Sex Addiction is is a psychological and physiological disease that impacts brain chemistry in ways that are very similar to any other addiction. It is defined by four characteristics:
- COMPULSION: The addict experiences intense internal thoughts, impulses, images, and body sensations that drive toward needing relief. These pressures are experienced as “not me” by the addict, as out of his conscious control. In substance abuse and gambling addictions, relief is obtained by using alcohol/drugs or by gambling; in sexual addiction, relief is obtained by engaging in sexual behavior such as intercourse and masturbation. When prevented from obtaining relief, the addict’s ability to function normally is impaired as his focus narrows toward finding relief. He cannot attend to normal life work and relationships. His mood and sense of well-being are impaired; he becomes irritable, angry, and blaming toward those he thinks are preventing him from obtaining relief. He may try to kill himself and/or abuse alcohol and drugs to stop the pressure as he experiences his inability to control himself.
- DAMAGE: The addict’s preoccupation damages his life by narrowing his field of interest considerably, leaving out normal life and relationships. Instead of enjoying his child’s ball game, he focuses on getting away to masturbate. Instead of appreciating that his wife is a kind and loving person, he focuses only on her willingness to have sex with him. The addict places his own needs and wishes above the needs and wishes of his family and of his workplace. This hurts those people and eventually drives those people away from him. The addict places himself in physical danger by having sex with strangers or others who can hurt him and brings his family into this danger with him. He places his physical health at risk of sexually transmitted disease.
- ACCOMMODATION: The addict’s efforts to obtain the pleasurable release he craves become less and less effective. He needs to do more to feel the release. Hi body “gets used to” the pattern he has established to obtain relief and the amount of sex, the kind of sex lose their power to satisfy. He will attempt to increase and change his preferred pattern of obtaining satisfaction and explore different ways of being sexual, which often means an increase in danger.
- DETERIORATION: Addictions proceed toward chaos. The addict is trying to live his life in a way that doesn’t meet all the requirements of a healthy life but does include very toxic elements such as thrill-seeking, being organized around pleasure, narcissistic self-involvement and danger. When this life plan doesn’t work, his solution is to do more of it, not to change how he lives. A disintegrating cycle operates: the worse life is, the more sex is the answer, leading to even worse results. Many sex addicts lose their families, their jobs, their self-respect, and even their lives.
TREATMENT FOR SEX ADDICTS:
Addiction is a physiological and psychological disease process that is possible to recognize and improve. Treatment depends upon how severe the addiction is, how long it has been going on, and how much emotional and physiological capability the addict brings to the treatment. In-patient intensive treatment is often the best place to start, followed by out-patient psychotherapy twice a week.
In psychotherapy, sex addicts work on:
- Recognizing the components of the addiction, increasing their awareness of when these components as active, separating the components of the addiction from the addicts view of how life should be and how he is as a person. The addict learns to define it that when he goes without sex the depression and anger that result are artifacts of his addiction, not meaningful information in his relationship with his wife. He learns that he feels very bad when he experiences compulsion, which is not the same thing as “not getting sex”. He learns that when people tell him things about himself that do not seem true to him, those people should not be dismissed out of hand, but that his ability to perceive himself is quite skewed. He learns to see how he insists, argues, manipulates, and pressures others to get what he wants.
- Tolerating the pain of compulsion without engaging in sexual activity.
- Revealing the secret life the addict has been living, by reporting fantasies, activities, wishes, resentment, and grudges he has been keeping secret. In Sex Addicts Anonymous and in therapy groups sex addicts can begin to come out of the cartoon-like narrow self and be known authentically by other people.
- Developing the ability to have relationships with other people that actually nourish and satisfy and which are also mutually nourishing and satisfying. Eventually, this healthy connection with others will sustain the recovering addict with good feelings about himself and others, good feelings that are deeper, safer, and which grow and develop over time. The addict has to develop the capacity to notice and appreciate these calmer, less exciting experiences.
- Exploring the sexual history of himself and his family, including any trauma that occurred. Understanding the sexual teachings of his parents and how those messages were transmitted to him. Tracking the history of his sexual development and activity and how those experiences shaped him.
- Defining sexual sobriety. Doing the hard work of figuring out what acceptable sexual thoughts and activities are and learning to stay within those confines.
- Repairing Damage: The addict learns to hear the people he hurt tell him about the hurt he caused and to care that he hurt them. He learns to take responsibility for his bad treatment of others without defending himself or excusing himself or blaming the other person. He learns that his loved ones are separate people who make their own decisions about how or if they wish to continue in relationship with him. He learns to accept the results of how he has lived and treated others.