Any Thoughts on Sex Addiction?
Dear Charlie, I have been married to a recovering alcoholic for 12 years, together for 22 years. When we have been to couples counseling he always gets pats on the back for his alcohol recovery. 6 months ago it came out in a terrible way that he has been using the internet for porn, cyber sex, chatroom sex, phone sex. He had an affair with a coworker to boot. I will spare you the details- but the cyber stuff has been on and off for our whole marriage. The dishonesty is stunning and devastating. His behavior looks like addiction, acts like addiction and has no moral compass like addiction. He wants to do couples therapy. He has convinced his counselor that this is relationship problem. We've done this before - and clearly it didn't change anything-- it all got worse. From my point he behaves like an addict and I don't want to do couples therapy unless he is in recovery- like you write- with his actions. I am not sure if I can reconcile with him or if I want to but I do want to forgive him. I admire Desmond Tutu's approach to forgiveness- and I like how you are a hard ass about action. Do you have any thoughts or writing on sex addiction and recovery in the context of other addictions? Thank you so much for your strong voice in this field.
First, I totally agree with you about therapy. I don't know why anyone would engage in couples therapy when one of the two is not in recovery. As well, no good therapist would recommend that, unless of course they just need to fill up their time slots to stay in business.
Many addicts are preoccupied with sex and sexuality, as sexual activity is a selfish act and elicits the same bio-chemical response as do drugs and alcohol (the release of dopamine), so needless to say, most (if not all) drug addicts and alcoholics are also sex addicts. I would prescribe the same thing I would prescribe any addict: a rigorous Twelve Step process, leading to the daily practice of prayer, meditation and spiritual principles. That was basically the purpose of "Anybody Can Take Steps," for non-addicts and others who suffer from different ailments to use these same tools... that they are universal and should not be hoarded. Below is a brief excerpt from the book about sexual depravity and what have you.
From Anybody Can Take Steps, pp. 124-5, Copyright 2015:
"Finally, sexual misconduct and other indulgent but potentially harmful behaviors, while perhaps fun and satisfying in the moment, can cause tremendous harm to self and others. Addicts and alcoholics must be especially careful not to recover and then substitute drugs for sex, or worse yet, cheat on our spouses. Sex is a drug, but cheating is an even more powerful drug. This sort of behavior can bring us down and inflict psycho-emotional damage onto others, so we cannot simply do the wrong thing and just make sure to write about it later in our 10th Step inventory and it’s all good. This may sound ridiculous, but I’ve talked to many alcoholics supposedly in recovery who believe sexual misconduct is not a big deal and will not affect their recovery. Think again. For us addicts and alcoholics, if we plan on staying sober, it is most certainly a big deal. Addict or not, our spiritual health is in grave danger if we engage in sex as a drug, or worse yet, manipulate others for sex or engage in adultery. Karmic triangles are never good, and there are always ripple effects to spouses, children etc. Needless to say, our new path should reduce victims, not create more.
This may be uncomfortable, but some people have specifically lost power over sexual misconduct or deviance. As discussed in the first chapter, we can lose power over anything, and sexual misconduct is certainly one such thing. Sexual deviance of any kind is a sign that evil has somehow entered the body and must be exorcised at once. Even pornography and masturbation, as harmless as they may seem, can slowly eat away at the soul and rob us of our vital energy, our inner peace and our love for others. These compulsions will amplify feelings of depression, frustration, angst, irritability and unhappiness. Like an addict or an alcoholic, miserable is the man who becomes addicted to sex or masturbation and relies on it to feel good and fill himself up. The truth is that some of us use sex to replace emptiness and boredom when we are really looking for purpose and meaning. We must take Steps and give our lives over to God. No excuses."