What happens to a relationship when someone’s addicted to sex? Nothing good. A mental health professional can best assess sex addiction. But with or without an official diagnosis, a couple struggling with this issue will inevitably find itself in crisis.
Why does a person end up addicted to sex? Like so many addictions, the answer often lies in the past. According to SexHelp.com, sex addicts have reported various types of childhood abuse, including emotional (97%), sexual (83%) and physical (71%). The National Council on Sexual Addiction Compulsivity believes that 18 to 24 million Americans–or 6% to 8% of the population–are sex addicts. Included in this mix are child molesters, of whom 71% are thought to be sex addicts. As well, “Roughly 55% of convicted sex offenders can be considered sex addicts,” adds Dr. Michael Herkow, PhD, on www.psychcentral.com.
Someone who’s addicted to sex isn’t living a “normal” life. While it sounds like a life that’s just about sex, it’s not. Sex addiction is often a coping mechanism to deal with childhood trauma, combined with unstoppable compulsion that can escalate over time. The addict tries to obscure his or her pain, memories and anxiety by replacing them with something that feels good. The addiction becomes the overriding force by which the person organizes time, activities and life in general. The addiction transcends everything else, regardless of consequences. Most sex addicts spend a lot of time thinking about sex and/or acting on their thoughts in a variety of ways, including compulsive masturbation, compulsive heterosexual and homosexual relationships, pornography, prostitution, exhibitionism, voyeurism, indecent phone calls, child molesting, incest, rape and violence (source: SexHelp.com).
Sex addicts will inevitably feed their addiction outside their primary relationship. That may mean chronic affairs, one-night stands and use of prostitutes. The consequences include, obviously, infidelity and deceit, plus potential exposure of the addict and his/her spouse to STDs. As noted above, sex addiction often leads to crime, tragically, against children.
Just by the amount of time the addiction consumes, a person addicted to sex will neglect his or her spouse and children. People who live or work with a sex addict may feel the brunt of the addict’s emotional issues-an ongoing cycle of denial, minimization, guilt and shame over what’s going on. They may notice the person withdrawing due to mental and/or physical fatigue; frankly, someone who’s that preoccupied with sex is flirting with exhaustion and needs time to recover to begin the cycle anew.
For the addict, compulsion trumps consequences. One study of sex addicts found that 40% reported losing their spouse and 70% indicated severe relationship problems. A single sex addict might even get married to try to combat the addiction, an act that will only hurt their new spouse in the long run.
Like any other kind of addict, people addicted to sex often can’t stop without professional help. And until they get it, they’ll continue to deceive loved ones, destroy trust and imperil the emotional security of their family.
If you think sex addiction is a problem in your life, get that help now. We suggest the following books:
Breaking Free of Compulsive
Online Sexual Behavior
P.J. Carnes, Out of the shadows: Understanding sexual addiction (2001, 3rd. ed.). Hazelden Publishing & Educational Services.
Patrick Carnes Ph.D., David L. Delmonico Ph.D., Elizabeth Griffin M.A., and Joseph Moriarity, In the shadows of the net: Breaking free of compulsive online sexual behavior (2007, 2nd ed.). Hazelden Foundation: Center City, Minnesota.
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