‘Sex addict’ is one of those terms that can make us really uncomfortable. This is especially true when it’s a label used to describe us or a loved one, like our spouse. I personally believe our discomfort comes in large part due to the way society stereotypes addiction. There is always a certain amount of shame associated with addiction, but sexual addiction seems to bring the most shame and embarrassment to the sufferer and his/her loved ones. It is for this reason, many sufferers want to hide their addiction from their family and friends and instead, suffer in silence – where the addiction has its biggest stronghold.
Removing the stigma
I want to help remove some of that stigma for you. Sexual addiction is simply compulsive sexual behavior. It is the persistent sexual thoughts and the craving, or need, for sex that disrupts your ability to function at work, school, in relationships, and other daily activities. That compulsion can manifest itself in many ways like watching porn (sometimes for hours a day), visiting strip clubs, massage parlors or prostitutes. It could also be online chat rooms or multiple sex partners.
Here is what it is not:
It is not a “men only” issue – While men make up, by far, the largest percentage of the sex addiction population, women can and do suffer from sexual addiction as well although it presents differently.
It does not mean you are a sexual offender, molester, or creepy pervert – While it’s true that some people with sexual addictions turn to illegal or criminal behavior to satisfy their compulsive need for the “high” that comes from sexual fulfillment, most sex addicts are law-abiding citizens.
It is not about having a ‘high sex drive’ – Sex addiction really isn’t about the sex as much as it is about addiction. It is labeled “addiction” because the arousal is primarily in the brain. The sexual activities create dopamine spikes in the brain that require more and more of the same behavior to get the same high. Here is a short animation that shows how all addictions can snare the brain.
Talking about it
As sexual issues are becoming more prevalent – and they are – couples are struggling with how to talk about the proverbial ‘elephant in the room,’ much less actually finding a real solution. So what do they do?
They do what most of us are tempted to do when we aren’t sure how to find a solution or we don’t like the solution we find. We hope. We hope it’s not a big deal. We hope it’s just a phase. We hope things will get better on their own once life gets less busy and things settle down. But as a leader once told me, “Hope is never a strategy.”
As a therapist, I see first-hand that sexual issues in a relationship don’t just don’t go away. Instead, they get worse over time and a couple ends up feeling even more disconnected and alone. One of the more common issues I see in my practice are husbands who no longer seem to be interested in sex and wives who feel unwanted and alone. Though not always the case, sexual addiction is often at play.
The connection to pornography
One of the most prevalent ways sexual addiction shows up is via pornography. Ironically, pornography is more readily available and socially acceptable than ever before (some even see it as helpful to a relationship) and yet it’s often a significant contributor to the sexual issues I see in marriages. Even more ironic, is couples often use porn together to stimulate desire and increase satisfaction. Porn is still viewed as harmless entertainment by many but research begs us to question this idea.
While not everyone who watches porn becomes addicted, it is reported that over ⅓ of the men in the country consider themselves to have a problem and that is just those who report. I even had a client who bought her husband a visit to a happy ending massage parlor for his birthday because she thought it was harmless and had no clue he had an addiction.
As I described earlier, porn hijacks the brain. It causes the user to prioritize tantalizing imaginary relationships over real human interactions, such that sexual experiences with a partner are no longer enough to get that high. In fact, when someone develops a sex addiction, they eventually stop deriving any enjoyment from sex. Instead, they engage in compulsive sexual activities simply to avoid underlying negative feelings. And for some, porn becomes their “gateway drug” that leads to risky or even illegal sexual activity.
In the last 8 years, I’ve really seen the impact porn has on marriage and the couple’s ability to be intimate with each other emotionally, mentally, physically, and eventually in the bedroom.
There are therapists, like me, who are specialists in sex addiction who can help both you and your spouse recognize when addiction is contributing to the issues in your marriage, and then work with you to address them. The care is discreet and focused on helping you understand the triggers and giving you tools to overcome them.
In my next blog, I will give you some warning signs that may indicate your spouse is suffering from sex addiction. But if you already know addiction is plaguing your relationship, don’t wait and watch your marriage and family erode away. All it takes is a phone call or a quick email to initiate the first step to healing and freedom. I can help you.