Sex Addiction is not about sex
Sex addiction is a problem that can be misunderstood. Yes, it is a compulsive behavior that involves engaging in sexual activities, thoughts, and fantasies, even if it puts one's health, jobs, and relationships at risk. However, the emotional sobriety of sex addiction is a major factor in why sex addiction is not about sex.
In this blog, you will learn why sex addiction is more about how one shows up emotionally for themselves and not for their partner rather than the physical act or desire for sex.
People often equate sex addiction with having a high sex drive or being obsessed with sex, but it's not that simple. Sex addiction is driven by the release of dopamine, the feel-good chemical, and can become a vicious cycle, making it difficult to stop. Sex addiction is initially caused by affect dysregulation, referring to someone’s difficulty in managing or controlling their emotions and feelings. It can manifest as intense or unpredictable emotional reactions, mood swings, or difficulty in expressing emotions appropriately. This can lead to difficulties in interpersonal relationships and overall well-being. This is what happens with Sex addicts, they have trouble processing emotions creating a disconnect between them and their partners, making it hard to maintain a healthy and intimate relationship.
A common complaint from partners of sex addicts is feeling neglected and not having their emotional or sexual needs met. But often the sex addict is not present with their own emotional state either. They then use sex addiction as a way to manage their feelings, emotions, and moods. For example, the porn addict will masturbate and suppress being sexual with their partner, or someone having an affair, or see a prostitute as a way to engage with the fantasy to escape from their emotional state.
It's normal for partners to start to feel like something's missing, and at first, it can be difficult to figure out what. Even when they try to confront their partners, getting the truth may not be easy and can lead to being gaslit, lied to, or not being told the whole truth. Remember, addicts have tunnel vision; their only focus is feeding their addiction. They are preoccupied with their compulsions and may become unaware or oblivious to their partner's needs. Sex addicts may be struggling with an emotional disability - a condition where a person has difficulty regulating their emotions, significantly impacting their ability to participate in a relationship and why they seem so out of touch. When the person with the addiction turns to their addiction instead of their relationship to meet their needs, this can create a huge rift and start to fracture the foundation of the relationship. Over time, this perpetuates emotional violence and feelings of betrayal, which may result in trauma and the breakdown of trust.
The numbing of emotions is another way that the natural intimacy in the relationship can break down. When sex addiction has been a problem for years, it has become a maladaptive response to cope with difficult feelings or any emotions, so again, not turning to the relationship to meet their needs and instead neglecting their partners. At this point, the addict is no longer in touch with their emotional world and has become numb, creating a passive communication style and compartmentalizing. The sex addict's partner may feel like they're not getting the full picture and no longer trust the addict, making it hard to maintain a healthy relationship. The sex addict hides and lies about their behavior, making the problem worse and creating emotional distance and a lack of connection in the relationship.
The person struggling with the addiction may get to a point where they no longer feel shame about their behaviors or fear getting caught. The addict learns to put those feelings to one side and rationalize their behavior.
For the sex addict to be in a healthy intimate relationship they need to achieve emotional sobriety. The term refers to being able to regulate their emotions and feelings that trigger their compulsive behaviors. When someone is emotionally sober they are able, to be honest, emotionally available, and can communicate their feelings and needs as well as be attuned to their partner’s.
Like with any addiction, recovery is possible. Treatment for sex addiction involves therapy and engagement in a 12-step program, which can help the addict stop acting out their behaviors. Overall treatment can take 3-5 years. Think of it this way, when an addict is not emotionally sober they compartmentalize, lie, avoid, and disconnect from themselves and their partner and let their compulsions win. Emotional sobriety is the opposite and getting there takes time.
The addict will need to learn to show up emotionally sober in their relationship. To achieve this they need to re-learn the skills of being in a relationship and becoming in touch with their emotions and their partners. Achieving this will take several years of treatment but improves their overall sobriety and abstinence. The addict also needs to gain emotional intelligence as part of their healing.
The real challenge, however, is being able to show up emotionally and be relational in the relationship. This takes several years of treatment and requires engagement and investment from both partners.
Treatment for sex addiction is about integrating the emotional world of the addict into their daily experiences and then teaching them to turn to the relationship to meet their emotional and physical needs. With the proper help and support sex addicts can get better, recoup and learn the skills they need to have healthy intimacy in a relationship.