In my post, the “ABCs of addiction” I talked about the basics of addiction which include loss of control, repeated unsuccessful efforts to stop, escalation or intensification of the behavior over time, and serious life consequences.
There are 5 major factors that set sex addiction discovery and recovery apart from other addictions:
1. Sexual betrayal is felt as a personal assault by the partner
If your partner abuses alcohol or drugs you may be frustrated and angry about his behavior. You may even be hurt by the thought that he seems to care more about alcohol than he does about you. On the other hand, if your partner is spending hours a day looking at pornography, frequenting adult bookstores or hiring prostitutes, the level of betrayal and hurt experienced is multiplied exponentially. His behavior feels personal, as if it reflects on you. In future posts I will discuss specific ways to deal with the trauma partners experience, but for now it is important for you to know that even though his behavior impacts you in a devastating and very personal way, it is not about you.
2. Sexual betrayal creates serious health risks for partners
If a sex addict has unprotected sex with anyone other than his partner and hides this information from her, her health has been put at serious risk, compounded by the fact that she doesn’t know she may have been exposed to sexually transmitted infections and/or disease. It is not uncommon for partners to contract an STI from a sexually addicted partner who is having unprotected sex with others.
3. Abstinence from sex is not the goal
Contrary to what some professionals in the sexologist and sex therapy field claim, recovery from sex addiction is not about abstaining from sex. For most addictions, the simple (but not necessarily easy) solution is to abstain from the substance or the behavior. Defining abstinence in sex addiction is a much more complicated process because it involves a pleasurable and evolutionarily desirable behavior that is fundamental to human existence. Defining abstinence for compulsive sexual behavior is similar to treating an eating disorder. Just like a person with a serious eating disorder wouldn’t be expected to stop eating in order to learn healthy eating, it is not realistic to ask a person with problematic sexual behavior to abstain permanently from sex.
4. Slips and relapses may be more common in sex addiction recovery
This is difficult for partners to accept and rightfully so. But the simple truth is that for a variety of reasons, people who attempt to replace compulsive sexual behavior with healthy sex generally aren’t able to simply make a decision to stop all unhealthy sexual patterns and never repeat them. There can be several, or many setbacks along the way. Depending on the behaviors involved, these “slips” may be deal-breakers for partners.
5. Need for more intensive accountability
If your partner is drinking or using drugs, it’s hard not to notice even if he’s a master at avoiding detection. The odors and/or unusual behaviors of people when they’re using are difficult to overlook. It’s entirely possible for someone to have a sexual encounter either solo or with another person during the lunch hour, on the way home from work, while doing errands on the weekend, or at home in the middle of the night and for there to be no evidence or clues of any kind. This is one of the reasons why formal therapeutic disclosure followed by a polygraph exam have become common in sex addiction treatment. For most people who haven’t dealt with a sexually compulsive partner these accountability measures may sound extreme. However, it is not unusual for a recovering drug addict to be required to pass a sobriety test in order to have visitation with children, for example. The polygraph is the equivalent of the drug test as an accountability tool to repair the damage done in relationships impacted by compulsive sexual behavior. In future posts I will discuss in detail the disclosure process and use of polygraph.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2014)