Explaining Sex Addiction to a Non-Addict

Posted on May 7th, 2013

One of the difficulties that nearly every sex addict who opts for recovery encounters, usually sooner rather than later, is telling the people in his or her life what’s going on. The simple fact is most people have little to no understanding of what sex addiction actually is. In fact, a lot of folks think it sounds like fun. You, of course, know that it isn’t. In fact, it’s as devastatingly un-fun as full-blown alcoholism or drug addiction, with consequences that are every bit as severe. So what do you tell your spouse, your best pal, your boss, your parents, or whoever it is that needs to know that: a) you’re making some major changes; and b) why you’re doing it?

The simplest way to help a “normie” understand sexual addiction is by comparing it to alcoholism. Start simple by saying that many if not most adults drink alcohol, sometimes regularly and occasionally to excess. But not everyone is an alcoholic. In fact, true alcoholics make up a relatively small percentage of the drinking population. Only people who’ve lost control over their drinking, are obsessed about drinking, and experience negative life consequences as a result of their drinking qualify as alcoholics. In other words, alcoholics think about booze all the time, they drink even when they don’t want to, they can’t stop drinking once they’ve started, and their lives are falling apart because of their drinking.

Now carry the analogy to sexual addiction. Again, start simply by saying many if not most adults engage in sexual activity, both with others and with themselves, but that doesn’t make them sex addicts. What makes them sex addicts is they’ve lost control over their sex life; sex has become an all-consuming obsession for them; and they’re experiencing negative life consequences as a direct (or sometimes indirect) result of their sexual acting out. Sex addicts are men and women who consistently break promises made to themselves and/or others to stop or limit their sexual behaviors. Sex addicts engage in problematic sexual behaviors despite ongoing negative consequences. They experience relationship trouble, issues at work or in school, financial difficulties, loss of interest in non-sexual activities, physical and emotional decline, and even legal problems.

At this point, whoever it is that you’re talking to should be over the idea that sex addiction sounds fun. If they would like or you feel they would benefit from more information, the next step is explaining that sex addicts use their excessive sexual fantasies and behaviors to bolster an unstable internal world. Sexual fantasy and behaviors are used as a way to “self-medicate” depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, unresolved trauma, stress, and other uncomfortable emotions, including feelings as seemingly benign as boredom. In other words, sex addicts use sex to distract and dissociate from life stressors and other challenges. Alcoholics drink alcohol and drug addicts take drugs for exactly the same reasons. Essentially, they want to “feel better,” which actually means they want to “feel less.”

If you wish to explain what happens to you when you are “using” sex as your “drug of choice,” you can tell the person you are talking to about “the bubble” of sexual addiction. Start by explaining that the bubble is a neurobiological state induced by the intense fantasies and rituals that lead you toward actual sex. Basically, sex addicts are hooked on the dissociative neurochemical high produced by their intense sexual fantasy life and the fantasy life’s related ritualistic behaviors. In other words, sex addicts find as much excitement in fantasizing about and searching for sex as they find in the sex act itself. This is the “drug” they use to feel better (i.e., to feel less). Sex addicts often spend hours, sometimes even days, in this elevated state – high on the goal/idea of having sex – before they finally engage in actual an physical sex act. They lose track of life, ignoring relationships, work, and even their physical, emotional, financial, and legal wellbeing.

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