Harm Reduction for Sex Addiction
Although heroin has been the poster drug for a controversial philosophy called harm reduction, proponents of the approach believe it can be applied to other types of compulsive behavior, including sex addiction.
The traditional approach to treating addiction, whether through the 12 steps, rehab, therapy or a combination of techniques, revolves around abstinence. The addict is expected to abstain completely, or be a failure. Some see this as an unfair and unrealistic way to help addicts. The harm reduction approach does not force addicts to stop but does help them stay safe. It has been around for decades and used mostly with heroin addicts.
What Is Harm Reduction?
The philosophy and practice of harm reduction means helping addicts, who either can’t or won’t stop using, minimize risks. Heroin addicts have long been treated with harm reduction, likely because the drug is so addictive and stopping it is close to impossible for many people. Harm reduction for heroin addicts typically involves giving them clean needles and safe places to go when using. Another aspect of heroin harm reduction is the administration of methadone, a replacement drug, for those who want to try to stop using. These practices go against the traditional philosophy of addiction treatment, but work for many addicts.
Sex addiction is more complicated because it manifests in so different ways. Some sex addicts engage in a steady stream of one-night stands. Others use pornography for hours on end, while still others might masturbate compulsively. Harm reduction is already used to protect young people who have sex. They are not necessarily addicts, but the idea is to provide teens with sex education, contraceptives and condoms to prevent pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. This approach has been shown to work in reducing negative outcomes.
What Does Harm Reduction for Sex Look Like?
Sex addicts engage in activities that are not inherently dangerous or risky. Having sex is a normal part of being human, as is masturbating or being turned on by sexual images. So if sex addicts are allowed to continue to engage in these activities while being treated for addictive behaviors, can they be helped? Many experts believe they can, but what would that treatment look like?
One technique is to help addicts track their behaviors. The addict keeps a record of how often she uses pornography for instance. She records the time, what she did, how she feels and what she might have been doing otherwise. Instead of asking her to give up the pornography, she becomes more aware of her activities and how they impact her. Other harm reduction techniques for sex addiction could include providing condoms for someone who has one-night stands or uses prostitutes, or assigning certain times of the day to be devoted to pornography or masturbation.
Many experts working with sex addicts believe that this approach of harm reduction can help, but it has to be combined with therapy that guides the addict toward an understanding of her motivations. It isn’t practical, or even necessary, to require that someone live forever without sex or sexual behaviors. To expect that of an addict isn’t realistic. A combination of harm reduction, quality therapy and support can help a sex addict come to terms with her issues and have a satisfying and healthy sex life.