If you struggle with sex addiction, you may feel hopeless, helpless and believe that achieving healing is unattainable. Many of my clients explain the feelings of shame and loneliness as all consuming. If you can identify with these feelings, you are NOT alone. You can come to know peace and healing as you seek recovery from your addiction. I am a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT) and am trained in identifying and treating sex addiction.
What is Sex Addiction?
The definition of a healthy sex life can vary with every couple. Crossing the line to sex addiction involves behaviors and thoughts that are out of your control. The PATHOS test was created to help define sex addiction.
1. Do you often find yourself preoccupied with sexual thoughts? (Preoccupied)
2. Do you hide some of your sexual behavior from others? (Ashamed)
3. Have you ever sought help for sexual behavior you did not like? (Treatment)
4. Has anyone been hurt emotionally because of your sexual behavior? (Hurt)
5. Do you feel controlled by your sexual desire? (Out of control)
6. When you have sex, do you feel depressed afterwards? (Sad)
If you answer yes to two or more of these, let’s talk! about your results. I can show you the path to healing and help you in your journey to full recovery.
Sex addiction is a process addiction or behavioral addiction, meaning that sex or sexual acts becomes the “drug” of choice for an addict. Sex addiction means an individual uses sexual stimulation as the primary way to manage his/her painful emotions. This can take many forms, including pornography, compulsive masturbation, infidelity, exhibitionism, obsessive fantasies, paying for sex acts or voyeurism.
Increased internet availability has resulted in an increase in out-of-control sexual behavior (Hentsch-Cowles & Brock, 2013). With sexual content constantly available, this “drug” can be free, always accessible, and an easy escape for an addict. Although the “drug” in sex addiction is sex, sex addiction is not about sex. It is about emotional mismanagement. It occurs when an individual uses sex to minimize pain and painful emotions or augment pleasure.
Generally, a mix of genetics and traumatic experiences underlie sex addiction. When an individual with a sex addiction feels a difficult emotion, and he/she does not have healthy ways of coping with that emotion, the individual will often turn to sex. He/she will feel a “high” with sexual release, which is very short-lived, and only helps the individual “escape” temporarily. Then the individual often feels guilt and shame or other difficult emotions and that can start the whole process over. The individual becomes caught in the the squirrel-cage of addiction.
Sex addiction, like any other type of addiction, hijacks the reward pathways in the brain and damages brain circuits. It makes addicts’ lives become out of control and unmanageable. Sex addiction harms the addict’s ability to make choices and the addict’s ability to maintain loving relationships. The prefrontal cortex can shrink over time with sex addiction.
Risk factors for sex addiction include genetics, brain biology and chemistry, environment, and life events such as trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, an early childhood experience, or any stressful situation. Sex addiction can happen at any age, but often begins in early adolescence. Sex addiction is more common among males, but females can struggle with sex addiction too.
Sex addiction impacts how individuals views themselves, interact with others, and shapes how they cope in life. Because trauma is a major cause of addiction, it is important to seek a therapist specialized in treating trauma, as well as, sex addiction. Commitment to therapy, group work and consistently applying your newfound tools are the best gifts you can give yourself in recovery. Let’s talk about what recovery looks like for you!
Let me help you in your journey to overcoming your sexual addiction and its many damaging consequences. Let’s talk! If you are not sure if you (or a loved one) struggle with sex addiction, feel free to reach out to me.
Note on Families
Does someone you love struggle with a sex addiction? Are you hurting too? Spouses or partners often express that their heart feels shattered. Partner trauma or betrayal trauma are real. Have hope that you can work through your own trauma in a healthy healing way. Find out how the whole family can find healing. All family members of sex addicts can and are encouraged to attend counseling and/or support groups to find healing.
Children are often the unintended victims of sex addiction in a family. It is important to safeguard your home. If a family member has a sex addiction, there is greater risk for the children in the home to become addicted to sex later on or become a partner of a sex addict later on. For this reason, it is important that you safeguard your home and teach healthy intimacy to your children. Read my handout on safeguarding the internet. If you have questions, feel free to contact me to schedule a session to discuss this important issue. Let’s talk!
1. Hentsch-Cowles, G. & Brock, L. (2013). A systemic review of the literature on the role of the partner of the sex addict, treatment models, and a call for research for systems theory model in treating the partner. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention 20(4), 323-335.
2. Carnes, P. J., Green, B. A., Merlo, L. J., Polles, A., Carnes, S., & Gold, M. S. (2012). PATHOS: A brief screening application for assessing sexual addiction. Journal of Addiction Medicine, 6(1), 29–34.
3. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (2010). Public Policy Statement: Definition of Addiction. Retrieved from www.asam.org/quality-practice/definition-of-addiction
• Facing Love Addiction – Pia Mellody
• The Intimacy Factor – Pia Mellody
• After the Affiar – Janis Abrahms Spring
• The Betrayal Bond – Patrick Carnes
• Leaving the Enchanted Forrest – Covington & Beckett