What does Desperate Housewives, Sex and the City, The Hills, 90210 and the ABC show Dirty Sexy Money all have in common? You guessed it – sex! We are inundated with so many explicit messages from Hollywood about sex. In a culture obsessed with sex, it might seem surprising that we don’t hear more about sex addiction. However, there is plenty of information for people addicted to alcohol, drugs and gambling. In a culture where sex, like alcohol, is socially acceptable and encouraged, and sexual images and provocation abound, it becomes more challenging to distinguish between normal sexuality and excessive, or abnormal, sexual behavior. With recent allegations about Tiger Woods more attention about Sexual Addictions is coming to the forefront. Therapists today are better able to understand and treat this sexual disorder.
Sexual Addiction – What is it?
The National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity has defined sexual addiction as “engaging in persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behavior acted out despite increasing negative consequences to self and others. In other words, a sex addict will continue to engage in certain sexual behaviors despite facing potential health risks, financial problems, shattered relationships or even arrest.
Behaviors associated with sexual addiction include:
- Compulsive masturbation (self-stimulation)
- Multiple affairs (extra-marital affairs)
- Multiple or anonymous sexual partners and/or one-night stands
- Consistent use of pornography
- Unsafe sex
- Phone or computer sex (cybersex)
- Prostitution or use of prostitutes
- Obsessive dating through personal ads
- Voyeurism (watching others) and/or stalking
- Sexual harassment
Sexual Addiction – What causes it?
Sexual addiction can simply be seen as a coping mechanism (much as alcohol is to the alcoholic, food to the overeater, etc.). However, as with many mental health issues, the causes of this addiction are complex. I often see some common themes such as: abuse in childhood, lack of adequate nurturing as a child, intimacy problems, depression, anxiety and certain ingrained personality factors.Another significant contribution is the way men are socialized.
The research of Dr. Patrick Carnes, the leading authority on sexual addiction, has led him to estimate that about 60% of adult sex addicts were sexually abused by someone during their childhood.
Differences between Men and Women in Sex Addiction
The triple A Engine of the Internet – accessibility, affordability, and anonymity – is drawing women, as well as men, into its dark side. Female Internet activity, though, is generally more relational. Women are drawn more to chat rooms, rather then merely viewing pornography. Another way women get drawn into sex addiction can be obsessively reading hot steamy novels or watching “love” movies and then letting their minds wonder to the possibilities that they are the main character in the book or on the screen.
Healing from Sex Addiction
There are a number of key ingredients that make recovery possible.
5 Tips for Recover from Sexual Addictions
Relationships. Supportive relationships can assist in healing the trauma and the key to long-term recovery. Addicts cannot recover in isolation. Addicts were wounded in relationships, and they have to heal in relationships. Fellowship is also the antidote to lust. Healthy fellowship is what will help the addict become free from lust.
Accountability. It’s not enough to just have fellowship. Addicts can have fellowship that does not involve accountability, and that’s not going to solve the problem. Addicts need people who know their story and who will hold them accountable for the rituals as well as for the acting out.
Counseling. The Twelve Steps lead addicts through a methodical process that focuses on their addictive behaviors and on the defects of character that underlie the addictive behaviors. But the Twelve Steps, as wonderful and useful as they are, will not adequately address all the problems of abuse and abandonment that are at the root of sexual addiction. That’s not their goal. The goal of Twelve Step programs is sobriety. And sobriety gives us an opportunity to work on the other problems that have led to the addictions or that accompany the addictions.
Courage. Recovery requires courage. It is a difficult journey—and one that is not undertaken lightly or easily. For many giving up an addiction feels like death. It is the addiction that has helped individuals cope with the wounds of abuse and abandonment. When there are no other, healthier coping skills, becoming abstinent from the addictions can be an absolutely terrifying, incredibly painful process. That’s another reason why the fellowship and accountability is so important. Without support individuals will inevitably retreat into “safer” territory.
Grace. The experience of grace is central to the recovery process.
Author: Janie Lacy