Sexual Addictions

1Reasons why people seek help for sexual addictions

People often seek counselling for sexual addictions when a partner has been found to be ‘unfaithful’. However, at other times, individuals may seek help when their quality of life suffers: they experience hopelessness, powerlessness and desolation as a result of the addiction.

Sexual addictions include addiction to internet porn, having an affair or multiple affairs with emotional and/or sexual involvement, engaging in interactive online sexual behaviours.

In general, feelings of anxiety worry and depression can often be the core issues that fuel the addiction. The acting out sexually can be a symptom of these underlying issues; it is the person’s medication for the pain.

Addiction as a process

Addiction refers to the presence of tolerance and withdrawal that hinder normal psychological and social functioning. People have difficulty maintaining good and harmonious relationships, at work or at home, with their partners and other family members. The addictive behaviour increases over time because the sexual arousal takes longer and requires more stimulation or exposure to the images or sexually explicit behaviour. In other words the same amount of substance or stimulation elicits less response. This is similar to a person who used to need a glass of wine to get intoxicated now needs more than one glass of wine to produce the same effect.

People who try to quit the habit experience withdrawal, which refers to the heightened levels of anxiety, frustration and distress people feel when the stimulation is no longer induced. It is important to recognise that these uncomfortable feelings and emotions can surface during therapy and adequate care needs to be taken to comfort oneself in a healthier way. The therapist can suggest ways this can be done.

It is normal for people to have mixed feelings about the sexual addiction. On the one hand it produces relaxation and pleasure, although momentarily, but it also causes a lot of damage to self and relationships. Mere good will or threat from the partner is not enough to overcome the behaviour.

It requires a strong commitment to the process of recovery which involves abstinence, making access difficult and being accountable to a trusted friend or professional. Individuals need to recognise their powerlessness in dealing with the addiction but they also need to know they are not alone, this is where support groups can be of help.

Broken trust

Individuals with sexual addictions are oblivious of the impact on their partner, often seeing their actions and activities as irrelevant to the couple relationship. Sexual addictions, like other addictions, are often kept secret from the partner. Lying is a common way of hiding the ‘clandestine’ behaviours which can lead to the erosion of intimacy and good will between partners.

Getting married or starting an intimate relationship does not guarantee that addictions will disappear. The arrival of children in the relationship can drive any ‘wedge in the relationship’ even further. Mothers can get very busy and engrossed with their children leaving the husband feeling neglected and less important. Such issues need to be dealt with in the relationship and should not be an excuse for infidelity.

Lying about the affairs and addiction gives rise to a more serious issue of trust in the relationship. Usually it is the man in the relationship who is ‘acting out’ and the woman who is the victim. Building of trust takes time, even though the offending partner is genuinely sorry and has taken steps to stop the behaviour.

When the man has begun the journey to address addiction, he can get frustrated with his partner for her ‘lack of progress’ in rebuilding trust. Building of trust takes time because wounds of betrayal heal slowly. Individual counselling and group work for addiction together with relationship counselling, for trust issues, can be helpful in dealing with the two issues (addiction and broken trust) separately.