Frequently Asked Questions About Sexual Addiction
Q: How do I know if I am a sex addict?
If your sexual behaviors create legal, relationship, career, emotional or physical consequences, yet you continue to engage in those sexual behaviors anyway, then you likely have a problem. If your sexual behaviors take up more time, energy and focus than you would like or your sexual behavior consistently goes against your underlying values and beliefs and you are living a secret double life- then it is likely that you are a sex addict. Sex addicts, both male and female often find themselves thinking, This is the last time that I am going to… yet they ultimately feel compelled to return to the same or similar sexual situations, despite previous commitments to change.
Sex addicts are often unable to make and keep commitments to themselves and others about stopping or changing particular sexual activities over the long term and most sex addicts – whether they wish admit to it or not – have longstanding problems with relationships and intimacy. Sex addicts describe feelings of overwhelming intensity when fantasizing about and preparing to sexually act out, describing this intensity state as being in the bubble or like being in a trance. This form of adrenaline rush is typical of sex addicts when fantasizing and preparing to act out and it is often a more powerful distraction than the sex act itself. Typical sexual addict behaviors include: Internet porn with or without masturbation, online and smart-phone hook-ups, frequent anonymous or casual sex, consistent use of prostitutes, “sensual” massage, escorts, multiple affairs, voyeurism, exhibitionism, frequent sex outside of primary relationships, affairs and compulsive masturbation.
Q: If I turn out to be a sex addict, why can’t I just take prescription medications to reduce my sex drive or compulsiveness?
Certain anti-depressant and hormonal drugs do reduce sexual drive and/or compulsivity, but medications alone cannot solve the emotional problems that underlie sexual addiction. It can be helpful to some people to consider medication as an option (in consultation with a psychiatrist familiar with behavioral addictions) but rarely do those medications fully eliminate compulsive sexual behavior or help resolve the emotional and relationship problems caused by years of problem sexual acting out.
For sex addicts, seeking recovery, making use of addiction-based counseling, 12 step support groups like SAA and SA and dealing head-on with the real life problems their sexual behaviors have created are the best way to begin long-term change.
Q: Maybe I am just a really horny person and like to have sex –why would that make me a sex addict?
Sexual addiction is not just a problem of being too horny or wanting sex too often. Sexual addiction is a disorder where a person uses cruising, flirting, fantasy, intrigue and sex itself as a way of managing and tolerating difficult feelings, stressors and underlying emotional conflicts. Sex addicts seek sex as a substitute for the support and intimacy that everyone needs, but that they do not allow themselves to enjoy. Even though they may be surrounded by friends, family or supportive spouses; sex addicts will turn to the isolating intensity of their sexual behaviors as comfort rather than using the real human support that they have available. Sexual addiction is more than a physical problem that can be solved by having more sex; it involves complex and often confusing emotional concerns.
Q: Can masturbation and pornography be a part of sex addiction?
Compulsive masturbation with or without porn and compulsively viewing pornography itself are both long-standing problems for many sex addicts. Whether through cybersex, phone sex lines, videos, smart-phones, cruising social networks, magazines or simple fantasy; sex addicts can lose hours daily to isolation and compulsive masturbation. You can be a sex addict without ever having sex with another person, some addicts are too afraid of getting caught, getting a disease or being rejected to seek out partners for their acting-out. Instead, those involved in compulsive masturbation or compulsive porn use may lead lonely, disconnected lives, never really understanding what keeps them from real intimacy and connection with those around them. Many who utilize compulsive masturbation as their primary way of sexual acting-out are in complete denial that their patterns of sexual release are any different for them than most people. Caught in compulsive patterns — often begun in childhood or adolescence — the sex addict who is masturbating compulsively masturbates nightly to get to sleep or every morning in the shower. Thus these behaviors become as much a part of their daily routine as brushing their teeth or sleep. Some masturbate for hours on end, even to the point of injury.
If Alcoholics and drug addicts define “being sober” by not drinking or using mind altering chemicals, how does a sexual addict define sobriety without having to abstain from sex altogether?
Unlike sobriety from drugs and alcohol, sexual sobriety is not defined as complete abstinence from sex, although some recovering persons may take a short period of celibacy to help gain personal perspective or address a particular issue. Sexual sobriety is most often defined through the use of a “sex plan” or “contract” between the sexual addict and their 12-Step recovery support sponsor, therapist or clergy. These plans are ideally written down, and involve clearly defined, concrete behaviors from which the sex addict has committed to abstain in order to call themselves sober. Some relationship or sexual recovery plans have very strictly defined boundaries like, No sexual activity of any kind outside of my marriage or for a single person No sex before being in a committed relationship. Sobriety is defined by abstaining from sexual activities which cause the addict to feel shameful, hold secrets or which are illegal or abusive. Personal definitions may change over time as the recovering person evolves in their understanding of the disease. Sexual contracts such as these should always be created with the help of another recovering person, therapist or clergy, and never be changed in the heat of a distracting moment or without the prior agreement of those trusted people.
