About Sex Addiction
Patrick Carnes defines addiction as a pathological relationship with a mood altering chemical or behavior. Simply stated, sexual addiction is the lack of control of some sexual behavior or relationship. Perhaps the most helpful definition is a practical one: sexual behavior that has a negative effect on one’s life.
Like with alcohol or drugs, sex addiction fits the classic, four-component model of what comprises an addiction:
1) Compulsivity – the loss of control over a behavior. An addict continues in the behavior or relationship despite repeated attempts to stop.
2) Continuation despite negative consequences.
3) Preoccupation or obsession.
4) Tolerance – more of the same behavior or an escalation of progressive behaviors is required to get the same “high.
How Sex Addiction Presents
“Sex addiction” is an umbrella term for what’s actually a collection of often overlapping behaviors. First, there’s the stereotypical sex addict, which covers things like using pornography in any of its forms, visiting prostitutes and massage parlors, engaging in exhibitionism and voyeurism, and compulsive masturbation. Most think of the “sex addict” as a male.
The romance addict, more often female, is addicted to the intrigue and the pursuit of romance. This kind of addict thrives on the thrill of the chase, but finds it impossible to sustain an intimate, committed relationship.
The third main type of sex addict is the love or relationship addict. This flavor affects both men and women, and the main dynamic is the belief that a particular relationship or a specific partner will be “the one.” Relationship addicts repeatedly become involved in intense, enmeshed, codependent relationships, even when those partners or relationships are destructive. These relationships may be emotional affairs as well as physical/sexual ones. One way of thinking about the relationship addict is to view him or her as the ultimate codependent.
The opposite of acting out sexually is to “act in,” which is also known as sexual anorexia. These women have an aversion to sex and intimate relationships. They spend lots of energy trying to avoid sex, even within a marriage. If the woman is single, she may avoid dating, especially if it progresses beyond a casual relationship.
Sexual anorexia may best be compared to food anorexia, which is compulsive starvation.
It’s possible to be both acting out and acting in at the same time. Some women may be anorexic in their sexual relationship with their husbands, yet be acting out with partners outside their marriages.
In recent years, largely through the pioneering work of Dr. Patrick Carnes within the secular community and Dr. Mark Laaser within the Christian community, attention has been drawn to the often scoffed problem of sexual addiction.
The reality of an addiction to sex is gaining acceptance, much as alcoholism came to be understood as an addiction forty years ago. Programs of recovery based on the Twelve Steps originally used by Alcoholics Anonymous are rapidly expanding across the country.
There have been few programs that combine sound clinical treatment with Christian principles. This gap leaves hurting people alone to struggle with the spiritual aspects of their sexual shame.
The Bethesda Workshop program was designed to address this need. If you want to get well and are willing to go to any lengths, a Bethesda Workshop can provide the understanding and tools you need.