Healing Sex Addiction
Shame. Isolation. And despair so dark and thick it sticks to the soul. That is the world of the sex addict. It is no better for partners and family members.
It has been said that of all addictions, sex is the most difficult to manage. The heroin addict can learn to live without his drug. The alcoholic can learn to avoid bars. But a sex addiction is different. Theirs is a daily, sometimes hourly fight to avoid themselves. A sex addiction is a complex mix of psychological, cultural, family-of-origin and biological issues. It becomes a melting pot of triggers steeped in emotions from fear and anger to guilt and shame. For every sex addict suffering in silence there is a partner trapped in a whirlwind of emotions. On top of that, add children, siblings and other family members that suffer just as much from the trauma of addiction without even a hint of the cause.
Facing a sex addict and then taking the steps to recover is a challenge no one wants to take on. But in the end, the sex addict has no choice.
Without treatment, nothing changes. A sex addiction is far too powerful and complex to tackle alone. It takes the highly honed skills and extensive training of a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist to understand the intricacies of this disease and how it sickens the addict and the partner with a equally deadly venom. But there is hope. Coming out of denial and learning what a sex addiction is all about is the first step on the road to recovery.
Is Sex Really an Addiction?
Sex is a healthy and meaningful part of life, until it isn't. When it spins out of control everything changes. It becomes a compulsion. Sex becomes merely an act that has nothing to do with the other person. Like heroin, it becomes a drug and more and more intensity is needed to satisfy the urge. It might start out with pornography, phone sex, prostitution or cyber sex. It sometimes escalates and becomes riskier. The individual might turn to more extreme sexual behaviors to achieve the same high. The high is never high enough. Sex with strangers. Sex without protection. Sex with multiple partners. Sex on the job.
A sex addict might risk everything, their health, their relationships, their careers and their homes. Nothing becomes too risky. Nothing stands in the way of their addiction. The most highly disciplined, accomplished individuals on this planet are not match for a sex addiction. Physicians, politicians and sports stars have all sacrificed it all for a sex addiction.
Between 9 and 18 million people have a sex addiction in the United States. Most live in denial and isolation, too terrified to tell a partner; too ashamed to even say the words aloud that could lead to treatment. They live in denial, trapped by the lie that they just have a high sex drive or the problem lies with their partner, not them. Or they believe that with enough will power, they can stop at any time. They come up with a thousand reasons why they are not a sex addict. And it works, at least until their world falls apart. Maybe their partner leaves or they get fired from their job for watching porn on their computer. There's no getting around the reality that they have a sex addiction.
How to Know if Someone Has a Sex Addiction
As a sex addiction escalates the symptoms become more extreme. Characteristics of a sex addict include:
- They have a pattern of out-of-control sexual behavior.
- They continue in that pattern even though it is destroying their lives.
- They will often pursue dangerous or high-risk sex.
- They are sexual even when they do not intend to be.
- They have serious life consequences because of their sexual behavior.
- Their sexual behavior affects their work, hobbies, friends and families.
- They use sex to help them control their moods and manage stress and anxiety.
- They obsess about sexual things so much that it interferes with normal living.
- They may have periods when they extinguish all sexual behavior and become sex averse.
What About the Partner
Being the partner of a sex addict is a lonely and depressing way to live. Partners suffer immensely. They may feel anger at their partner as well as guilt and shame. They may blame themselves or wonder if they weren't good enough to satisfy their partner. Or they may be so angry they can't begin to understand what has happened in their relationships.
Some may be terrified at the thought that family members or the neighbors will find out about the addiction. Or they blame their partner for ruining their relationship.
Sex addicts would stop if they could. They don't set out wanting to destroy their marriage and hurt their partners. But it takes time and therapy for partners to understand that.
And it takes the skill of a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist to help a partner understand what led them to get involved in the relationship in the first place. While the behavior of the addict is not about the partner, it profoundly impacts the partner. For that reason the partner requires just as much help in order to recover as the addict.
Being deceived by a partner is painful beyond words and there's no quick and easy way to recover from such a deception. Healing can begin when partners face the addiction and together walk the path to recovery.
How is a Sex Addiction Treated
As with any addiction treatment is complicated for both the sex addict and the partner. There's no one size-fits-all approach to healing sex addiction that works. The complexity of sex addiction requires a powerful approach that gets to the heart of the addiction.
Just as with alcoholism, substance abuse and gambling, a sex addiction starts with becoming sober and then learning how to live life in a new way that makes it possible to maintain that sobriety. It is not easy.
Individual therapy, group counseling, family therapy and a 12-step program are the foundation of a recovery program. Couples counseling is a must. This is not a "his problem, not mine" disease. Sex addiction is deeply wounding to both the addict and the partner.
Left untreated, partners of sex addicts never resolve their anger and grief; they simply carry the feelings with them into all their future relationships. If they stay with the addict without resolving their own anger and facing their feelings, the finger-pointing and shame will be so unbearable the relationship will not likely survive. Couples who do recover and thrive are able to put their own individual recovery first.
Research has shown that the inability to control sexual impulses is associated with chemical imbalances in the brain. But science alone cannot heal an addiction or put the addict on the road to recovery. It takes commitment to recover, on the part of the addict and the partner. But recovery is possible. Wounds can heal. And couples can learn to live together again.
About Mark Felber
Mark Felber is a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist CSAT who has trained with Dr. Patrick Carnes, a worldwide authority in sex addictions who developed a sex addiction training program after decades of extensive experience and research in the field.
The Certified Sex Addiction Therapist training he received is considered cutting edge and is becoming an industry standard. Dr. Carnes is viewed as a pioneer and expert in this demanding field.
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