Q: For many years I have found outlets to satisfy what I have always perceived as a large sexual appetite. My wife doesn’t seem to want to have a lot of sex so I have been involved in affairs, porn use and regularly have sensual massages. Is this really a problem?
One way of determining whether or not you are a sex addict is by looking at the degree of integrity (or lack of) by which you live your life. Sex addicts lie to their spouses and other important loved ones, they keep secrets, tend to sneak around and use lies or omissions to obtain or get away with recreational sex. They also minimize their sexual activities to themselves while dismissing other’s concerns about them and their behavior. A good question to ask yourself if you wonder if you have a sexual problem is: How does my sex life affect my sense of integrity and does it match up with my own personal values and belief systems? How does my sexual behavior make me feel about myself? If you don’t like what you see and want to change some of your sexual behaviors, then what is keeps you from changing them? One way to help determine if you have a sex addiction problem is to simply take a time out from all sexual behavior. Try not having sex at all for 30 days or so and see: 1) Can you keep the commitment? 2) How difficult was keeping it? 3) What feelings and experiences did you have of yourself while taking this “time out”? If you cannot maintain the commitment to yourself or find it extremely difficult, you may have a problem worth looking into
Q: I am woman who compulsively seeks sex and romance online. I have a great deal of fear and embarrassment in addressing these issues and getting help. Most everything I read and see about sex addicts refers to men and their behaviors. This makes me feel like a woman can’t have this problem or she has to be even sicker to have it. Yet I think I am a sex addict and I really struggle with this.
First of all, there are many women sex addicts. The problem is not as common or visibly problematic in women as it appears to be in men and yet there are many women who suffer from compulsive sexual and romantic behavior problems. However, few women feel comfortable coming forth and admitting to having a sexual addiction problem. After all, what do we call a man who frequently acts out with sexual conquests and sexualized behavior? We call him a stud. But the woman who has a lot of sex is simply a slut. Not exactly the kind of validation that anyone would want to acknowledge. So, while our society often rewards men, even for excessive sexual behavior, it simultaneously punishes and devalues women for the same activities. No wonder it is so difficult for women to come forth and admit they have a problem with sex.
Similarly, in looking back into the history of 12 step recovery programs, you will find that 60 years ago or so when AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) was getting started, most of those meetings were male dominated. Rarely was a woman to be found in an AA meeting, for in those days alcoholism was thought to be mostly a men’s problem. Similarly men dominate most sexual recovery meetings these days, though this is slowly changing as more and more women are showing up with Internet related sexual problems and infidelity. Increasingly 12 step sexual recovery programs are opening membership to more and more women and some now provide women’s-only meetings. SLAA in particular is very welcoming of women participants. It is essential for female sex addicts seek out and find the fellowship of other recovering women to share their stories and reduce the stigma of being a woman with this problem.
Q: I am a gay man and am having trouble with calling myself a sex addict. I have gone through a lifetime of feeling stigmatized for my sexual orientation, and now it seems that by considering myself to be a sex addict I am just adding to that stigma. Although I do struggle with the nature and degree of my sexual behaviors, I wonder if taking on the label of sexual addiction is just another way of making me wrong for being gay.
It is very understandable that you would not want to be the subject of a cultural prejudice any more than you have already been, but before you make up your mind, consider the following: Being a sex addict is not something that anyone wants, it just is. And there is no difference between a straight sex addict and a gay sex addict except the gender of the person that they are pursuing. Straight men go to strip bars, prostitutes, sensual massage, adult movie theatres, and porn and have Internet hook-ups etc. Gay men have sex clubs, bathhouses, prostitutes, adult movies porn, and anonymous sex in public places like restrooms and parks, and they hook-up on the Internet etc. The locations may be slightly different, but the behaviors are exactly the same. If you go to sex addiction 12-step meeting and listen to both straight and gay sex addicts speak about their feelings of compulsivity, shame and painful secrecy, you quickly hear that all sex addicts share more in common in terms of the intensity, drive and compulsive nature of their behaviors than their superficial differences would indicate. In truth, the best sex addiction treatment and recovery therapy occurs when all sex addicts, gay, straight and everything in between are able to reach beyond their superficial differences to work on healing their common problem with sex.
No matter how shameful it may feel, by acknowledging sexual addiction you do not automatically attach a negative label to your morality, value system or humanity, no more than does someone who drinks to excess, alcoholic. The term sex addict is simply the most convenient and accurate term to use to describe certain common patterns of compulsive sexual behavior that require a particular kind of treatment. There is no clinical judgment placed on the diagnosis or the treatment of sex addiction or who or what kind of sex you have, though all sex addicts experience feelings of shame, fear and embarrassment around their sexual lives. These feelings are perfectly normal and predictable and have little or nothing to do with homophobia.
FAQs by Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT