When someone discovers their partner’s secret sexual life there is a deep sense of betrayal whether that secret life is another person or looking at porn. If the secret world is limited to pornography, the incident may blow over with apologies and promises to stop. If the behavior returns and is discovered again, the depth of hurt can be devastating. A wife may feel that she cannot live up to these images of young, “perfect” women. Her pain may be just as deep as if her partner had slept with another woman. Or she may feel more wounded by her partner’s repeated lies and deception than the use of porn itself. How can trust ever be restored?
In the virtual world of the Internet the line between porn and an affair gets blurry. Social media becomes a playground where conversation turns to sexting and flirting evolves into secret meet ups. When sexual activity with another person is discovered, the sense of betrayal is profound. Whether it is the impersonal sex at a massage parlor or at a strip joint or a full blown sexual affair, a nuclear bomb has detonated at ground zero in the relationship. Many women feel the urge to flee such betrayal but feel compelled to try to save the marriage for the sake of the children. Fewer betrayed men are willing to face the hard work of rebuilding a relationship.
A couple devastated by sexual betrayal needs a multi-faceted approach to treatment. Singles also enter treatment for out-of-control sexual behavior that has left them feeling lonely and helpless to change.
So one of the first questions to be answered in therapy is: what is causing this recurrent sexual behavior? Signs that a sex addiction is present include: repeated behavior despite significant negative consequences; use of the sexual behavior to escape painful emotions (e.g., loneliness, anxiety, and insecurity); the experience that the behavior is exciting to anticipate but unfulfilling and shameful afterwards; a pattern of escalation to behaviors that are riskier or more intense to achieve the same “high”; and the experience that one has tried unsuccessfully to stop the behavior. The partner of a sex addict will experience an erosion of emotional intimacy in the relationship. A sex addiction may be present even if only a couple of the above signs are present. To assess whether a sex addiction may be present, take the Sex Addiction Screening Test.
Sex addiction is common in our culture for both men and women. For men, the sex addiction manifests more commonly in the use of porn and sexual hook ups. Approximately 97% of male sex addicts use pornography. This may be in the form of written stories as well as videos or still pictures of nudity or sexual behavior. Sexual acting out can range from sexual joking and flirting with co-workers to rape and molestation of children. Common activities include masturbation to porn, visiting strip joints, and using sex chat on the Net. Sex addictions can progress to exposing, voyeurism, and using prostitutes. For women, the addiction more commonly develops into a type of love addiction in the form of romance addiction or relationship addiction. But women are increasingly becoming addicted to online porn and one-time sexual hook ups.
Rarely do sex addictions exist on their own without some type of interaction with other addictions. The average sex addict has 3.1 addictions. Other addictions that often interact with a sex addiction include alcoholism and other drug addictions, work addiction, spending addiction, gambling, and food addictions. These addictions interact in a number of different ways.
No one woke up one morning and decided: “I think I’ll be addicted to sex.” Most sex addicts learned dysfunctional ways of relating in their families of origin (by the way, most non-sex addicts learned dysfunctional ways of relating in their families or origin, too!). They probably learned not to share their deeper needs or feelings with others. They probably learned to relate to others on a superficial level based on performance or appearance. Most grew up in a rigid family system in which the rules to be followed were more important than the individual’s experience or feelings. The majority of sex addicts suffered some type of abuse growing up: physical, sexual, or emotional. For young boys these family systems left him feeling disconnected and lonely and discovering porn opened a new world of excitement and fantasized connection. Masturbation was used to self-soothe in place of healthy means of interpersonal soothing and reassurance. These patterns of isolating and use of objectified sex are usually established by early teenage years and then carried on into adulthood.
But there is great hope for recovery from sex addiction. With new discoveries in brain science we are better understanding how the brain can heal and develop new patterns of thinking. When a person admits that there is a significant problem and that he/she cannot overcome the problem alone, then that person opens him- or herself to a whole range of resources and support to encourage a process of healing and growth. At the Intimacy Center we build therapeutic communities through group psychotherapy. We also support marriages to work through the trauma of addiction and betrayal and rebuild themselves into relationships that are secure and life-giving.
A WORD ABOUT “CSAT”: At The Intimacy Center both Tom and Renee are Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSATs). This involved extensive training developed by Dr. Patrick Carnes which required attendance at multiple training modules and supervison with a CSAT Supervisor. It also requires ongoing education so that CSATs such as ourselves maintain our expertise in providing sexual addiction therapy. It is a rigorous process designed to help us best help you. Additionally, Tom has worked for over 15 years as a CSAT Supervisor, training therapists as they studied and worked to obtain their CSAT certification. To learn more about treatment for sex addiction including an initial (free) sexual addiction screening assessment, please visit www.sexhelp.com. If you are a partner, take the Partner Sexuality Survey.