Michele O'Mara

Sexual Addiction

Filed By Michele O'Mara | September 28, 2007 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: addiction and recovery, advice column, intimacy, love, partner, relationship, sex, sex addiction, sexaholic, sexual addiction, treatment

What is Sexual Addiction?

Sexual addiction manifests in many different forms. There is no single type of behavior or even amount of behavior that will indicate you are a sexual addict.

Three basic things to consider when you define sexual addiction are:

  1. Do I have a sense that I have lost control over whether or not I engage in my specific out-of-control sexual behavior?
  2. Am I experiencing significant consequences because of my specific out-of-control sexual behavior?
  3. Do I feel like I am constantly thinking about my specific out-of-control sexual behavior, even when I don't want to?

These three "hallmarks" help to define the boundaries of sexual addiction and compulsivity. The range of behaviors can include masturbation and pornography through sexual exploitation of others. If you answered yes to these three questions, then you may want to seek further help to begin to sort out the complexities of your sexual behavior and discover, for certain, if sexual addiction is the best descriptor of your problem

What have professionals learned about sexual addiction?

Spanning the last 4 decades, Dr. Patrick Carnes has been a key force in defining and refining the scope and understanding of sexual addiction. Carnes suggests that just as a drug addict becomes hooked on the effects of smoking "crack" cocaine or the alcoholic gets hooked on Vodka, the sex addict becomes hooked on the neuro-chemical changes that occur during sexual behavior. Let’s not confuse the issue, though, as it is important to note that for the majority of the population sex is not inherently addictive. In fact, according to Carnes, the sex addict “has learned to rely on sex for comfort from pain, for nurturing or relief from stress.”

How common is sexual addiction?
After conducting a 10-year research study of 1500 sex addicts, Dr. Patrick Carnes concludes that roughly 8% of the total population of men in the United States is sexually addicted, as are roughly 3% of women.

What are some common characteristics and behaviors of sexual addiction?

  • Unusually Intense sex drive or Obsession with Sex: sex, and the thought of sex, dominates the sex addict’s thinking, interfering with healthy relationships and healthy living.
  • Denial: Consistent with all addictions, sex addicts typically deny they have a problem and make excuses for their actions, allowing the compulsive behaviors to continue.
  • Risk-taking Behaviors: Sexual addiction can be risky business. A person with sexual addiction often engages in various forms of sexual activity (sometimes illegal, sometimes physically damaging, usually emotionally detrimental to his or her relationship), despite the potential for negative and/or dangerous consequences
  • Progressive/ Increased Tolerance: Similar to drug addiction, sex addiction has a progressive nature which requires that the addict increase the intensity (and often the risk for physical, emotional, or legal self-harm) to continue getting relief through acting out their addictive behaviors. This may also include: More extensive/longer sexual acting out than intended, recurrent failure to resist sexual impulses, and continuation of behavior despite consequences (Risk of STD’s, Lost partner/relationship, as well as career problems).
Behaviors associated with sexual addiction might include:
  • Compulsive masturbation (self-stimulation)
  • Multiple affairs (extra-marital affairs)
  • Multiple or anonymous sexual partners and/or one-night stands
  • Consistent use of pornography
  • Unsafe sex
  • Phone or computer sex (cybersex)
  • Exhibitionism
  • Obsessive dating through personal ads
  • Voyeurism (watching others) and/or stalking
  • Sexual harassment
  • Molestation/rape

Generally, a person with a sex addiction gains little satisfaction from the sexual activity and forms no emotional bond with his or her sex partners. In addition, the problem of sex addiction often leads to feelings of guilt and shame. A sex addict also feels a lack of control over the behavior, despite negative consequences (financial, health, social, and emotional).

How does recovery from sexual addiction occur?

