Understanding Sex Addiction

| by Jill Sweetman

Sex addicts act out in many ways from masturbation while viewing magazines and online pornography to frequent casual sex. A supposedly good person may look pious and upright, but is frequenting prostitutes. Perhaps a spouse infrequently sneaks out of home to catch glimpses of another undressing. Some visit strip bars several times a week, while other partners have affair after affair, constantly on the hunt for sexual involvement.

While partners of these addicts wonder why this person won't stop, it is not a simple matter of willpower, being sorry, and instant change. This behavior is compulsive with many underlying problems. It is a time-consuming and costly addiction, as much time is taken in coverup and maintaining sexual activity to alter one’s mood.

Some of the following keys are found in sex addicts:

A sex addict may have experienced early sexualization or sexual abuse. A child may have seen explicit sex or been exposed to pornography. The child then becomes the perpetrator, repeating what has happened to him, repeating intrusive sexuality. On the other hand, one may become a sex addict due to being a part of a rigid and nonaffectionate family. Sex addiction is often a form of attempting to gain control.

Sex addicts often have low esteem, can find little purpose in life, or feel insecure. Relationships are hard while he feels out of control. Of course, sexual addiction only increases this shame.

Sex addicts often lead double lives. While loving family, they spend hours maintaining their addiction. If a Christian, he is riddled with guilt, as this behavior goes against his beliefs, but he feels if he is exposed, he will lose all. Nevertheless, he struggles to stop the addiction, as it maintains his mood.

The sex addict often has no close friends, while often sex addicts may know one another, protecting each other to stave off loneliness. The marriage will tend also to be shallow. They wish that sex could drown out the pain and create intimacy, but due to their many issues, this is an impossibility as lovemaking is deeply relational.

Sex addicts suffer from constant guilt, shame and pain. Addicts feel ashamed and unacceptable, alleviate the shame with their addiction, only then to feel the shame return. Some of this can be traced back to childhood, where the child needed acceptance, affirmation, boundaries, to be loved and to give love.

The sex addict often has a need to live on the edge and to be outrageous. Sneaking around to hotels, calling prostitutes, glimpses on computers, as the addict needs the adrenaline rush. This is often at its highest when life is stressful.

Finally, the sex addict uses sex to relieve stress, to celebrate an accomplishment or to relieve boredom. It is nothing to do with intimacy, mutual enjoyment or relationships. Rather this use of sex uses others, and results in immense guilt and dissatisfaction. While the addict has lost perspective, sex becomes the most important thing in life.

For the sex addict, sex has lost its real meaning, that of one-flesh companionship, and is therefore used destructively, hurting those around them.

While words are instant, the breaking out of addiction takes much longer. The understanding, love and grace of family and friends is crucial despite the betrayal, pain and shock. Family issues and lack of intimacy will need to be worked on, and so a partner cannot be an addict’s accountability.

Accountability and help can come through a support group, and here one can find the support to work through denial. No accountability generally leads to no recovery.

All addictive behavior must stop, and sometimes this interferes with the sexual relationship with a partner. There will be grief and relapses, but as the addiction is brought under control, relapses hopefully are less and less. Lying and hiding has become a way of life for the addict, as he knows when he is going to act out. In these times, he has a choice as to whether he finds a friend or a therapist to talk through the situation, or to continue in the addiction.

The sex addict needs to make the choice to become relentlessly honest, and at first truthfulness is not a natural thing. This person with whom to become honest is likely a therapist or good friend who will love unconditionally despite the addiction, and will hold the addict accountable. While the addict is honest with a spouse, this burden cannot be theirs.

Pain in this addiction is related to the desire to be intimate, but a fear of what might happen. Groups to practice interrelational skills are good opportunities, as these move the addict toward intimate relationships. Addiction goes against intimacy as it is not trusting, not fun, holds no positivity, warmth or comfort or honest and open communication. While partners of addicts will need help and support themselves, the addict initially will find these interrelational groups difficult, but over time, will find relationships easier.

Marriage seminars and workshops are helpful to build the marriage, as the intimacy in the marriage may be being examined for the first time. Sex is relational rather than being objective. Communication skills and how to nurture and show love to one’s partner are essential. This is a process that takes time and patience rather than, as said previously, merely words spoken.