Sex addiction. It’s a topic I have been avoiding up to this point in my blog. I haven’t mentioned it yet because I haven’t been able to wrap my brain around the best way to talk about it. I don’t even know if it’s real in the sense of being an actual disease. It’s certainly not in the DSM IV. But people can have incredibly warped sexual behaviors that negatively affect their lives. That’s what I’m talking about. I will use the term sex addict throughout this blog for simplicity, and because that’s the only term I know to use for what has caused havoc in my life. It is the omnipresent elephant in the room. That’s because my husband is a sex addict.
That was harder for me to write than it should have been. Sex addiction is something that a lot of people struggle with. It is similar to other types of addictions like alcohol and drugs. But it is somehow treated so much differently. Television makes a big joke out of it. People glorify sex addiction like it is something wonderful and glamorous – like it just means having sex a lot and liking it. Sex addiction is dismissed as not real or not really a problem. Culture continues to promote the idea that sex is great and the more sex the better. In this society a man who talks about sex addiction is likely to get a high-five and a few laughs.
That’s not sex addiction at all. Sex addiction in the real world is not fun. Some people who are heavily addicted to pornography are unable to be aroused by real men or women. People who struggle with it often feel guilt-ridden and dirty. They can’t stop even when they want to. It is a compulsion, it escalates, and they need more and more to be satisfied. It overtakes lives. It destroys relationships. It takes something fun and healthy and twists it into something shameful and unfulfilling. It hurts people other than just the one who is addicted. It is difficult to overcome and painful to deal with.
For those of you not familiar with what sexual addiction is, this is what www.everydayhealth.com has to say about sex addiction:
Sex addiction is not rare. Between 12 and 15 million people in the United States have a sexual addiction, according to some estimates.
Indications that a person might have a sex addiction include:
- Using sex to numb negative feelings or achieve a fleeting high
- Hiding sexual behaviors from your spouse
- Feeling that you’ve lost control over your sexual behavior
- Failing to heed self-imposed limits on your sexual behavior
- Finding that your sexual behavior has caused you to lose a relationship, fail at your job, or spend less time with your friends and family
- Knowing that your sexual behaviors could lead to problems in your life if people knew about them
- Finding that you can’t permanently quit harmful sexual behaviors. They engage in sexual activity even though they experience negative consequences or truly want to stop what they’re doing.
Feeling intense guilt or shame over sexual behavior and your inability to control yourself. Regretting the pain you’ve caused others through your actions.
A sexual addiction can manifest itself in many ways, so you will need to look for a variety of possible warning signs that you or your spouse or partner is a sex addict. Kathryn A. Cunningham, PhD, director of the Center for Addiction Research at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, identifies the following possibilities:
- Sex dominates an individual’s life to the exclusion of other activities.
- The individual engages in phone sex, computer sex, pornography, use of prostitutes, or exhibitionism.
- Their preferred sexual behaviors become ritualized, as they repeat similar activities or re-enact certain situations again and again. These behaviors are not necessarily intended to provide orgasm; they may serve to just constantly elevate the person’s arousal levels.
- The individual has multiple sexual partners or cheats on partners.
- In extreme cases, the person engages in criminal activities, including stalking, rape, incest, or child molestation.
Does that still sound like fun? My husband dealt with almost all of those things except the more extreme examples at the end (that I know of). His sex addiction and pornography habit took him away from a real-life, sexy woman who wanted him (a.k.a. me). For years I wondered why the man in my life kept rejecting me. I thought men were supposed to want sex! Real sex. With real women. So why was I always the one asking for it? Why was he always the one too tired or not in the mood or full of excuses?
Now I know the answer – his sex addiction. Sound weird and backwards? It did to me, too. But apparently it’s not uncommon for a man with a sexual addiction to feel compelled and drawn to pornography, sex chatting, strip clubs, and other “deviant” forms of sexual release. They wear themselves out with these behaviors and inundate their brains with so many false images and ideas of sex that they are not able to relate sexually to another person who cares for them. The act of sex becomes disengaged from love, tenderness, and connectedness to someone else. It becomes preferable to watch increasingly disturbing sexual images, have inappropriate sexual contact with people who are meaningless or even repulsive, and engage in other compulsive behaviors remotely (phone, internet, videos) than to be truly intimate in real life with someone who cares about them.
When I began to understand the truth about sexual addiction, it was terrifying. We live in the age of rampant internet porn, normalized teen sex, and the increased sexualization and exposure of young children to sexual programs, advertisements and images. Our society and culture are heading even further down that road every day. That’s not to say that sex is a bad thing. I love frequent, creative, “dirty,” wild, amazing sex. With a committed partner. Not with strangers or the computer. But I married a sex addict. Did that mean our marriage was doomed? Would he never get better? Was I better off running away as fast as my legs could carry me?
Obviously, I decided to stay. I decided to believe in him and us. I made the choice that if my husband would seek help for and work on his issues, I would give him another chance. I have asked myself why a few times, and there are a lot of answers. One reason is that there are people in my family who have struggled with addiction and come through on the other side. Another is that I love my husband. Yet another is that he finally admitted and accepted his problems.
Probably the biggest reason, though, is that I believe people can and do change. I know that change is hard, but it is possible. Sometimes people do not live consciously. They repeat old learned behaviors without any sort of thought process being called to action. My husband’s sexual problems, his compulsive lying, and all of the hurt he caused me were partly conscious decisions but also partly a result of those deeper patterns of behavior and distorted thought.
Still skeptical? You can probably relate more than you think you can. Have you ever identified something that you wanted to change? Overcome shyness? Make better food choices? Stop biting your nails? Quit smoking? Stop watching so much TV? Implementing those sorts of changes involves cognitively overriding what would be your normal inclination until the new behavior has become established enough to be your new normal. It means breaking bad habits, figuring out what leads to those behaviors, finding new ways to respond to your environment, and keeping yourself from backsliding into what is easy, familiar, and routine. It takes work and committment, but it can happen. We can change our behaviors and we can overcome addictions. Humans are very adaptable and resilient like that.
So, getting to my point… I explained all of that to say this – I am on a difficult journey, my husband has a long road ahead of him, and our marriage will undoubtedly have more challenges in the future, but I have some hope. That is something I couldn’t have imagined saying a year ago. In the midst of all this mess, all this yuckiness, all this hurt and darkness, I have found a way to hold onto the promise that things will be okay, no matter what happens.
- Sex Addiction – Is it Real? (psychologytoday.com)
- Twins, Porn and Shelly Lubben (eatmyscabs.blogspot.com)
- Characteristics of Sex Addicts According to The Experts (socyberty.com)