Sexual Addiction


Sexual Addiction is a term that generates various ideas and images to one’s mind. Those new to it may think of rapists or pedophiles. In fact, it is rare for any of the many individuals who come to our office to assault someone as part of their addictive behavior.

Like other addictions, this obsessive-compulsive behavior has origins that are varied and at times complex. The purpose is to medicate emotional distress. Treatment goals are generally more related to eating disorders than other addictions. The focus is not to stop all sexual behavior but develop a healthier sexuality.

How do you determine if sexual addiction is a problem for you or someone else? The compulsive all-encompassing behavior is usually the focus of any evaluation. In Dr. Patrick Carnes’ books Out of The Shadows and Contrary To Love he gives on operational definition of sexual addition as a pathological relationship with a mood-altering experience. Pornography, serial relationships and sexual oriented business are often the context of the behavior. Internet pornography is becoming the arena most used by sexual addicts. It is anonymous, relatively safe from detection, and available anywhere.

Sexuality in the right context is a positive part of the human experience. When in the context of obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior it is destructive. Obsession about sex and compulsive sexual behavior are the struggle of the sexual addict. What seems to bring escape, excitement and pleasure becomes the source of shame, guilt and a sense there is no escape from the all-encompassing obsession. However, there is hope and change is possible.

Unfortunately, most addicts do not seek help until a crisis forces them into reality and their behavior is confronted. Even then their denial may excused or minimized their behavior. A look at five areas of life for any addiction will give some insight into reality. The individual, family and friends can ask these questions. There is no scoring. This is for insight.

  1. Relationships: Has there been hurt or loss in relationships because of your behavior? Do those you value find you unavailable due to your isolation? Are you willing to give up relationships rather than your behavior? Do you ever use the behavior to manage your feelings in relationships?
  2. Finances: Do you have debt or find it hard to pay your bills because of your behavior? Have you ever lost your job or opportunities to advance because of your behavior or preoccupation with your behavior? Note: Clients frequently report increase job performance, raises and promotions when in positive recovery.
  3. Legal: Does your behavior ever involve breaking the law? Have you been arrested for your behavior?
  4. Moral: Do any of your behaviors violate your own personal values?
  5. Health: Have your behaviors put you or someone else at risk for disease?

How to Get Help

  • 12-Step Groups - These groups provide the opportunity join with others on the road to healthy living. The 12-Step model provides a plan for sobriety that has been applied for many years to a variety of addictions. You can begin to change the behavior now. Find a Sex Addicts Anonymous group in your area.
  • Counseling - An early assessment of addictive behavior and the development of a plan for recovery provide a good start toward change. The healing of the pain in the lives of the addict and those affected by the addiction can begin immediately. This may involve individual counseling for addict and spouse as well as marital counseling.
    The roots of sexual addiction frequently go back to early experiences in life. Childhood trauma may be the origin of the inability to cope with life in a healthy, productive manner. Physical, sexual or emotional abuse may leave an individual with both pain and the lack of skills to manage it. As we observe the histories of our clients, we see a strong correlation between the lack of a nurturing, supportive environment in childhood and the inability to manage life. Recovery needs to address the resolution of these issues and the learning of new ways to manage life. Without both there may be a reduction of behavior but not a growing healthier person.
  • Medication - In some cases psychiatric diagnoses such as depression and bi-polar disorder may need to be addressed. Medication may allow an individual to more easily manage feelings that hinder recovery.