Hiding behind ‘sex addiction’

I have seen this phrase, or some form of it, many times, written on blogs, in articles, and even in books. I have heard it spoken, by sex addiction deniers, by partners, and by therapists. I understand. Those two words, separate or together, seem to harbor feelings that take us to places like fear, trauma, denial, suppression, confusion, and disgust. We tend to want to disrespect and pass judgment on things, behaviors, or frankly people, we don’t understand. We don’t want to associate with a diagnosis that has a negative reputation. We live in a society in which the press and social media would have us believe it is okay to judge everything and everyone without knowing them, without having much more than a titillating headline or a controversial selfie.

Sex addict is a label. There are other words and phrases to describe a person who compulsively uses sex as a way to deal with thoughts, feelings, and emotions instead of facing them head on. Sexual compulsivity can be driven by feelings of abandonment, entitlement, shame, loneliness, and on and on and on. Often times people who act out sexually, hide sexual behavior, deny sexual behavior, suffer damaged self esteem due to serious family dysfunction when they were young including emotional abandonment or sexual molestation, amongst many other pathologies.

The important factor here is not how others judge us, or even whether others judge us, but in fact the key to overcoming sexual compulsivity is bringing it out into the light, acknowledging when we need to change our behavior, stop hurting people we love, and stop hurting ourselves, and get help. Help can be therapy, it can be rehab for repeated behaviors we have trouble controlling on our own, it can be a spiritually based recovery program through a church or other religious organization. Many people choose the 12 step recovery route. The nice thing about 12 step is that recovery is adaptable. Those that fully embrace a 12 step group that works for them understand how versatile the program is. And for the record, 12 step is not about placing blame, it is about accepting responsibility. I have heard so many strange things about 12 step from people who have never been to a meeting, or who somehow convinced themselves that “they’re not like THOSE people.” If the program is to work, people need to make it their own and not use excuses for why it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because the person who needs it didn’t work it. And that applies to all forms of recovery.

The biggest obstacle to healing, in my mind, is denial. Denial comes with the territory. The person with the compulsive sexual behaviors has most likely been denying to themselves that they have a real problem, or they believe they have control over their behavior. They can stop whenever they want. That’s denial. Control is a big deal to most addicts. Having control over compulsive behaviors, however, is the definition of being out of control.

Control is acknowledging we have a problem. How we decide to deal with that problem is an individual journey. We don’t have to accept a label, but we do need to get help. And passing judgment on someone else’s healing doesn’t really help the situation for us or for anyone else. Partners of people with compulsive sexual behaviors have said to me that their husband was hiding behind the sex addiction label and they weren’t really an addict. That they were using it as an excuse, or attending meetings because someone was “forcing” them to, a therapist, a spouse, a family member, whatever. Well, we all know people cannot be forced into changing. We have to want to change and if we have done regrettable things and hurt ourselves, our families, friends, others… any avenue that will wake us up, help us to understand the whys of our behavior and the hows of transforming destructive behavior into positive, life affirming, and loving actions towards ourselves and others, is a good thing.

One of my least favorite sayings is that 12 step is for addicts and assholes. Recovery, in all of its forms, is for people who want to change. So if we, our partners, family members, neighbors, children, whomever, wants to change maybe we should stop judging and in fact embrace recovery in all its forms. We are all fallible human beings shaped by everything in our life that preceded today. It’s okay. We can make mistakes and learn from them.

I ran across this poem the other day and it spoke to me.

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I’m breathing deep today, my friends, and embracing the beauty that surrounds me.

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My fur babies. Bernie the Blue Merle Aussie, and Lily the Golden Retriever.

32 thoughts on “Hiding behind ‘sex addiction’

  1. You’re absolutely right! We shouldn’t be judgements and learn to control our anger, no matter how justified, and not call abusive SA’s assholes. The term is much to endearing and downplays the severity of the situation. I am not doing my best to be supportive by sugarcoating what he is doing, who he is, and the damaging effects of his behavior on everyone, including himself. If he is in denial and attempting to control the situation in true manipulative SA fashion, then it is up to me to recognize he is in fact not in recovery at all. I should make hin aware of this realization and inform him of the facts, which is avoidance of real recovery causes me more fear and added trauma due to his narcissistic sociopathic tendencies, which cannot be allowed.

    I don’t think I agree with “recovery in all it’s forms”. Too many SA’s would be all too eager to use that as a manipulation tactic, which is not recovery at all. Recovery means having a desire to transform the core of your being and doing the hard work in order to do the heart work. When the heart and mind changes, so does the behavior. In my experience with SA’s, the heart changes first and then the mind almost immediately after. The changed behavior is always what comes next. This the case with true recovery. “Recovery” that lacks sincerity is just sobriety. Sobriety is more prone to relapse because the only the ability to control the behavior was exercised. Without internal changes to strengthen one’s sense of self, healthy coping habits will not be developed enough to overcome triggers.

