Sex Addiction is a true addiction. It is not a descriptor or an excuse for bad behavior. Hallmark symptoms include prolonged periods of time in which sex and sexual acts are fantasized about, planned and engaged in. Individuals continue the behavior despite sexually transmitted diseases [I include computer viruses in this], consequences in relationships, at work and at home. Individuals who are compulsive sexually are not able to stop despite these consequences or hope that they will be able to hide their behavior before they are caught.
There are many issues that surround Sex Addiction including intimacy issues, objectification of self and others, body image issues, attachment issues, avoidance of connection, work avoidance, excitement seeking, and management of depression and anxiety. Process addictions are primarily thought and behaviorally directed. The “addiction” is to an internal cocktail of neurotransmitters. We currently view the sex addict’s “cocktail” as comprised of neurotransmitters and hormones including serotonin, dopamine, testosterone [this is true for men and women], oxytocin, and adrenaline. Research shows that when individuals, who are compulsive sexually, stop their behavior, abstain from sexual acting out and acting in, they experience withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal Symptoms include but are not limited to:
- Muscle pain and joint aches
- Sleep issues: insomnia and/or too much sleep
- Irritability, moodiness and anxiety
- Increased sexual arousal and/or decreased sexual arousal
- Genital sensitivity
- Appetite increase
- Itchy skin
Questions that I am often asked:
How much sex is too much sex?
The answer is specific to each individual. We generally define “too much sex” as being sexual or thinking about sex so much that it interferes with work, relationships, time commitments, personal promises or socializing non-sexually with others.
Who decides if I am a sex addict?
Generally, you have the most information about your behaviors, thoughts and awareness of how your life is constructed. Therefore, you are the expert when it comes to your sexual behavior and whether or not it consumes your thoughts and therefore your daily life. However, there are specific symptoms and behaviors that fall under the rubric of “Sex Addict” so that a doctor or other professional can diagnose the disorder for you.
How does one treat Sex Addiction?
There are many approaches to treating sex addiction. As with almost all addictions and compulsions the whole individual must be treated: we must look to the physical, emotional and spiritual health of the individual. Generally, we must first identify and accept the symptoms as they are. As with alcoholics and drug addicts, abstaining from the compulsive behaviors is the first order of business. Treatment includes working in conjunction with internists, OB/Gyns, 12 step programs, group and individual therapies.
Generally, when recovering from addictive behaviors, we find that the first year of recovery focuses on physical recovery: How do I live without my drug of choice?
The second year tends to focus on emotional recovery: Now that I know I can live without my drug of choice, what do I do with my feelings?
The third year tends to focus on existential matters which are referred to as spiritual matters. Spiritual work does encompass addressing those existential needs we humans have of needing to connect with others, to have purpose and meaning in our lives, and the ability to feel of value within our world. It does not necessarily include working within a religious paradigm.
Loving a Sex Addict
Partners of sex addicts run the gamut of symptoms, knowledge of their partner’s addiction and reactions to disclosure of the illness. Some partners know of and participate in the addict’s sexual compulsion. Others know on some level about their partner’s issues or believe that the behavior is in the past. Other partners have no idea that their loved one is a sex addict until an event occurs like an arrest, a sexually transmitted disease, job loss or the appearance of internet proof. Regardless of whether or not you know of the issue or believed it to be under control, discovery and realization of the severity of your partner’s sexual compulsion can be devastating. Many of my clients experience what I refer to as retroactive traumatization as they review earlier events through the new lens of revelation. Suddenly certain confusing memories make sense, suspicions are confirmed. The realization that their partner could live next to them holding the secret successfully is shatters well-being and emotional safety.
What is it like to be the Partner of a Sex Addict?
Here are some comments from clients that may describe aspects of your experience:
- “I feel so alone in this relationship.”
- “I need to stay one room ahead of him when he comes home. If we’re in the same room at the same time? We’re having sex. It’s a given.”
- “I feel so special when I’m chosen. I feel so bad when he chooses someone else.”
- “I hate his computer.”
- “I don’t know what to tell the kids. I don’t know what to tell my family.”
- “I have our wedding vows framed and hanging by the front door so that she remembers she is married.”
- “If I could just figure out why he does this I know I can help him stop it.”
- “I hate myself. I hate what we do. I wish I could stop but if I do, he’ll just go do it with someone else.”
- “I have to make sure he doesn’t spend too much time with them. If he has another affair I won’t be able to stand it. Our relationship will be over and I can’t imagine what that means so it can’t happen.”
- “Our secret isolates us. I feel so alien. No one can possibly understand.”
Partners of Sex Addicts carry their own secrets, pain and history. All relationships are contracts and partners of sex addicts often carry the burden of both sides of the contract. Often feeling responsible for the decisions of others, the partner of a sex addict takes on more and more of the consequences of the addict’s compulsions.
Here is the unpredictable piece for people who live with sex addiction: the symptoms carried by the wife or partner of a sex addict are the mirror image of the sex addict’s symptoms.
- Both parties obsess about the sexual activity whether recent or in the past.
- Neither is able to live fully and consciously in the moment.
- Both experience the addiction process as a prison.
- Both hope the other party will get better so that their own lives will feel less chaotic or troubled.
- Both struggle with intimacy issues.
The power of treatment for someone who loves a sex addict is the ability to reclaim your life from the addiction. It is possible to separate yourself from the addict’s behaviors and respond instead of react to behaviors and crises that have driven your relationship. The ability to understand your partner’s addiction and free yourself from the consequences of his addiction cannot be matched.