sex addicted?
Yes. As sexual access becomes more available through the internet and social inhibitions fall away, greater numbers of women are admitting that they too are drawn to compulsive sex and are more willing to seek help now than before.
6. What’s the connection between sex addiction and infidelity?
Many sex addicts first get into treatment after being discovered for an act of infidelity in a committed relationship, such as marriage. Not everyone who cheats on a partner is a sex addict; although an exposed affair meets several of the criteria for diagnosis as it involves secrets, lies, and negative consequences. Good psychotherapy can uncover whether infidelity is the result of a recurring pattern of sex addiction, which can involve obsessive sexual thoughts and/or behaviors, or whether infidelity is a result of a lack of
7. Isn’t this just an excuse for bad behavior?
It’s hard to imagine that anyone would want to identify as a sex addict as an excuse. Treatment requires a rigorous commitment. There are differences between excusing and enabling bad behavior. Today, biological conditions have been discovered that are effective explanations for various behaviors that were considered unforgivable character flaws in the past — such is the case for many mental illnesses and diagnoses. The bad excuse lies not in the initial diagnosis of sex addiction, but for failing to follow through
8. If I turn out to be a sex addict, can I take prescription medications to reduce my sex drive or compulsiveness?
There are hormonal drugs that may reduce or increase sexual drive, but healthy sexuality is the result of a combination of emotional security and psychological wholeness that cannot simply be medicated into being. For some clients, a psychiatrist consult might be recommend. Treating some psychological issues with medication often allows access to underlying emotional issues, which is essential to make lasting change.
9. Is there recovery for sex addiction?
Yes. Excellent protocols have been developed to help people of all backgrounds recover and develop healthy sexual intimacy. When a person is committed to making real changes, lasting and rewarding recovery is available. Call today for help. 208–755–7114
10. Is abstinence required?
Abstinence may be required for a certain amount of time depending on the circumstances. The goal of treatment is not to repress sexuality, but to develop the capacity for healthy sexuality. Each person works with his or her therapist to identify which behaviors are a problem and these behaviors need to stop for a consistent period of time to help a person go through withdrawal and re-set their brains, bodies and personalities to living without the drug-like high of sex addiction.
11. What is the difference between a sex addiction therapist and a regular therapist?
A common mistake occurs when people expect any therapist untrained in sex addiction therapy to be able to treat sex addiction. Ed Dudding is a trained certified sexual addiction therapist (CSAT) with a graduate-level degree in psychotherapy who has chosen to specialize in sex addiction therapy.
12. What does it mean that addictive sex is an intimacy problem?
When sexual addiction is referred to as an intimacy disorder, this means that a sex addict’s psychological pattern for healthy intimacy is disordered. “Intimacy” corresponds to the verb “to intimate,” which means to make known. Intimate knowledge in any relationship requires two key aspects: to be able to know oneself, and to be able to freely share and receive this knowledge. All human beings share a basic need to connect through intimacy. This ability to connect can become disordered through trauma, but usually for most addicts this ability was disordered in early childhood. If childhood attempts to connect with healthy intimacy were prevented or impossible, the resulting isolation develops an ever-increasing need for alternative methods of self-soothing. In adulthood, sex addiction is one such method of self-medication. A frustrated inability to dependably connect with healthy intimacy in primary relationships drives the sex addict to connect in unhealthy ways that further reinforce the basic inability to connect. This kind of irrationality underlies the tragedy of untreated sex addiction.
13. I can’t believe sex will get better if I overcome my sex addiction.
Many clients confirm after treatment that what they previously considered to qualify as ‘great sex,’ today would no longer satisfy them and was never truly satisfying. To overcome sex addiction results in a better self-image and self-acceptance, and a healthy sex life that does not include secrets, lies, shame, regrets, trauma, or pain for anyone involved. The therapist relationship teaches the client that it’s possible for another to honor and receive his or her most authentic reality. More importantly, the client learns to honor and receive his or her own reality, which results in integrity. Sexuality based in integrity and trust opens the door for a greater experience of sex. Healthy sex is consensual sex between adults and yields pleasure and personal growth.
14. How do I get help for sex addiction?
Through individual therapy, group therapy, or an outpatient intensive you will be able to speak openly about your fears and sexual issues, in a safe therapeutic relationship with clear boundaries. FOCUS13 is Coeur d’Alene Counseling’s outpatient intensive program. During your time of self discovery, you can dig deeply into your problems to understand the origin of them and what has to be done in order to change.
For more information, consider purchasing these books: “Erotic Intelligence: Igniting hot, healthy sex while in recovery from sex addiction” by Alexandra Katehakis; “Don’t Call it Love: Recovery from sexual addiction” by Patrick Carnes; and “Facing the Shadow: Starting sexual and relationship recovery” by Patrick Carnes.
Page credit: Alexandra Katehakis, Center for Healthy Sex“