    Since many SA’s do not seek recovery voluntarily, at least not initially, I believe it is absolutely crucial that as his spouse, I set firm healthy boundaries. I believe it is up to me to turn my focus and energy from my SA back to myself and find the strength and commitment to take myself seriously so I take my boundaries seriously. It’s up to the me, the spouse, to set this example not only for my own healing, but for my SA’s recovery. So that his recovery is more than just sobriety. So that he can learn self respect and respect for others from the strength I’ve shown in being committed and faithful to myself, my needs, beliefs, values, expectations, and over all wellbeing. So he can learn that true support is giving someone what they need in a loving way and not what they selfishly want, even when they don’t like it because love is more than words, but actions of giving and meeting one’s needs. I need to show him through my example, that my capabilities to love and support others first comes from my ability to love myself and meet my own needs.

    I agree that support for someone who is committed to recovery is a must for the spouse. It’s actually much easier to be supportive of someone who takes their recovery seriously because that means they take your recovery and the recovery of the marriage seriously. Anything less is unacceptable and if accepted, enables the same destructive patterns. Recovery must start somewhere and it needs to start with me. His recovery is ultimately his choice, but mine needs to established and built up before I can give to him.

    Regardless of his choices, my recovery must be a priority. I cannot pour from an empty cup. If my example inspires him, then the marriage stands a chance. If he chooses to remain a stubborn, selfish, hard hearted, neglectful, avoidant, manipulative, narcissistic, with sociopathic tendencies, then my boundaries are clear and he has chosen to terminate the marriage and reject the last opportunity. I cannot force his recovery and no amount of my love or attention will guarantee he will refocus and rededicate his commitment. It is up to me to be committed to my own wellbeing enough to maintain my boundaries no matter the outcome. The consequences are ultimately his to experience, good or bad. My concern needs to be on supporting myself first in whatever way that is required for a stronger healthier me. I must learn to drown out the judgement, blame, and possible abusive tactics and stand firm that I am doing what is right and most beneficial. I will remind myself that I will be ok and one day better than ok. Best case scenario, we will both become better than ok together, but the focus must remain on me until I can give more and have a genuine reason for doing so.


    • Hi Chris, I know nothing about you, but it looks like you have learned a lot about taking care of yourself in the wake of finding out you are partnered with a sex addict. That’s good.

      In this post, I was specifically speaking about addicts, and in my comment about recovery and all forms of it, I was speaking about 12 step and/or in whatever path they have chosen, in my opinion, the program will only work if they themselves work it with honesty and integrity. I hope your partner is doing this. I know we can never truly know, so yes, taking care of ourselves is the goal, for everyone involved.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Fantastic article. I am a food (cake, sweets & biscuits) and sex addict. I am currently in sobriety however I do not classify myself as in recovery as my character defects mean I am still unwell. I only recently acknowledged that the physical and emotional abuse I received from my parents as a child was a factor in my addiction thanks to SA and my Counsellor. I relate to all of the content in your article. The group and my Counsellor have made me realise that my acting out was the illness whilst my character defects are the symptoms. The strength I receive from SA members and my Counsellor when sharing and from blogs like yours is invaluable for me in my struggle to tackle my addiction. Keep up the good work. Take care Mark

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Mark, for your lovely comment. My husband likewise did not acknowledge his parent’s abuse, until he was diagnosed as a sex addict and received therapy. His therapist at the time (before discovery of my husband’s secret life) had recommended the book Facing Codependence by Pia Mellody and that book really struck a chord with him. He started to see how his childhood and his constant striving for positive reinforcement from them (which he never received) not to mention a lot of other abuse, had shaped him and the things he didn’t like about himself. I realize 12 step is not for everyone, but it has been a critical part of his recovery so far. Being able to heal along side others who understand the emotions involved, is really invaluable in my opinion.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. This is fantastic. I think a lot of folks in recovery in general should read this. I know many folks in 12 step for alcohol and drugs who are also in 12 step for sex or sex and love, etc. My sponsor once told me that perhaps I may be a candidate. I have listened to tapes from speakers with sex addiction and I could relate to many of the underlying causes and conditions for their actions. It was the same for me with alcohol.

    I am always amazed at how these things manifest – whether it comes out as gambling, debting, food (I have sugar issues for sure), sex, etc. when underneath we are all so very much the same.

    I do agree that it’s difficult in this society to open up about this. It’s easier as an alcoholic – it’s almost “mainstream” if you will. But sex has a taboo on it to begin with, in some ways. So to have an addiction to it confuses a lot of people, and a lot of misinformation and assumptions. Even within the ranks of recovery communities. So thank you for this – I learned a bit more and look forward to reading more of your posts!



