Understanding sexual addiction
Sexual addiction is an intimacy disorder, where the addict uses sexually compulsive behaviors as a soothing strategy to escape the deep internal fears and tensions of their heart.
Sex addicts are masters of deception. Addicts organize their life around their secret sexual behaviors. Uninterrupted, the need for these behaviors increases to the point where pursuit of a sexual high begins to interfere with everyday life. Consequences begin to surface: relationships with family and friends are severely strained, productivity at work decreases, finances are drained. Denial protects the addict from comprehending the huge costs associated with their actions. Eventually the desperate addict “hits bottom” and realizes they cannot control their sexual behaviors. Out of this desperate place emerges the possibility for something different.
Sexually compulsive behaviors take many forms. Sexually compulsive behaviors may include one or more of the following: obsessive masturbation, pornography, sexually explicit stories, fantasy, multiple heterosexual and homosexual relationships, massage parlors, strip clubs, prostitution, exhibitionism, voyeurism, indecent phone calls, incest, rape, and child molesting.
Sexual addiction is not a lack of will power, an insufficient faith in God and prayer, nor a weakness of character.
Signs of a problem
Some common symptoms of sexual addiction:
- Going further with a sexual experience than intended
- Using money for sex that was intended for something else
- Lying about sexual behaviors
- Using work time to engage in sexual behaviors
- Using false pretenses in order to get sex
- Pursing a sexual experience despite the threat of being caught
- Having sex despite the fear of STDs
- Doing something that is sexually painful
- Continuing to violate personal morals and beliefs despite many vows to stop
- Avoiding social or family obligations to pursue sex
- Losing track of time while engaging in sexual behaviors
- Obsessing about a person or sexual experience
- Declining interest in hobbies, sports or spiritual activities
- Feeling the need to hide parts of self for fear of being rejected
- Experiencing shame and despair after being sexual
This is not a comprehensive list of symptoms. If you can relate to some of these behaviors, you may want to take the Sexual Addiction Screening Test. It is a simple and free 25 question test that can help assess if you have a problem with sexual addiction. Like any screening tool, it will give you an indication of the presence or absence of addiction, but the SAST will not yield a diagnosis. Further assessment is required for making a formal diagnosis.
Sexual addiction recovery
Sexual addiction recovery is a journey toward grace and healthy intimacy. Community is a necessary component of recovery – one cannot do recovery by alone.
Unlike an addiction to drugs or alcohol, where recovery entails lifelong abstinence from the substance, sex addicts in recovery must be able to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy sexuality. Humans are sexual beings by nature and thus cannot live full abundant lives without their sexuality.
Recovery will involve both developing an in depth awareness of one’s emotional stressors, triggers, and high risk environments that have historically led to sexually acting out and learning behavioral interventions to utilize in moments of temptation to prevent relapse.
Once the addict is able to use their recovery tools to prevent further compulsive behavior, they can then begin to process through the root causes of their addiction which in turn reduces the need for the addictive coping mechanism. The recovering addict learns healthy ways of both expressing emotions, desires and needs and soothing and caring for self. Recovery is not just a matter of not acting out.
Eventually the recovering addict will experience true intimacy, healthy sexuality and oodles of self-compassion.
There are many resources available now for understanding and getting help with sex and porn addiction. Here a few resources that I often refer to:
Internet resources (for addict)
- Sexual Addiction Screening Tool (SAST)
- International Institute of Trauma and Addictions Professionals (IITAP)
Books (for addict)
- The Porn Trap: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by Pornography by Wendy and Larry Maltz
- Facing the Shadow (workbook) by Dr. Patrick Carnes
- Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction by Dr. Patrick Carnes
- Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men by Robert Weiss
- Recovery Zone, Volume 1- Making Changes that Last: The Internal Tasks by Patrick Carnes
- Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction by Mark Laaser (written from Christian perspective)
- Disclosing Secrets: An Addict’s Guide for When, to Whom, and How Much to Reveal by Deborah Corley and Jennifer Schneider
- No Stones: Women Redeemed from Sexual Addiction by Marnie C. Ferree
Books (for partners)
- Deceived: Facing Sexual Betrayal, Lies, and Secrets by Claudia Black
- Mending a Shattered Heart: A Guide for Partners of Sex Addicts edited by Stephanie Carnes
- Facing Heartbreak: Steps to Recovery for Partners of Sex Addicts (workbook) by Stephanie Carnes, Mari Lee, and Anthony Rodriguez
- Intimate Treason: Healing the Trauma for Partners Confronting Sex Addiction (workbook) by Claudia Black and Cara Tripoldi
- A Gentle Path Through the Twelve Steps: The Classic Guide for All People in the Process of Recovery by Patrick Carnes
- Touchstones: A Book Of Daily Meditations For Men
- Answers in the Heart: Daily Meditations For Men And Women Recovering From Sex Addiction (Hazelden Meditation Series)
- Thanks for Sharing (2013) – Note: this film does contain nudity and sexualized content
- Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)
12-Step Fellowships (for addicts)
- Puget Sound SA (Sexaholics Anonymous)
- Puget Sound SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous)
- Puget Sound SLAA (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous)
- Prodigals (Christian based)
- Pure Desire (Christian based)
- Celebrate Recovery (Christian based)
12-Step Fellowships (for partners)
Inpatient residential treatment centers
- The Meadows
- Pine Grove
Intensive outpatient treatment centers
- Psychological Counseling Service (PCS), Scottsdale, AZ
- Sexual Recovery Institute (SRI), Los Angeles, CA