By Anna McKenzie
Sex addiction is a psychological condition in which an individual suffers from compulsive desires to perform sexual acts. Because this condition is tightly connected to a lack of control or a need for control, sex addicts fall into unhealthy sexual behavior patterns in spite of known consequences. A pervasive bent toward sex and sexual thoughts can cause severe life disruption that hampers intimacy, damages relationships, and causes problems with a partner and other loved ones.
Sex addiction can seem like an ominous diagnosis to some, while to others, it may seem like a concocted label to explain a person’s excessive sexual behavior or interest. It’s important to understand the truth about this condition so that affected individuals can receive the help they need. The following are four common myths about sex addiction and the reality behind them.
4 Common Sex Addiction Myths
MYTH #1: The typical sex addict is a sex offender or criminal.
“There’s no average sex addict,” says Dr. Erica Sarr, Clinical Director of Gentle Path. “The human brain is infinitely creative and infinitely flexible. Some of the underpinning needs might be the same. Two people with very different sexual behaviors might both be seeking attachment that was challenging for them in childhood. But one might fear women or men and so only seek out connection through pornography and stay away from people all of their adult life. Another person might experience love addiction and become obsessed when they find a partner, worry that partner will leave them or cheat on them or abandon them. It’s two different ways of dealing with the same problem. So when people are like, ‘Well, what does a sex addict look like?’ a lot of people are afraid that that means a criminal, someone who has hurt children; that can be in there — [but] there are also people who do those behaviors who aren’t sex addicts.”
MYTH #2: Sex addiction is a label for being really interested in sex and acting out sexually.
Like other psychological disorders, sex addiction is marked not by interest or even behavior, but by the lack of control that an individual experiences during an episode. Sex addicts may wish to stop acting on their compulsive desires but feel unable to.
“We do get people trying to hide behind a label, [but] we have plenty of people who would rather die than have an addiction label,” Dr. Sarr explains. “We have people who have lots of sexual struggles, but I don’t know that I would identify that they are sex addicts. … The only point of the label is to help someone understand what’s going on with them, and help the people helping them understand.”
She goes on to point out the importance of asking questions to get to the core of a person’s struggle with compulsive sexual thinking and behavior. Sex and intimacy issues have a wide range of variability, and the sex addiction moniker serves as a shortcut to helping individuals and therapists dive deeper into what’s truly causing the life disruption. This usually stems from past trauma manifesting itself in a need for control.
MYTH #3: Sex addicts don’t care about other people’s feelings.
A person’s sex addiction can have major repercussions for his or her partner, which can lead to the idea that sex addicts do not care about other people’s feelings. On the contrary, some people are desperate to find a solution to their condition in order to repair or salvage a relationship. Others may have an inability to experience a typical range of emotions due to growing up in a traumatic or non-nurturing environment where they learned to shut off their feelings and become numb. Dr. Sarr says the “unthawing” process is very confusing for them.
As partners seek their own healing, it’s worthwhile for them to understand that their personal worth is not a reflection of, or dependent on, the sex addict’s behavior. In addition, even though a sex addict is looking to solve a problem in an unhealthy way, it does not mean that he or she does not care about others or have hurt feelings as well.
“More often, I’m working with people who, because of trauma in their childhood, have arrived at a sexual solution to an intimacy problem,” Dr. Sarr says. “Just like every other human being, they want to be loved, they want to be seen, they want to be understood, they want to be respected.”
MYTH #4: Sex addiction treatment focuses on abstinence or repression.
Dr. Sarr emphasizes that sex addiction treatment is not about refraining from sex, but about learning what’s healthy, what’s not healthy, and discarding what’s toxic to one’s life. It’s about finding ways to express appropriate needs in appropriate ways, discover boundaries, and create congruence between one’s values and one’s lifestyle.
She often tells patients, “Your body is crying out for something more nutritious intimacy-wise, and you just keep giving it candy. You’re just going to keep feeling empty.” She and the other clinicians and staff at Gentle Path are focused on helping patients find fulfillment through new paradigms, healthy behaviors, creative expression, and positive lifestyle changes.
Sex Addiction Treatment at Gentle Path
Sex addiction often coincides with other co-occurring conditions, such as substance use disorders or depression and anxiety. At Gentle Path, we focus on treating the whole person for the best chance of long-term recovery. We provide an intensive, experiential-based 45-day treatment program for men who are struggling with sex addiction, trauma, co-occurring disorders, or who have failed at past treatment efforts. If you are interested in knowing more about our program and how we can help you or a loved one, please get in touch with our intake team today.
“Giving yourself the gift of this space and this time and the idea that you are worthy enough to explore what’s going on with you and the idea that you could stop suffering is worth it,” says Dr. Sarr. “I don’t need you to arrive at any conclusion about who you are or what you’re going to do or who you’re going to be, but if you’re thinking about coming to a place like Gentle Path, you’re in pain. Like any other health professional, I want to help you figure out what’s causing you to be in pain and help you heal.”