What is Sex Addiction?
Below are the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about sexual addiction. Please visit www.sexhelp.com for additional information or visit the resources section of my website for recommended reading.
Sex addiction is defined as any sexually related, compulsive behavior that interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, loved ones and one’s work environment.
Sex addiction has been called sexual dependency and sexual compulsivity. By any name, it is a compulsive behavior that completely dominates the addict’s life. Sex addicts make sex a priority more important than family, friends and work and they are willing to sacrifice what they cherish most in order to preserve and continue their unhealthy behavior.
No single behavior pattern defines sex addiction. These behaviors, when they have taken control of addicts’ lives and become unmanageable, compulsive masturbation, anonymous sex, pornography, prostitution, exhibitionism, voyeurism, indecent phone calls, massage parlors, strip clubs and, in the most extreme cases, child molesting, incest, rape and violence.
What behavior patterns may indicate a pattern of sexually addictive behavior?
While an actual diagnosis for sexual addiction should be carried out by a mental health professional, the following behavior patterns may indicate the presence of sexual addiction. Individuals who see any of these patterns in their own life, or in the life of someone they care about, should seek professional help. Please visit www.recoveryzone.com to access the sexual addiction screening test (SAST) for help in determining the presence of sexual addiction.
- “Acting out” – A pattern of out-of-control sexual behavior
- Experiencing severe consequences due to sexual behavior and an inability to stop despite these adverse consequences including loss of partner or spouse, severe marital or relationship problems, loss of career opportunities, unwanted pregnancies, suicide obsession and/or attempts, exposure to AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases and legal risks.
- Persistent pursuit of self-destructive behavior
- Ongoing desire or effort to limit sexual behavior
- Sexual obsession and fantasy as a primary coping strategy
- Regularly increasing the amount of sexual experience because the current level of activity is no longer sufficiently satisfying
*Many sex addicts report “bingeing” to the point of emotional exhaustion. The emotional pain of withdrawal for sex addicts can parallel the physical pain experienced by those withdrawing from opiate addiction.
- Severe mood changes related to sexual activity
- Inordinate amounts of time spent obtaining sex, being sexual, and recovering from sexual experiences
- Neglect of important social, occupational, and/or recreational activities because of sexual behavior
Spouses/Partners of Sex Addicts
What sets us apart from other treatment centers and programs is our unique perspective and approach to betrayal trauma on partners and spouses.
One very sad consequence of betrayal, deception and infidelity in a relationship is the traumatic impact of the addiction on the partner or spouse who often requires help and support in order to heal. Research has shown that spouses/partners of sex addicts report the same traumatic symptoms and responses seen in victims of sexual assault and rape. These individuals often present with many of the symptoms of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that impedes their ability to function in every day life. The majority report that even more disturbing and painful than the sexual behavior are the lies, secrets and subsequent broken trust associated with the addiction. In the discovery process, partners learn that the person they trusted most had been living a double life, often for many years. In response, they enter a grieving process similar to those who mourn the death of a loved one, as they recognize the loss of the relationship or marriage they believed they had. They feel as though their inner world has been shattered and experience a loss of existential identity due to contradictions to core values and beliefs; in other words, everything they believed to be true prior to learning about the betrayal is no longer true. This leaves many partners feeling completely disoriented and unable to make sense of the world and unable to trust their partner, the world and, ultimately, themselves.
Spouses/partners frequently feel embarrassed talking to friends or family about the addiction because of fear of being judged or told to leave the relationship. They fear that others might blame them or think them responsible for the addiction in some way. They might believe that the addiction is a reflection of something they did or did not do. They might fear strong opinions from people who don’t believe in sex addiction and label it an excuse for bad behavior. For any one of these reasons, betrayed partners/spouses are often left without the necessary support to cope with their feelings of shock, anger, grief and pain upon discovering the sex addiction or infidelity.
Historically, sex addiction treatment focused exclusively on the sex addict, and little attention was given to the spouse/partner. Over the past few years I have seen a dramatic shift in the field as more and more mental health professionals are beginning to provide services and resources that only a few years ago were scarce and often unavailable. I am thrilled at the growing number of treatment centers and outpatient practices that are now offering programs specifically for partners. This is an exciting evolution in the field of psychotherapy and I am proud to count myself among the early advocates of partner care and treatment.
Working with spouses/partners has been my specialization since 2008. I am a passionate advocate of the Partner Trauma Model and served on the board of The Association of Partners of Sex Addicts (APSATS) from it’s inception in 2012 until June of 2014.
I work from a trauma perspective, focusing first on re-establishing safety after the shock of discovery. I offer individual, couples and group therapy and often work collaboratively with other professionals to coordinate a team approach to treatment when appropriate.