Treating Sexual Addiction

Sexual addiction is not defined by how frequently a person has sex or what kind of sex one prefers, but rather is when one has a compulsive/obsessive relationship to sex that leads to habitually acting out repeated behavior.

Sex addiction is particularly hard to treat because, unlike addictions which are typically treated in a way that encourages abstinence, not all sex is unhealthy or is to be discouraged.  Unless one is asexual and has no interest in sex, completely abstaining from sex is not possible.  Therefore, with sexual addiction, the goal of treatment is not to refrain from sex but to treat the compulsive behavior that feeds the addiction.

How does one know if a person who wants to have frequent sex simply has a high sex drive or if there is a problem with addiction?  Because our society uses a moralistic barometer to define behavior, it’s essential to separate behavior that may be negatively judged by moral standards from that which is genuinely unhealthy and destructive.

Because there is a tendency to judge and blame those with addiction problems, I am careful not to think of addiction based only on the behavior itself.  When I suspect addictive behavior, I start by asking simple questions that allow me to distinguish addiction from non-destructive behavior.

Does the behavior negatively affect one’s functioning, e.g. one’s job/career, health,
family, etc?

Does the behavior negatively affect one’s relationships, involving deception, guilt, secrecy and shame?

Can a person stop the behavior if he/she wants to?

What would the person feel if the behavior was taken away?

These questions establish whether the behavior is an addiction and, if so, to what degree the behavior is self-destructive.

Harder to treat than other addictions, sexual addiction has become more pervasive because of both the availability of internet sites devoted to the seeking of sex and pornography and the increased sexualization of our culture.  While in the past, it was harder to satisfy sexual addiction, today one can feed compulsive behavior without ever leaving home with the click of a mouse on the computer.  Sexual addiction has increased dramatically in segments of the population where it had previously been rare, e.g. women, adolescents and senior citizens. This has created a significant problem and made it difficult for many people to establish healthy intimate sexual relationships.

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