Has sexual behaviors become the priority of your life? Do you find yourself spending more time with porn than you wanted? Do you get worried when someone is on your phone or computer because you're afraid they might see what you do in private? Do you keep finding yourself managing multiple
"When you cannot stop your behavior; when you're spending more time and money than you thought you would; when you've been caught or had consequences but continue anyway; when you've made promises to quit and can't fulfill those promises to yourself, God, your family, and your wife, you most likely have an addiction." - Dr. Doug Weiss
romantic or sexual relationships? Do you find yourself doing compulsive behaviors that, if anyone where to discover or know about, you fear it would be the end of your life as you know it, yet you can't seem to stop? Or despite getting caught, hurting your loved ones, or costing you a great price, do you find yourself going back to these compulsive sexual behaviors over and over again? If this has been your experience then you may be struggling with compulsive sexual behaviors: what we call sexual addiction.
Sexual addictive behaviors can take many forms. Sometimes it is compulsive porn use and other sexual digital media. Sometimes it's maintaining multiple sexual partners while keeping it from your partner. It can also take the form of cursing public places for potential partners or even maintaining romantic connections with others, even if it does lead to sex. Though the behaviors may differ, they become addictive when the addict is unable to stop on his or her own.
For sex addicts, sex becomes the priority for which they sacrifice a great deal for. Just as an alcoholic has an affair with the bottle, the sex addict's relationship is with sex and romance. Distorted fantasies and satisfying behaviors that are obsessive to the point of physical harm are used in an attempt to resolve difficult and painful emotions. Acting out through sexual behaviors has a physiological component. When
addicts are lonely, stressed, or depressed, they access key neural pathways in their brain through mood-altering chemicals or behaviors which allows them to feel temporarily better.
The problem is that this pattern of using sexual behavior to emotionally sooth oneself can lead to feelings of shame and depression. Over time, addiction to this behavior has a masking effect that numbs one to their feelings. And it can lead to isolation and a complete loss of control that, given enough time, can lead one to their "rock bottom."
How do I know if my unwanted sexual behaviors
qualify as an addiction?
Unlike typical substance addictions, behavioral addictions can be tricky to define. What is considered "too much" for one person may be seen as normal for another. And since there is no official diagnostic criteria for sexual addiction, we look to what makes other addictions problematic. We find that there are five elements needed to make a behavior an addictive behavior:
In order to classify a behavior as an addiction, there needs to be a pattern of repetitive use for at least two years. However, the addictive behavior does not have to be engaged in every day. For example, some alcoholics only drink excessively on occasion. This type of behavior is known as a "binge-purge" pattern. They may act on their addiction only on weekends, days off, the holidays, or once every six months. However, the pattern is repetitive and follows a cycle. Unhealthy sexual behavior can follow its own pattern and be repetitive in the same way.
Addictions intensify over time due to the experienced called tolerance. The addict requires more of an activity each time the addictive behavior is engaged so as to achieve the original effect. For alcoholics, they require increasingly more alcohol to achieve the same effect. Similarly, heroin addicts require a higher does of the drug over time in order to receive the same level of high. Sexual addiction is no different. The sex addict needs more and more, more frequent or more intense, sexual activity to achieve the same sexual high. This degeneration may mean progression to more dangerous and damaging activities, or it may mean the same behaviors produce increasing shame and decreasing pleasure.
Alone, addicts are powerless in the face of their addictive behavior. The addict wants to stop doing the behavior, but time and time again the behavior cannot be stopped. The addict must identify places of powerlessness that allow the addiction to win. Sex addiction will always take you further than you wanted to go, and cost more than what you're willing to pay.
Addiction is never about the substance or the behavior; it is about medicating present pains and past hurts. Addictive substances and behaviors have the power to change feelings and emotions. Addicts use their addiction to alter their mood and medicate themselves. If an addict feels sad, depressed, lonely, tired, angry, abandoned, or any variety of other difficult emotions, a substance or behavior (like sex or porn) can be used to achieve an emotional high. This high may not always be a feeling of euphoria, but can simply act as a relief from the negative emotions so to numb the addict from the pain. just like how alcohol, cocaine, or heroin can produce a temporary artificial feeling of well-being, sexual behaviors can produce the same chemicals in the brain.
The path of addiction is a path towards destruction. Left to its final conclusion, an alcoholic will drink away close relationships and will eventually drink to death. Likewise, sexual addiction leads to a variety of destructive consequences. Marriage, family, financial security, vocation, career, ministry, and spirituality are all effected by sexual addiction.
If you find your sexual behaviors have become repetitive and degenerative over time, are becoming unmanageable, act to medicate tough emotions, and are beginning to destroy relationships within your life, it may be time to talk with a counselor about finding freedom from sexual addiction.
If I have a sexual addiction,
how do I get rid of it?
Practical Steps to Break Free from Sexual Addiction
Stop taking in new material - Quit looking at porn or other sexually suggestive material. Clean your house of all material and invest in monitoring software to help hold you accountable.
Interrupt intrusive thoughts - We cannot control what "pops up" in our minds, but we can control what we focus on. When triggered with lustful thoughts, use the Texas Three-Step:
Advert your eyes.
Humanize the person (he or she is someone's sister/brother/daughter/son/mother/father/ she or he is a precious child of God).
Pray for this person.
Confess to another person - Find a friend who you can safely talk about any triggers you may have experienced that day. This is someone who understands and who is committed to follow-up with you (better face-to-face).
Acknowledge feelings and emotions - Ignoring difficult emotions (like loneliness, boredom, anger, sadness, and stress) provides justification to escape through pornography and other sexual compulsive behaviors.
Get involved in a process recovery group - Just having accountability with friends who are trying to quit will not solve the problem. Research shows working with a group is the best way to fight this problem. Check out the groups we offer here.
Get a sponsor - Find someone who has at least a year of sobriety to walk you through these beginning steps.
Pursue counseling - If you are still having trouble after getting a sponsor, look into seeking a counselor to explore that is keeping you from finding freedom. See what counselor specialize in sexual addictions below.
Quit thinking marriage will cure it because it won't - Those urges to act out will still be there. Take every measure you can to battle this before marriage, if you can. It will only get more complicated after marriage because it will no longer just effect you.
Before you get married ask your future spouse if they struggle with porn - If thy do, slow the process down. They need to be in recovery and you need to understand what the possible battle is before you enter into marriage. If they don't get serious about their issue, their addiction will have consequences for your whole future family.
If you're already married, seek support for both you and your spouse - Sexual addiction never just effects one person. As the addict is seeking recovery, the spouse, too, needs to work through and process the impact of the addiction.