    • Thanks, Paul. I have learned that the underlying nature of addiction doesn’t preclude multiple “drugs.” Numerous men that my husband has met in SA use alcohol to excess, likewise with drugs, and gambling, but perhaps the most common is attempting to use food as a replacement for other more immediately destructive drugs. Overeating, but also specific foods, like you say, sugar. My husband’s food addiction is actually soda, specifically coca-cola, so a quick hit of sugar and caffeine. He has a similar pattern with Coke as his sex addiction. He partakes in excess, then gives it up, then goes back to it. We all have something we crave. Some things are more destructive than others. I know quite a few people who were chubby as kids and have since become addicted to exercise. Truly, they feel like they are going to die if they have to go without and their trim (sometimes scary trim) bodies are constant reinforcement of their drug. Their self esteem is now built on how “fit” they are.

      After discovery, I often asked my husband, why sex? Why not alcohol or drugs. He of course doesn’t know, because at 10-11 years old, he didn’t analyze his behavior. He never really did analyze himself until he entered recovery. As a child though, he had a couple of serious immune deficiency disorders, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and colitis. Drinking alcohol made him physically ill and he had no access to drugs at that age. Masturbation was it and it escalated to all forms of porn, then grooming and eventually short term hook ups and then a long term sex partner. The thing, I think, is most misunderstood, is the belief that they do it for pleasure. The saddest thing is that my husband felt horrible about his behavior. It wasn’t romantic. He felt overwhelming shame and disgust and fear. He still feels that way on many days.

      I have enjoyed reading a couple of your posts and the comments. All really positive. My blog is really my personal story, but some days I feel like sharing a broader conversation. Thanks for reading and sharing.


      • Food, clothing, shelter, sex drive. Right there. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Once the body begins to crave sex it had better have the emotional ability to separate desire from addiction but…..how does a teenager, who has no life experience to tell him/her that one is healthy and the other is not, manage. All his friends have the same drives. He feels normal. He works, marries, has children and then something is wrong. He loves his little family but something is pulling him under. He could have become addicted to anything but sex got him first. I wager BE still has trouble understanding when his normal sex drive steps into addiction. He has had never had that choice. Now, with support, he is finding it.

        Liked by 2 people

        • “Once the body begins to crave sex…” It typically begins around 10-13 years old. If people don’t have healthy relationship/sexual role models, we can develop problems that fully manifest in adult relationships.

          My question is — can these issues ever be resolved or just managed? Of course we can all learn to be better and gain self-awareness.

          Really tough stuff.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Good question, beleeme. Because the behavior is so ridden with shame and guilt, and they never wanted to be doing it in the first place, perhaps there is a point where they are able to change those frontal lobes to stop craving that old life when things are down. I know from what BE has discussed with me in general about his 12 step friends, that even with years of sobriety, some are merely managing and they still think about their drug, but they are managing. They aren’t acting out and they do turn to positive activities. They are living a better life, free from the shame of acting out, but that “shame” demon is very strong. They have to start believing they are good people, and with some, it has a lot to do with anger and resentment. Yes, they did hurtful and destructive things in their past, but they are human beings who deserve to be congratulated for changing their behavior. I like to believe that with hard work and learning to resolve the feelings around whatever traumatic event(s) shaped them to be addicts, that they can reach a type of freedom. At least I hope so, for all of them. ❤

            Liked by 1 person

            • Shame is tremendous. I admit that I have a great deal of shame about this too. I am working on it.

              The words “anger” and “resentment” have come out frequently in hub’s recovery work.

              I agree about the fact that any addict (or really, any human) needs to feel that they are a person who contributes in a good way to the greater good in our society to be the best version of themselves. No one is perfect. It’s interesting that you brought this up – “believing they are good people” – because a few days ago I suggested to my hub that we start to shine a spotlight on the GOOD. Therapy and even recovery support groups can potentially focus on the PROBLEM(S). Like a spotlight on the BAD. No one is all good or bad. I think it would help both of us if we start to pay more attention to the good parts, the successes, and the accomplishments. What we focus on will multiply.

              That’s my goal, anyhow.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Interestingly enough, I am dealing with some of this (NOT sex addiction related) with my parents. My step father is dying of prostate cancer. They have run out of treatments for him, except maybe chemo. I’m confused about this as they told him he wasn’t a candidate a while back, but I guess now he is. My mother, who has had bouts with depression in the past, is deteriorating into anger and paranoia and resentment very quickly. All, in my mind, driven by fear. I can only imagine what the conversations are like in their house right now as certainly my otherwise fit and healthy step father does not want to die. They are both stressed. In talking to my mother the other day, I could tell that she was being mean to my step dad. I reminded her that he is scared too. There isn’t much time left, and if she can’t embrace the GOOD in the time they have left, she will surely regret it. I was as firm as I have ever been with her (in my family, I am apparently the one who always has things under control, ha, a myth, but I do my best), she is falling into a pit of despair and taking him down with her. She is 73 years old and has no other real health issues. She should have a lot of years left. She’s in therapy, but… I know she has the ability to turn this around. Even with the inevitable bad, we can do our best to embrace all the GOOD we can find. Much <3!

