Sex addiction can be defined as any sexual behavior that is secretive, shameful, or abusive (ie: manipulative, deceitful, or involving victims….including exhibitionism & voyeurism). It also involves continued participation in the behavior despite negative consequences. For men it can include acting out behaviors such as using prostitutes or sexual massages, prolonged use of pornography, chronic masturbation, anonymous sex, or multiple affairs. For women it can present as receiving a “high” from flirtation or seduction, attempts for power and control using their sexuality, mistaking sex for love, multiple affairs, inappropriate sexual energy or boundaries, sexual risk taking, exchange of sex for gifts or money, obsession or preoccupation with seduction or sex, and one night stands. It can show up when they are under the influence and they describe their sexual behaviors as “something I would never do sober.”
These are just a few examples of what sex addiction can look like. The major characteristics common throughout are obsession/preoccupation, fantasy, intensity, power, control, and consequences. Any behavior that causes consequences yet the behavior continues can be construed as an addiction. Likewise, most addicts have tried to control or change their behaviors at some point with little to no success, leaving them with feelings of guilt, shame, despair, anxiety, confusion, anger, and/or frustration.
Withdrawal from sex or love addiction can be very difficult. It can involve overwhelming feelings that can be experienced as painful or intolerable. It can also cause the obsessive behaviors to escalate, such as checking a partners MySpace page, looking through wallets and cell phone records, driving by their house, and asking friends for information about the persons recent activity.
To manage the uncomfortable or painful feelings the addict will medicate using anything to numb the pain. This can show up in the form of any other addictions that create the feeling of escape or distraction.
Sometimes when one addictive behavior decreases or gets eliminated, other behaviors/addictions will appear for the first time, or increase if they had already been present. This is referred to as
Cross Addiction, Co-Addiction, or Co-Occuring Addictions.
Some addicts will go for extended periods of time without any sexual involvement at all. This is called
Sexual Anorexia. It is often mistaken for recovery but it is not healthy sexuality. Many times, at this point, a person will engage in another addictions to take the place off their sexual acting out. This can look like disordered eating, shopping, sleeping, excessive computer use or TV watching, excessive exercising, unmanaged depression, gambling, alcohol or drugs, etc.
Recovery is possible but it should not be attempted alone. The best chance of recovery involves a combination of therapy with someone experienced with Sex & Love Addiction, as well as group therapy and a 12-step program. Even just finding a qualified therapist will significantly increase your chances at recovery and healthy sexuality. You will need a lot of support so attempting to heal on your own is usually impossible. Find someone you feel you can trust and begin your process. Recovery is possible, you’re already half way there.