  • Admitting: Because the addiction is rooted in denial, the first step requires the addict to admit that his or her behavior is, indeed, a problem.
  • Detoxing: Abstaining from sexual behaviors and learning to tolerate the anxiety and boredom that accompany the loss of the high, and the loss of this coping behavior that is no longer being used.
  • Counseling: Once the addict can acknowledge their addiction and begin to connect the negative consequences to the sexually acting out behaviors, the sex addict can gain new tools and insights about their behaviors with the help of a trained professional – ideally a certified sex therapist, and/or a trained relationship therapist, who is comfortable dealing with sex addiction. Do not assume that all therapists are skilled, or comfortable, addressing sexual addiction issues – ask!
Some tasks to be accomplished in therapy include:
  • Address Old hurts and Emotional Pain that has gone Undressed
  • Develop greater awareness around, and tolerance for, non-sexual intimacy in relationships
  • Balance – finding peace without the highs and the lows
    • Support Groups / 12-step Groups: There are support groups as well as free 12 step self-help groups available for persons with sexual addictions to gain strength and healing from sharing their experiences with others who can relate to their struggles and their pain.
    • Control Addiction, Treat Compulsion: The person with addictive behavior has two main charges in recovery, first, to gain control over the acting out behaviors – the actual physical expression of the addiction – and second, to treat the compulsion. They cycle of addictive acting out, involves a strong obsessive thought process centered around a particular sexual activity of choice, which ignites an overwhelming urge – the compulsion – to act on these thoughts. Some persons with sexual addiction treat their compulsive behaviors with medications. Others utilize psychotherapy. Combining medication with therapy is often must productive.

    What are some good resources to begin learning more about sexual addiction?

    Out of the Shadows by Patrick Carnes
    Don't Call It Love by Patrick Carnes
    Cruise Control by Rob Weiss
    Back From Betrayal by Jennifer Shneider
    Sex, Lies, and Forgiveness by Jennifer Shneider and Burt Schneider
    The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Passion and Fulfillment by Jack Morin
    Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies by Michael Bader
    Disclosing Secrets: When, to Whom, and How Much to Reveal by Jennifer Schneider and Deb Corley

    The Gay and Bisexual Sexual Addiction Screening Test

    ? Were you sexually abused as a child or adolescent?
    ? Have you subscribed or regularly purchased/rental sexually explicit magazines or videos?
    ? Did your parents have trouble with their sexual or romantic behaviors?
    ? Do you often find yourself preoccupied with sexual thoughts?
    ? Has your use of phone sex lines, computer sex lines, etc, exceeded your ability to pay for these services?
    ? Does your significant other(s), friends or family ever worry or complain about your sexual behavior? (Not related to sexual orientation.)
    ? Do you have trouble stopping your sexual behavior when you know it is inappropriate and/or dangerous to your health?
    ? Has your involvement with pornography, phone sex, computer board sex, ext. become greater than your intimate contacts with romantic partners?
    ? Do you keep the extent or nature of your sexual activities hidden from your friends and/or partners?
    ? Do you look forward to events with friends or family being over so that you can go out to have sex?
    ? Do you visit sexual bathhouses, sex clubs and/or video bookstores as a regular part of your sexual activity?
    ? Do you believe that anonymous or casual sex kept you from having more long-term intimate relationships or from reaching other personal goals?
    ? Do you have trouble maintaining intimate relationships once the "sexual newness" of the person has worn off?
    ? Do your sexual encounters place you in danger of arrest for lewd conduct or public indecency?
    ? Have you spent time worrying about being HIV positive & continue to engage in risky or unsafe sexual behavior anyway?
    ? Has anyone ever been hurt emotionally by events related to your sexual behavior, e.g., lying to partner or friends, not showing up for event/appointment due to sexual liaisons, etc.,? (not related to sexual orientation)
    ? Have you ever been approached, charged, arrested by the police, security, etc., due to sexual activity in a public place?
    ? Has sex been a way for you to escape your problems?
    ? When you have sex, do you feel depressed afterwards?
    ? Have you made repeated promises to yourself to change some form of your sexual activity only to break them later? (Not related to sexual orientation.)
    ? Have your sexual activities interfered with some aspect of your professional or personal life, e.g. unable to perform at work, loss of relationship? (Not related to sexual orientation.)
    ? Have you engaged in unsafe or "risky" sexual practices even though you knew it could cause you harm?
    ? Have you ever been paid for sex?
    ? Have you ever had sex with someone just because you were feeling aroused and later felt ashamed or regretted it?
    ? Have you ever cruised public restrooms, rest areas and/or parks looking for sexual encounters with strangers?

    13 or more yes answers suggests there is a potential problem
    * Created by: Patrick Carnes, Ph.D and Robert Weiss, CSW

    Cybersex Addiction Checklist

    If 1-3 of these symptoms are found to be true, this may be an area of concern and should be openly discussed with a friend or family member. More than 3 positive answers would indicate the need to consider more professional counseling with someone trained in the treatment of addictive disorders and consideration of a 12 step support program like those listed in resources for sexual addicts.

