Sex addiction as become the butt of pretty well every joke told the last few years, thanks to a string of red-handed celebrities hiding behind the tag. While it may be funny coming out of the TV screen, it’s anything but funny when you’re coping with it in your own relationship. The truth is sex addiction is as real as an alcohol or gambling addiction. In a recent paper published by Milkman and Sunderwirth found that the arousal experienced by sex addicts have the same effects on the brain as using cocaine and amphetamines as well as compulsive gambling and other high-risk behavior. Many experts on sexual addiction are even developing a 12-Step program like those used for substance abuse and other addictive activities.
The Experience of A “Real Life” Sexual Addict
It really is hard to buy the “Sex Addict” story from stars with their “Ahem” hands caught in the cookie jar, and guys like Tiger Woods and Michael Douglas really have undermined the serious issue that genuine sex addiction actually is. Susan Cheever, daughter of the late writer John Cheever, wrote a book called Desire: Where Sex Meets Addiction, in which she shares her own experiences, along with those of individuals she encountered while researching the book. In an interview for CBS, Cheever admitted: “Whenever there was a situation in which I was terrified or panicky, I would often find myself sleeping with somebody who appeared to have power over that situation.” In one instance, after learning of her mother’s cancer diagnoses Ms. Cheever confessed that she had sex because she “needed to feel less helpless”.
A sex addict’s actions aren’t fueled by a relationship with their partner, it goes much deeper than just having an indiscretion or not being committed to their marriage or relationship.
For the partner of a sex addict it can feel as if the entire world is being turned upside down. The combination of emotions, from shock and rage to guilt, despair and most deceivingly, isolation, are gut-wrenching. Although their situation is hardly unique. Approximately 9 million (3 to 6 percent) of the American population suffers from sex addiction. This can refer to more than just an addiction to the actual act of having sex with others, but also masturbation, cybersex, phone sex, pornography, and more. Not all sex addicts have physical affairs, some instead spend several hours a day in sex chat rooms or obsessively looking at pornography, although this doesn’t make it any less difficult for their partners, who inevitably feel betrayed and abandoned.
Anyone having trouble coming to terms with their partner’s sexual addiction should read the work of Dr.Patrick Carnes, PhD, one of the leading experts on sexual addiction. His books Out of the Shadows and Don’t Call It Love have proven to be must-reads for partners of sexual addicts as a great source of information and comfort. He insists the problem doesn’t have anything to do with the partner and everything to do with the addict’s belief system.
In his book, Out of the Shadows, Carnes says: “Generally, addicts do not perceive themselves as worthwhile persons. Nor do they believe that other people would care for them or meet their needs if everything was known about them, including the addiction. Finally, they believe that sex is their most important need. Sex is what makes isolation bearable. If you do not trust people, one thing that is true about sex–and alcohol, food, gambling, and risk–is that it always does what it promises–for the moment. Thus, as in our definition of addiction, the relationship is with sex–and not people.”
Signs that Your Partner Has a Sexual Addiction
Is your partner spending several hours online for reasons that they keep from you? It could be that they are engaging in some sort of sexual behavior online such as sex chat or cybersex, visiting porn websites, or even exchanging emails and dirty pictures with others.
Has your partner continued to engage in sexual activity that you have already expressed your feelings about and asked them to stop? An inability to stop certain behaviour despite the known consequences, such as damage to the relationship, work life, or financial situation is a sure sign of addiction.
Has there been a significant change in how often your partner has sex with you? When someone is having sex or masturbating multiple times per day, they have little energy or desire to have sex with their partner. The opposite can be true for some, with their need for sex several times a day making them insist on sex with you more than usual.
If you have answered yes to some or all of these questions, it may be time to speak to your partner about the possibility of sex addiction. Secrecy and shame are common with sexual addicts, so being forthcoming about their problem might be extremely difficult for your partner. Be sensitive and be honest about how their behaviour is affecting you. Sexual addiction treatment centers and support groups specific to the partners and spouses of sexual addicts exist and can provide you with the guidance that you need to keep from getting lost in your partner’s addiction or giving in to the guilt and anger common when being involved with an addict. Help is just a click or a phone call away.
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