I have been working with Sex Addicts and love addiction (more on Love Addiction in a different article) in my practice since 1990. I have found that they are actually two very different manifestations of the same illness. Many health professionals use the word illness because the disease model has been a very effective model for dealing addictions of all kinds. The addict is responsible for their behavior, but they are not responsible for the circumstances that led to creating an addict.
In almost every case I have treated, their has been addiction in the family (Not coincidentally, there has almost always been addiction in the partner’s family also). I have found over and over again, that when compulsive sexual behavior is not looked through the lens of disease, the addict and the family around them consider it to be a lack of willpower or a moral deficiency. This adds to the shame of the addict, which adds to the spiral of relapse. No sex-addict on their own has enough willpower to stop.
Sex addiction has many faces: there are solo acts which include compulsive masturbation, sometimes 2 or more times a day. Clients have reported that remember masturbating to orgasm long before they ejaculated. I had one client that remembers starting this behavior when he was 5 years old. When coupled with the internet in the ’90s, it exponentially increased the access and pleasure. Many people who would not have become addicts became addicts because of the availability, privacy and intensity of the high.
Many Sex Addicts involve themselves in compulsive behavior that involves other people. These include but are not limited to the following behaviors: massage parlors, strip clubs, sex clubs, adult bookstores. Anonymous sex takes place in bathrooms, parks, bars, adult bookstores and many others.
A smaller percentage of sex addicts graduate to risky behaviors such as unprotected sex. Others will graduate to illegal behaviors such as: exhibitionism, voyeurism and sex with minors.
Twelve Step Program: The First Line of Defense
Whether the Sex Addict considers themselves to be a religious person, an agnostic or an atheist, 12 step programs provide instant relief and infinite possibilities of recovery. Sex Addiction whether with another or by oneself leads to a sense of isolation. The overwhelming number of sex addicts are not happy or satisfied after they have orgasmed. There is this empty feeling which is often followed with shame and guilt. Going to meetings with people who understand sex addiction. Being in a single place with people who can identify with their behaviors immediately diminishes isolation. To be around people who offer support: phone calls, texts, emails or meetings for coffee or meals is foreign to the addict. Addicts are used to being shunned or being called weak. In this room they are lauded with courage for just showing up.
The steps can be called the 12 steps to freedom, the twelve steps to joy and happiness beyond the sex addicts wildest dreams. “From shame to Grace” is the motto of Sex Addicts Anonymous. Many people come in and out of the doors of sexual recovery, but most have gained a true sense of who they are and who they could be if they choose to stay sober from this life threatening illness.
In my years of working with sex addicts, I found the most effective way to do therapy or counseling is to work with both the sex addict and their partner. In my training to be a therapist, I was taught that clients should have individual counselors and couples counselors. This became problematic for many reasons. One of my professors said that every time you add another therapist, you add another family member. There are very few professionals in any given region that deal with this specific issue. When one is not familiar with working with sex addicts and their partners, it is easy for the therapists to be a cross-purpose with each other.
In my own practice, I discovered that working with both partners, both individually and together supplied the support that the couple needed to reach the other side of this crisis/betrayal. Most all partners, rightly so, react with fits of anger, lots of tears and moments of despair. But afterwards they are left alone. Partners rarely get the support they need. The sex addict goes off to their meetings, make friends, get constant support and the partners are left alone to suffer in silence. Who do they turn to: their families, who very well may blame them for the problem. What friends can they turn to? Who can they trust? Even worse, if their partner get helps, many are afraid their feelings or reaction will cause their partner to go back to old behavior.
For the addict it is very important fo them to understand the deep consequences of their behavior. I provide a safe place for the truth to be expressed.
12 Step Programs for Partners of Sex Addicts
Most partners, rightfully so, think the problem is with the addict. Even so, instant support comes from a group of people who understand what it is like to be related to a Sex Addict. It is a safe place to anonymously, without fear, disclose their Painful Experience.