How can an activity that fulfills a normal physiological function, and is at the same time firmly responsible for the survival of the species, be an addiction? Sex addiction has gained increased notoriety in recent times, as we are constantly bombarded with sexual innuendo from all corners of the social media universe. A topic that was previously confined to the bedroom is now very mainstream.
Many people ask, “Is sex addiction a genuine disorder that warrants treatment or is the behavior a fabrication used as an alibi for some people to explain their deceitful or shameful behaviors?” Even worse, is the consideration that the behavior is exploited by the addiction treatment industry to bolster income and occupancies.
Sex addiction is not really about sex or intercourse. Sex is the currency of the addiction but not the purpose. In fact, many sex addicts lose interest once the relationship is consummated or the activity reaches some interim finality. The actual sex in sex addiction acts out in different ways. Just as addicts have preferred drugs of choice, so sex addicts find their particular high in different configurations.
These include fantasy sex, seductive sex, anonymous sex, commercial sex, voyeuristic sex, intrusive sex, exhibitionist sex, painful and perverse sex, and exploitative sex where a vulnerable person is violated. All have the sex drive as the common denominator but each derives different benefit for the participant, again much like addicts, some of whom prefer the thrill of uppers, others the dissociation of downers, and others the escape provided by hallucinogens.
Who is to say how much sex is too much sex? Nobody came into treatment saying, “I am having too much sex.” If one has an able and willing partner and the activity is consensual, commercial or even bordering on the perverse, when does the behaviour cross over into the realm of addiction? This might sound like a difficult question, but the answer is really quite simple and is the same answer as for all addictive behaviors, namely, when the activity continues compulsively, even though the consequences exceed the rewards or benefits. Then it becomes an addiction.
Adverse consequences are always person specific and in the instance of sex addiction, consequences range from the guilt arising from adultery to shame from public exposure, as society remains quite judgemental about the behaviour. This is crucial to an understanding of the problem. People seek help for sex addiction not because of the sex, but because the consequences, which make their lives increasingly unmanageable.
The downward trajectory of the sex addict mimics the losses encountered by an alcoholic or addict. Like gambling addiction, it can be a clandestine problem but ultimately, people seek help because of the guilt, the shame, the depression and self-loathing driven by repeated failed attempts to control the behavior.
We know that many people seek help because they have been caught in a compromising situation by an irate spouse threatening to divorce them. A treatment programme then offers the perfect opportunity for shallow repentance and forgiveness. This scenario is not unusual in the world of addiction treatment, as most people seek treatment because they have painted themselves into an awkward or embarrassing corner. However, the reason why people come into treatment does not necessarily determine the outcome of the treatment.
If you are engaging in a compulsive sexual activity that is leaving you feeling ashamed, seek help at Tharagay where we can discuss your treatment options.