When I let people know that I work with people who are dealing with a sex addiction, I often hear things such as, “I wish I was a sex addict”. This tells me that people often misunderstand what being a sex addict is about. These misconceptions can make it challenging for you, if you’re unsure of whether or not you’re dealing with a sex addiction.
Many people have the misconception that sex addiction is about having a high libido. They think it’s about having a lot of sex and having a lot of fun. Sex addiction has nothing to do with libido. Although some sex addicts have several sexual encounters, the addiction can also be about depriving yourself of sex altogether. Although there may have been exciting, stimulating, or even “fun” encounters, sex addiction is usually involving chasing an idea of intimacy, rather than actually experiencing it.
Sex addiction is also not one specific behavior. It’s not about viewing pornography, however some people do deal with pornography addiction. It’s not compulsive masturbation, but some people do compulsively masturbate. It’s not about sexual orientation, although there are therapists who will mix up sex addiction and sexual orientation issues.
So what is a sex addiction?
It’s keeping secrets from those who you love, or even from yourself. It’s mixing up sex, intimacy, and love. It’s unmanageable, numbing, and painful. It’s not being totally in touch with how you feel and who you are. This combination of various issues can make sex addiction difficult to understand.
Many times people mistake manageability for not engaging in the behavior. However, with time and without appropriate support, people return back to the same types of behavior that got them in trouble to begin with. You might be very aware of the lack of control that you have in your sexual behavior, or you might feel like you’re in control of it, because you aren’t currently engaging in it. Either way, if you’re unsure, it’s best to have this evaluated by a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist.
The type of behavior that you’re engaging in is not as significant as how the behavior impacts you. It might be cheating or breaking the rules of your relationship. It might interfere with your social interactions or engagement with your partner or family. The behavior might also create risk in your work position. These things are what a skilled therapist would help you look for to help you determine whether or not you’re an addict.
So what should you do about this?
Get support. There are many 12 step groups, as well as groups such as SMART Recovery that can show you that you’re not alone in this. You’ll find people who might be able to sponsor you through this, so that you have someone to reach out to when you feel most alone and in shame.
Get help. Finding a therapist is key. Dr. Patrick Carnes, who is the most influential professional in the field of sex addiction, reports this as an extremely important component to recovery. Some people will stop their behavior without therapy, but many of them are also up against the line of a relapse. Research shows you have a better chance of staying on the recovery side of this line if you have this help.
Slow down. Many times people want to rush through the chaos that comes with discovery and the discomfort and hurt that exists as well. This is understandable. Those who rush through this, and try to find a quick fix, often seek out help from those who are willing to give it, but not from those who are skilled at truly helping. It’s fine to have support from clergy, friends, etc. However, you also need someone who is trained in the specifics of this addiction. This can better help you to understand how this happened to begin with, which will make it more likely that you won’t fall into old patterns in the future.
There are many misconceptions about sex addiction. If you’re truly wondering about whether your sexuality is healthy or harmful, then reach out to a professional who can help you evaluate this. Don’t get caught up in all of the lack of understanding that exists about this. Be brave, and you really can have healthy sexuality.