    ? Spending increasing amounts of online time focused on sexual or romantic intrigue or involvement.
    ? Involvement in multiple romantic or sexual affairs in chat rooms, Internet or BBS.
    ? Not considering online sexual or romantic “affairs” to be a possible violation of spousal/partnership commitments.
    ? Failed attempts to cut back on frequency of online or Internet sexual and romantic involvement or interaction.
    ? Online use interferes with work (tired or late due to previous night’s use, online while at work, etc.).
    ? Online use interferes with primary relationships (e.g. minimizing or lying to partners about online activities, spending less time with family or partners).
    ? Intense engagement in collecting Internet Pornography.
    ? Engaging in fantasy online acts or experiences which would be illegal if carried out (e.g. rape, child molestation).
    ? Decreased social or family interactive time due to online fantasy involvement.
    ? Being secretive or lying about the time spent online or type of sexual/romantic fantasy activities carried out online.
    ? Engaging with sexual or romantic partners met online, while also involved in marital or other primary relationship.
    ? Increasing complaints and concern from family or friends about the amount of time spent online.
    ? Frequently becoming angry or extremely irritable when asked to give up online involvement to engage with partners, family or friends.
    ? Primary focus of sexual or romantic life becomes increasingly related to computer activity (including pornographic CD ROM use).

    *This is credited to The Sexual Recovery Institute

    How can I know whether or not my partner is a sex addict?

    ? Does your partner have time not accounted for?
    ? Does your partner spend money not accounted for?
    ? Does your partner have unexplained moods?
    ? Do your partner’s moods depend on whether or not he/she gets sex?
    ? Does your partner have a lack of sexual activity with you?
    ? Does your partner have a history of emotional, physical or sexual abuse or neglect?
    ? Does your partner have a supply of pornography (especially the kind you get at adult bookstores)?
    ? Do you frequently argue about sex?
    ? Is your partner unable to be emotionally intimate?
    ? Does sex appear to not satisfy him/her (for example, he/she wants immediately, or there never seems to be enough)?
    ? Is there a lot of anger or erratic behavior when he/she is said "no" to sexually?
    ? Do you feel alone during your sexual encounters?
    ? Do you feel used, dirty or abandoned after sexual encounters?
    ? Is there a sense that he's/she's got his "fix" and now he's better?

    Compiled by Michele O'Mara, LCSW

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    Well, as I expected, this comprehensive and important post fell into the Bilerico "archives" without so much as one comment.

    The gay community --- especially the gay male community --- likes to deny that such a thing as sexual addiction exists. However, I have been to 12-step meetings in a major city on the west coast where hundreds of gay men attend, attempting to deal with this issue and the damage it causes in their lives.

    O'Mara discussed only the psychological aspects of this problem, but here in the GLBT sector there is also an economic conflict of interest mechanism at play: The gay business world --- the bars, the baths, the "White Party" circuit, and the beer distributers that have taken to our community so "generously" (among others) --- makes money turning us into sexual addicts, but the larger community insistently denies that this problem exists --- because those same businesses donate to our political groups and community centers. To most GLBT groups, confronting sexual addiction is like biting the hand that feeds you.

    Michele, thank you for this post. The one thing you left out: If a Bilerico reader thinks they might have this problem, what resources are available?

    If one looks for help in the 12-step world, it is a minefield because some groups tend to be GLBT-friendly and some don't. Two networks that are more GLBT-accepting are Sex Addicts Anonymous and Sexual Compulsives Anonymous. Find their websites using your favorite Internet search engine, then send them an email to see if there are any meetings available in your area.

    Finally, in addition to being obsessed by sex, one can also be obsessed by relationships. If you are the type of person who meets someone special and can't stop thinking about them, this might be you. One group for healing this problem is Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.

    Obviously, I have some experience in this area. I realize that one of the 12-step principles states that one should not assume the role of becoming a spokesperson for the group. I do not wish to function as a spokesperson, I just think that in this day and age of Internet searches, one can eliminate literally months of trying this group and that group if one simply knows the exact name of the proper group to search for. Keeping this information secret in the name of "anonymity" is silly.