Many people who seek professional help for sexual addiction or sexual acting-out are struggling with feelings of helplessness, shame, and guilt, as well as the tendency to resort to secrecy when it comes to the people closest to them. And actually, the barrier created by shame can often prevent individuals who are sexually acting-out from seeking the help they need.Sex addiction Georgetown Texas

For many, unwanted sexual behavior has cost them greatly. Spouses/partners have been devastated by the discovery that their loved ones have been living a secret life; marriages have ended; careers have been lost; in some cases, legal problems have resulted.

And then there is the emotional cost to the individual. Depression, anger/agitation, self-loathing, guilt, shame and isolation frequently result; and these feelings may act as triggers to further sexual behavior, causing repetitive cycles of emotional distress and sexual acting-out.

Sex Addiction: When sex becomes a problem

What follows are four issues that you might struggle with if sexual addiction is a problem in your life.

Keep in mind that having a vigorous libido and wanting to have sex with your partner most days does not mean you are addicted to sex. (If your partner isn’t on the same page in terms of frequency and would prefer far less sex, that still doesn’t mean you are struggling with an addiction. That can mean, however, that you two are sexually incompatible and therefore might do some work to see how you can compromise to create a more balanced mutual sex life.)

An addiction isn’t about appetite…an addiction is a behavior that is harming your life, a behavior you feel guilty or shameful about, a behavior that you wish you could stop but feel powerless to do so on your own.

It’s important to understand the distinction between liking or needing sex on a regular basis (perhaps more than most people you know even) and an addiction that ultimately hurts you and your partner (in other words, behaviors like cheating or mindless sex in dangerous situations). 

1) Loss of control   

“I masturbate two to three times a day in public bathrooms and the restroom at work. I lost one job because a coworker found out and reported me. I don’t know what to do, it’s the only way I know of that helps me get through the day, especially when my stress level is high.”  ~ Cory, age 27

The clients who come to see me for issues regarding sexual addiction or sexual acting-out often feel helpless because they’ve tried to stop or alter certain sexual behavior with little success. For many, the painful fallout that results from sexual acting-out isn’t enough to overcome these destructive patterns. Frequently, these repetitive behaviors continue despite the negative consequences.

Some clients describe a compulsive drivenness to engage in certain sexual behaviors, an experience that can feel all-consuming and fiercely urgent.   

It’s demoralizing to repeatedly fail to change an unwanted behavior. It’s one thing to feel helpless in a particular situation or in relation to another person, it’s entirely different to feel helpless about one’s own capacity to act or not act in certain ways. 

No one likes to feel helpless in relation to themselves. For some, to acknowledge this kind of helplessness is to see oneself as shamefully weak — conceding that our own demons are too powerful for us to face alone.

The voice of denial is often at work when we need help the most:

“I don’t have a problem”;

“I can stop whenever I want”;

“It’s no big deal, stop making an issue out of nothing.”

But sooner or later, the havoc caused by sexual addiction or sexual acting-out shatters denial. This is a difficult but important shift. It is this shift that sets the stage for the possibility of meaningful change.

2) The fallout and increased risk-taking

Before I got treatment, I was spending most of my paycheck at strip clubs and paying for sex. There were some months I had to borrow money because I couldn’t even pay my rent…”  ~Sid, 58 years old

Like all addictions, a sexual addiction comes at a significant cost to self and others.   

Despite the negative consequences, the behavior, for some, continues. Attempts are made to stop the behavior and, for a period of time, cessation may occur. But too many end up falling back to the old patterns. 

Sex addiction Round Rock TxWe are sexual beings and it is natural to feel and want to express our sexual desires. 

But with an addiction, there is never enough. When one experience (or level of experience) is satiated, another immediately takes its place. In this treadmill to nowhere, we become mesmerized by the pursuit of pleasure. To be addicted is to be in a perpetual state of wanting. 

Over time, what once brought erotic stimulation, intensity and excitement becomes muted.

As the sexual exploits lose their emotional charge, extremes may be recruited in an attempt to prop up the dwindling intensity. Greater risk-taking may become part of the picture. For some, the danger itself becomes the addiction.   

3) Betraying self and others

“This isn’t who I want to be. I’ve repeatedly hurt my wife and each time I act out sexually I fail myself most of all.”  ~Ronnie, 31 years old

When we betray a loved one, we shatter the trust that exists in the relationship. A commitment (to fidelity, for example) is broken and the foundation that the relationship rested upon is ripped away.

It is devastating to discover that your spouse/partner is living a hidden life involving sexual acting-out. Frequently, it is this discovery that leads to the initiation of treatment.

What does it mean to betray oneself?

It’s easy to overlook the fact that two betrayals occur when addiction takes hold.

The failure to reach our goals can be quite disappointing. It’s much worse, however, when our actions collide with the core values that define us (the ideals of who we want to be). When this occurs, every episode of sexual acting-out can be experienced as an assault against the self.

Self-hatred arises under these conditions; despair over losing battle after battle to our impulses; guilt over deceiving loved ones. A debilitating shame-guilt-despair cycle can take hold, making recovery more difficult.

4) Secrecy

“I couldn’t think about my husband when I was setting up a date with the man I was having an affair with. I’d tell my husband I wasn’t going to be reachable for a certain amount of time and then it was like he didn’t exist. This allowed me to inhabit this other life.”  ~  Rachel, forty-two years old

Sexual addictions occur in secrecy. Others cannot know about what is occurring, so secrets must be kept for the addictive process to stay alive.

There is also the inner secrecy that must occur — a hidden, separate world is created inside us where thoughts and feelings about loved ones are not allowed entry. There is the “me” that exists in my daily life of responsibilities and obligations; and then there is the “me” who enters trance-like states when in the secretive world of sexual acting-out. 

When the process of sexual acting-out is set in motion, a mental space is opened up where loved ones are denied access so that these altered states of consciousness can unfold.   

This alternative reality is littered with the unrealistic — with fantasy-others who are accessible in just the right way: the ideal nurturer, the rescuer, the all-powerful one, the insatiable lover, the seductive punisher, the subservient-pleaser, etc. 

The creator of this alternative reality must set it up so that s/he can be known and seen in ways that do not exist in his/her ordinary life. This might occur by (unconsciously) identifying with one person in the pornography sought out or by seeking a specific type of experience with an escort or affair partner. 

Disconnection from others (and from parts of oneself) must occur for a secret world to exist. The ordinary world is severed or shoved aside so that this new world (or new experience) can flourish. When cracks develop in this hidden universe and the two worlds start to collide, the secretive and all that existed in it starts to collapse.

~~~

The stigma for seeking psychological help (especially for men) is a powerful deterrent that keeps many who suffer with emotional problems isolated. This stigma is compounded when it involves sexual and addictive behaviors.

If you struggle with trying to control unwanted sexual behaviors, you aren’t alone. And there is help available when you are ready to access it.

Dr. Rich Nicastro

(Richard Nicastro, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist in Georgetown, Texas. Contact Dr. Nicastro to set up an initial consultation appointment for individual therapy or his Sex Addiction Group).

Top image courtesy of graur codrin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net; Bottom image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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