Sex Addiction Can’t Be Diagnosed By Proxy, But it Still Can Feel Very Real
In a CNN piece, sex therapist Ian Kerner discusses ongoing discussions on sex addiction. In his well-articulated piece, he also mentions how many people believe that they are living with a sex addict or porn addict. This is a complicated issue for many therapists. Because there are times where someone is really dealing with a partner who is engaging in compulsive sexual behavior. Then there are other times where the behavior might be troubling, but not compulsive.
Obviously, the main goal here is to discuss these issues with who is sitting in front of you. For us therapists, part of our job is to identify who our client is. We can offer help to our clients to help partners in a balanced way. However, we can’t offer help to someone who we aren’t directly working with.
This means that therapists have to help clients identify their own boundary systems in a way that works for them. Sometimes this will mean client perspectives surrounding sexuality might not match up well with therapist’s perspectives. This is OK. Therapists have to help you identify if the behavior and person that you want to be with matches what you need. However, you have to be the one to decide this. This isn’t a decision for your therapist to make.
This doesn’t mean that you should never be challenged by your therapist. Your therapist might ask you tough questions about what you know, and how you know it. This can help you to better find that place within you that resonates.
Therefore, it may or may not be relevant to you that your partner is identified as a sex addict. In therapy, you can open up discussions as to the significance of this to you. Some partners wish not to label the behavior as an addiction. Other people find great support in sex addiction support groups. Or they might find great comfort in a label that represents the behavior that they have seen. Then there are those who are indifferent about this, or who don’t believe that the behavior represents an addiction at all.
For women partners, there can be other significance relating to this issue.
Women have many pressures to be OK with everything. This is even true when they’re not fine with their partner’s behavior. Although I don’t believe that Ian Kerner’s article reflected this perception, there are other professionals who have told women that they need to be “cool” with things that they’re not fine with. They’re boundaries are treated as if they’re unreasonable and overreaching.
This is unfair to women. In general, men and women do hold different perspectives about pornography. However, there are several issues that have to be taken into consideration. The boundaries of both people have to be identified. These boundaries have to be communicated well in the relationship. If one person is isolating and using porn, then the other person needs to be allowed to communicate this concern in an open way.
For those who are not addicts, communication is still the most important piece of the puzzle. People have to identify boundaries, concerns, insecurities, and frustrations in an open way. These talks are tough to have. Therapy can help to develop a foundation for such a discussion.
Bottom line: Partners often do have feelings about their partner’s sexual behavior, and this may reflect an addiction. It could be mislabeled as an addiction as well. Therapy can be a place for clients to identify their own boundaries, and determine how they should go about processing this relationship issue.
Also, when women and men view pornography differently, this doesn’t mean that women are being unreasonable or controlling. A mentor of mine once told me that we make women the gatekeepers for sexual relationships in heterosexual relationships. As a couples therapist, I have seen this play out in relationships, and have heard stories of this playing out this way as set up by therapists as well.
Our job as therapists is to help clients work through their perceptions and relationship needs. Not to impose our values or thoughts onto them. This means for those who believe they’re living with a sex addict, we have to help them sort this out for themselves.