Sex Addiction can involve a wide variety of practices. Sometimes an addict has trouble with just one unwanted behavior, sometimes with many. A large number of sex addicts say their unhealthy use of sex has been a progressive process. It may have started with an addiction to masturbation, pornography (either printed or electronic), or a relationship, but over the years progressed to increasingly dangerous behaviors.
The essence of all addiction is the addicts’ experience of powerlessness over a compulsive behavior, resulting in their lives becoming unmanageable. The addict is out of control and experiences tremendous shame, pain and self-loathing. The addict may wish to stop — yet repeatedly fails to do so. The unmanageability of addicts’ lives can be seen in the consequences they suffer: losing relationships, difficulties with work, arrests, financial troubles, a loss of interest in things not sexual, low self-esteem and despair.
Sexual preoccupation takes up a tremendous amount of energy. As this increases for the sex addict, a pattern of behavior (or rituals) follows, which usually leads to acting out (for some it is flirting, searching the internet for pornography or live interactive sex shows, or driving to meet a stranger for sex.) When the acting out happens, there is a an addictive rush that blocks out other uncomfortable feelings, and then disappointment usually follows with despair, shame or a feeling of hopelessness and confusion. This cycle repeats wearing down self-esteem and eventually the trust of loved ones around the addict. Work is usually the last area of life to be affected by addiction. Most addicts have had relationship, health, social and psychological consequences before they suffer employment issues related to their addition.
A Useful Tool for Self-Assessment
Answer these twelve questions to assess whether you may have a problem with sexual addiction.
- Do you keep secrets about your sexual or romantic activities from those important to you? Do you lead a double life?
- Have your needs driven you to have sex in places or situations or with people you would not normally choose?
- Do you find yourself looking for sexually arousing articles or scenes in newspapers, magazines, or other media?
- Do you find that romantic or sexual fantasies interfere with your relationships or are preventing you from facing problems?
- Do you frequently want to get away from a sex partner after having sex? Do you frequently feel remorse, shame, or guilt after a sexual encounter?
- Do you feel shame about your body or your sexuality, such that you avoid touching your body or engaging in sexual relationships? Do you fear that you have no sexual feelings, that you are asexual?
- Does each new relationship continue to have the same destructive patterns which prompted you to leave the last relationship?
- Is it taking more variety and frequency of sexual and romantic activities than previously to bring the same levels of excitement and relief?
- Have you ever been arrested or are you in danger of being arrested because of your practices of voyeurism, exhibitionism, prostitution, sex with minors, indecent phone calls, etc.?
- Does your pursuit of sex or romantic relationships interfere with your spiritual beliefs or development?
- Do your sexual activities include the risk, threat, or reality of disease, pregnancy, coercion, or violence?
- Has your sexual or romantic behavior ever left you feeling hopeless, alienated from others, or suicidal?
If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, we would encourage you to seek out additional literature as a resource or to attend an Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting to further assess your needs.
Lois V. Nightingale, Ph.D. Psychologist, PSY 9503 Licensed Marriage Family Child Therapist, 714-993-5343 Providing therapy services to individuals and couples, marriage counseling, child therapy and teen counseling in Yorba Linda, Orange County, California