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)
I have been trying to wrap my head around sex addiction since I found out almost two months ago that it sounds like my husband is likely one. I have been researching ever since to try understand it and would like one thing in particular clarified. I’ve seen many/most references to anonymous sexual encounters, but not many references to sex addicts having sexual encounters with people they know. Do addicts typically engage in these unacceptable sexual activities with anonymous people rather than with people they know? If they do engage sexually with people they know, is that still part of sex addiction or something else all together? Thanks for answering this and many other questions through your blog
Vicki Tidwell Palmer says
Hi Stephanie, I’m sorry to hear you’re in a situation that has caused you to wonder if your husband is a sex addict.
One of the most misunderstood concepts about sex addiction is that sex addiction is about a specific behavior or behaviors. There is no sexual activity or behavior that defines or indicates that a person is struggling with compulsive or out-of-control sexual behavior. Sex addicts may have sex with anonymous partners, prostitutes, have serial affairs/sexual encounters with people they know, or “act out” with pornography and/or masturbation (in a compulsive way).
You may want to read my article ABCs of Addiction here for more info about addiction in general.
I hope this helps.
Thanks Vicki for your very prompt reply and explanation. It is only because every time I’ve read about sexual encounters as an SA behavior, it prefaces it with anonymous, every single time. So to me the anonymous aspect seemed crucial, which made me question when it’s not anonymous since that isn’t so specifically mentioned. Likely the pitfall of trying to explain something that has no clear or distinct boundaries. It would be more helpful if all the resources listed sexual encounters, both anonymous and with known people, as a typical behavior. I look forward to reading more of your blog posts, they are invaluably helpful during the most difficult time in my life.