What Is Sexual Addiction?
What is sexual addiction? “Every time I am alone, I am compelled to be sexually active.” My client shared this with me. She was sobbing. Everyone at times has sexual feelings and thoughts when alone. To say otherwise is most likely a profound entrenchment in denial. Some of us move through these moments with ease, acceptance, and self-control. We seem to be left better for them. We enjoy the fruit of our decision to anchor our sensibilities in the truth of what sex is and is not, and we can enjoy the mystery of it all. We welcome these moments because they are formative and enlightening as well as human. They deepen our self-understanding and increase our capabilities to bond to those whom we care about deeply.
Yet my client and others like her (or him) experience these moments with a sense of terror and anxiety so great that it shakes their confidence in discerning what is real and what is not. When alone, sexual addicts feel so overwhelmed by their anxieties and emotional pain that they do what they know works to bring at least a moment of calm. For them, that is an excessive working of their solution to comfort themselves, beyond what is normal and healthy. My client in many ways is a bit mistaken about what her focus is. She is actually not compelled to act out sexually, she is compelled to be contented and comforted. Her choice to use sexual outlets is the way she has learned, and so is driven, to find that momentary comfort. This is an important point in understanding what sexual addiction is and is not.
Sexual addiction is a complex convergence of habits, attitudes, strategies, perspectives, circumstances, and other distinctives that combine to seek contentment. And due to the very high number of sexual addicts reporting having other addictions as well, sexual addiction carries with it the enslaving interaction of other addictions that support each other – more on that very interesting point in upcoming blogs. When everything is stripped away from sexual addiction behavior itself, what is left and cannot be removed is underlying ever-present, emotional, life pain of some kind that has never been resolved in a healthy way. Otherwise, there really is not a sexual addiction. There is just a compulsion problem around sex. I will write more about this point and others in later blogs. But for now, this blog’s focus is discussing some basics about what sexual addiction and is not, and it needs to be noted that because of this complexity sexual addiction is best assessed and treated by qualified and specifically trained professionals.
Another client shared with me his stubbornly lingering thoughts about ways to sexually act out. He plans continually and is preoccupied with opportunities to carry out his plans. He has established routines (rituals) that have become so powerful in his mind that just a simple or brief thought of them, kicks off states of obsessive thoughts that direct him to ways to be sexual. They interrupt his ability to get normal things done, a continual battle distracting him from various personal and vocational responsibilities.
Sexual addiction, if untreated, takes a person in so many different directions and all of them are harmful and destructive. Why? The addiction has a nature of its own and is motivated to shield the person from bad feelings for the moment. It is as if the addiction takes on the role of a guardian, protecting the person’s awareness of what is always present – painful feelings born of negative experiences and beliefs about the self. As mentioned earlier, pain is the anchor keeping the addiction alive. It takes its cues and gets its energy from negative beliefs that are always rooted in lies that are kept alive through distorted systems of thinking. For healthy individuals, experiencing bad feelings is only an occasional nuisance and thus doesn’t lead to such distorted solutions that are really no solutions at all.
I am reminded of another client. At his first appointment he described his intense distress that resulted from the many consequences of his sexually acting out. He was obsessed with sexual thoughts, scenarios, and plans, and his ability to control himself did not exist, even though his losses were severe. He lost his family. He lost his reputation and social standing in the community, and as the losses mounted, the frequency of his acting out behavior increased and the levels of risk to his physical health increased. Pain upon more pain! As he thought about the catastrophic turns his life was taking, one day he said to me “…they are not working and they are not working.” “What do you mean?” I asked. He said the “…behaviors are not solving my problems [pain] and their consequences are not stopping me from doing them. But I can’t stop. I hate this.” Wow, a pertinent description of the life of a sexual addict. He needed help. Do you or someone you know need help? There is hope. There is help available. Stop the roller coaster of destruction. Call today.