The subject of sexual addiction provokes a range of responses, from curiosity to dismissal to contempt. But a common question emerges: what is it—is it even real? What’s the difference between really liking sex and being a sex addict? Where’s the line between healthy sexual behavior and addiction?
These are valuable and important questions; ones we can ask of other addictive behaviors as well. What distinguishes the “social drinker” from the alcoholic? Or the recreational drug user from the addict? How much sex is too much?
The red flags of sexual addiction are not about quantity, but rather quality. That quality is the loss of control. A sex addict is preoccupied with sexual behavior or fantasy and is unable to control these thoughts. This preoccupation leads a person to act out, which takes many forms, including compulsive masturbation, porn use, voyeurism, affairs, prostitution, etc. The sex addict is unable to stop even when his or her behavior produces significant negative consequences (loss of time, financial trouble, arrests, damaged relationships). And underneath it all, the primary struggle of the sex addict is deep shame.
Some have asked me about the origins and affects of sexual addiction. Is it related to something that happened in childhood? When did it start? How does it impact their lives? There is no such thing as an easy answer—addiction is not “one size fits all.” However, sex addiction is fundamentally an intimacy disorder. Those who struggle have great difficulty feeling connected to others (and themselves), asking for and receiving help, and believing that they are lovable as they are. These deep pains lead a person to get their needs for connection met in unhealthy ways, sometimes to the point of addiction.
Addiction is inherently isolating. The more shame one feels, the more one hides; the more one hides, the more alone one feels. Sexual addiction impacts every area of a person’s life. They’re preoccupied with their sexual fantasies, so they can’t focus on their work (and maybe they even watch porn at the office). They squander their paycheck on massage parlors and strip clubs. They lie to their family and friends about why they can’t make that birthday party. They tempt the law by cruising for prostitutes and jeopardize their health with casual, anonymous hook-ups. And when it’s all said and done, they are left again with sadness, despair, and shame. Sex addiction is not enjoyable; it’s debilitating. Acting out isn’t about pleasure; it’s about escaping painful emotions and suspending reality. Those who struggle with sexual addiction need neither giggles nor judgment, but compassion.
My goal in this blog is to provide a forum where I can answer your questions, respond to your thoughts, and provide information on the subject of sexual addiction. Sexual addiction thrives in the dark–let’s bring in the light.