                Liked by 1 person

        • Moi, yes he does. Sometimes he chastises himself for even wanting sex, even though us normals realize it is natural human behavior. It frustrates me to no end when he does this because sex with me does not break his sobriety and I have learned to gauge his emotions and act accordingly. If he seems stressed or ungrounded, it’s a no go. He has other outlets now. It’s also a bummer because I know the fantasy driven secret sex with the other woman came from a deep place, a place filled with lust, and sometimes lust drives hot sex, but also it is coming from an addictive place. It’s psychological warfare sometimes. Always a work in progress. xo

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, my, that poem touched me and I am bawling. It’s a good kind of crying. It brought back the fact that my husband nearly died at his own hand b/c of his tremendous emotional pain and trauma.

    “…the beating of your heart, You have to almost lose it, To remember what you’ve had… How much you like to breathe.”

    It’s so interesting how we can all read something and b/c of our own experiences which we draw on, it can mean something different to us, eh?

    Keep on breathing good breaths, and walking your fur-babes. Beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Shels. So glad you are writing again, not because of your current situation, but because you have an outlet to be open and honest and talk out your feelings. I have been reading your blog entries to Blue Eyes. I haven’t commented mainly because I’m not sure there is much for me to say. You write so well and so thoroughly. I know BE sees himself in your desperate thoughts that you so eloquently put on paper, so to speak. I’ll respond to your other comment soon. xo

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, this is where the experts believe BE’s trauma first took hold. Continued negative parenting and abuse led right to using sex as a drug and then addiction became a way of life. The brain was altered way back when. The cycle was not broken until discovery. It seems this is the case with many addicts. PTSD affects people differently, but if we are so inclined to medicate with a drug, it becomes harder and harder to control. Thanks, Moi. xo

      Liked by 1 person

  5. If you live with someone with sex addiction, you know it’s real. And it can look really crazy. The consequences of acting out behavior are harsh- lost marriages, estranged children, job loss, legal problems, financial problems, loss of status/reputation, arrests, jail and prison. And yet, those harsh consequences are not enough to stop many (most?) sex addicts. Recovery, in my opinion, is crucial, whatever path that recovery takes. Living with a sex addict or being in a relationship with one has consequences, too- loss of trust, feeling diminished/disregarded, financial/legal problems, coping with the bullshit of acting out partners, embarrassment, humiliation, and loss of self esteem. to name some. Finding support is crucial, in my opinion. Yes, a partner can leave, and many do, but the effects will still need to be dealt with. I agree that the 12-step programs are often misunderstood, which is unfortunate, because I think some of the people who could benefit the most shun them. One woman in our S-Anon group sat outside in a waiting room for a year while our meeting took place. She was waiting on her husband who was attending the SA meeting that took place at the same time, different room. The S-Anon members invited her to join them many times. She always refused because “she didn’t need it.” What got her to finally attend was hearing the laughter. She couldn’t understand how these wives and partners could be laughing. What did they have to laugh about? Indeed, shared stories, shared insights, and maybe just knowing that you are not alone can be a big help towards healing.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. “If the program is to work, people need to make it their own and not use excuses for why it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because the person who needs it didn’t work it. And that applies to all forms of recovery.” Exactly!! And this applies to both the addict and the partner because we both need healing from the addiction and its affects. I worked a 12 step program called Beyond Love that was adapted for partners of sex addicts by Dr. Doug Weiss. I did it for me so that I could be okay no matter what my husband did or didn’t do in his recovery. I have read/heard the opinions of other partners/wives who have disregarded the 12 steps as an option in their healing, but for me, I have wanted to embrace every opportunity provided to me to heal and grow. I wanted to change. And I have.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s tough. We all do it, pass judgment, talk about things we know little about. People think I am argumentative, but really, I only “discuss” topics that I feel really strongly about. That I have experience with and I realize I am only speaking my truth. There are as many unique stories as there are people in the world. I often become emotional. It’s difficult to debate something if we have no experience with it. I try to be understanding and compassionate, but sometimes it just bugs me. This post was prompted by a blog I don’t follow, but was drawn there through a comment on a blog I do follow. For someone to say they don’t understand sex addiction is one thing… but to say it doesn’t exist? WTF?

      Time to take a walk on the beach. It’s gorgeous here! xo

      Liked by 4 people

    • Nice post! My spouse and I are experiencing similar situation. But pornography. I never thought about trying tge 12 step program. Are there really mmeeting s for sex addicts? For some reason I thought it was alcohol addiction driven only.

      Liked by 1 person

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