Sexually compulsive behavior is easy to joke about. We’ve seen an endless array of politicians and celebrities claim they’re “sex addicts.” Some of them legitimately are addicted to sex, while others seem to be using this as an excuse for their behavior. It makes some question if these people (mostly men) simply are letting their high libidos take over. Is this a legitimate issue?
As a sex therapist and sex addiction therapist, I find many people have little understanding about this serious issue. Sex addiction can decimate relationships that appear happy. It can create a level of disconnection that is difficult to recover from. And the betrayal and trauma associated with this can be extremely challenging to overcome.
When people ask what I do, I get a variety of responses. One of the most common replies I get is, “I wish I was a sex addict.” I have to maintain my composure when I hear this. I want to admonish this ignorant and sarcastic commentary with a heavy dose of reality. There’s nothing admirable or desirable about addictive sexual behavior. I typically refrain from responding with a harsh tone, remembering the idea of “being addicted to sex” can appear like nothing more than a high sex drive. However, sex addiction is more complicated than having a high libido.
Sex addiction isn’t about having a lot of sex. Although some people addicted to sex do have many sexual encounters, many have the opposite. They struggle with finding sex that is pleasurable or satisfying. Some avoid certain sexual behaviors, only to obsessively engage in another type of behavior. Others have a subconscious desire to connect, but fear the vulnerability of such connection.
Overall, relationships, trust, and intimacy become imbalanced. Sadly, this imbalance is often disguised under the typical chaos of work and family life, until it becomes undeniably traumatic.
What can make this even worse is that this behavior is often buried under a series of secrets and lies. Many partners of people addicted to sex are completely blindsided by a discovery of a series of behaviors. This is often a crushing blow to the partner, and a shaming experience for the one who is out of control. Families can be torn apart by this.
Many who are dealing with sex addiction also describe their lives as quite lonely. The sex isn’t necessarily fun or even enjoyable. They love their families and they hate that they’re lying to them. They just don’t know a way out.
Many who are dealing with sex addiction also describe their lives as quite lonely. The sex isn’t necessarily fun or even enjoyable. They love their families and hate that they’re lying to them. They just don’t know a way out.
Week after week, I hear the painful stories of people whose sexual behavior is out of control. Whether it’s a personal story or a story about their relationships, the pain caused by sex addiction is no laughing matter. This is why I puff up with frustration when people make light of or oversimplify what sexual addiction is. It’s not easy to treat or process through. And when it’s made out to be a silly punch line, it can increase the shame for those who are struggling with this issue.
Sex addiction is numbing behavior that takes on another level of compulsivity. All of us numb to some extent. Numbing is a minor level of dissociation. However, people addicted to sex take this numbing to a whole different level of disconnection. This can become so prevalent that work and relationships can be at risk.
For those dealing with this serious issue, support groups, such as 12-step groups, can help. However, they often need another layer of support. Therapy can help with building solid plans for recovery in a way that helps people stay in alignment with their values system. It can help people with sex addiction grow so they can reduce their levels of shame, reconnect with their families, and reach life goals.
© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Michael J. Salas, MA, LPC-S, LCDC, CSAT, CST, Sexuality/Sex Therapy Topic Expert Contributor
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