Sexual addiction is an increasing problem in the lives of many people. We live in a different world than we
did just a few years ago. Some time back you needed to go to an unsavory
part of town to find porn. Now porn finds you in your own home through the
internet and television. It
takes only a few looks to get hooked in some cases. Being a sex
addict doesn't mean you have to be into voyeurism, or S&M or visiting
prostitutes. It does mean you have an unhealthy relationship with
sexual behavior and you probably use it as a coping mechanism.
Sometimes sex addicts have an early history of
masturbation, pornography and promiscuity. Sometimes sexual
addiction afflicts a person later in life. But in most cases, there
are similar patterns of how it affects us. Do you think you struggle with a sexual addiction? The easiest way to
assess whether you have a problem is to ask yourself two questions.
what I am doing working for me? and 2) Can I really stop?
Erik Bohlin, M.A. has helped hundreds of individuals find healing and wellness best for their lives over the past 15 years as a counselor. Believing that God is the source of all healing, he integrates Biblical principles with clinical skills to improve the quality of relationships of those he serves. Erik works from a wellness model helping people get unstuck from unhealthy patterns. He is licensed in the State of Washington and Nationally Certified Counselor with the National Board of Certified Counselors. His sensitivity with a touch of humor makes him a popular speaker in the Pacific Northwest.
Sex addiction is really about a coping
mechanism that involves living in extremes, minimizing, denying, and numbing whatever is going on that is too
stressful or painful. Many addicts avoid conflict and cope by using their
"drug." Getting into a fight with one spouse and then going and
masturbating is too common a scene amongst sex addicts. Many addicts have
grown up in a dysfunctional or alcoholic family.
When we look at whether sexual behavior has
become an addiction, we ask certain
Coping and the "feeling thermostat"
Did we use masturbation to cope as a youth? How affectionate and good at
expressing love was our family? It's as if in some families, the family's
expression of the "affection" thermostat was set to 55 degrees and the family called this
"warm." We thought that this was normal. Growing up in this cool environment causes us to
seek anything that is warmer. We feel like something is missing.
They don't know how to talk about our feelings and what is bothering us.
What happens? One day we discover masturbation and for us to seems to be
the thing that will fix the loneliness, the fear, the pain and the
boredom.' We need this too much, because we are starving for
affection. In a family where love and affection is expressed openly and the thermostat is
set to 72 degrees, they also discover masturbation--yeah it feels good, but not
so good that they develop a pattern of using it as a coping mechanism. They have other ways to
and masturbation just like a drug, that is, to fix disturbances in our life, when
we are sad, mad,
scared, bored, lonely or any other unpleasant feeling, probably means we have an
addiction. When we lie about our sexual behavior, or hide
it, it is likely to be a sex addiction.
When there is a lot of shame, that is "I am such a bad person for doing this,"
it becomes more addictive. When there are sexual behaviors that we can't talk
to anyone about, it is more likely to be a sexual addiction. The sex addict has
4 core beliefs. This comes from the work of Patrick Carnes, Ph.D.
1. I am unlovable. The sex addict, like any addict at the
core, feels really different from others. There is
a sense of toxic shame. Yeah, we may feel and work hard just like the other guy and
work at looking normal, but deep down we don't feel the same as others and really don't
feel loved. In a marriage, our complaint is that our wives don't love us
enough. We may not express this openly or even have thought about this--but this is how
we feel. We may have a lot of friends, but on the inside we think that
we are fooling others and that given time, they will found out how "bad"
we are an we will be
In the book of Sexaholics Anonymous, it says "that first we were sex
then love cripples, we took from others to fill what was lacking in our lives." We were taking what was lacking in our lives." This leads us to the next core belief.
2. If I share everything with you, you will reject me. So
we begin to hide and not share honestly what is going on in our life.
This is not just the sexual indiscretions, but just about anything we think
presents ourselves in a poor light. In some ways, sex addicts may look
great and better than average on the outside, while on the inside they feel
death. We live a double life, and not just about sex. As a result of being
dishonest, our marriage begins to suffer. It creates a wedge between
us and our spouse
and we really start to think that if "I share everything, I will be
rejected." So we put a spin on reality. We are in denial, which is not so much lying,
but really about unawareness. We fool ourselves so that we can live with ourselves.
We minimize. We admit to some behaviors but
normalize them and justify them. We defend and explain. We say, "well,
it's not like we are having a good sexual relationship." Could it be that
the sexual addiction is the cause of that? We usually don't think like
think of it the other way around. If I were having a better relationship
with my wife, then I wouldn't have this trouble. Chances are we come to the
marriage with this. They think, "I am just like all the other guys."
They develop an "accounting system" which is
present in any addiction. This is the list of sexual behaviors they haven't done
to convince ourselves they were not addicts. "I haven't gone to a strip club or a
prostitute" "It is not like a masturbate everyday." "It is not like I do it
any more than every three months." "I am not really out of control, I just need
to work hard at this." Eventually, if it is a sex addiction which is a
progressive disease, it will be getting worse and not better. We then do a
behavior on the accounting list, but move it to the acceptable list to help us
stay in denial.
3. If I depend on people or God, they will let me down. Sex
addicts are very
independent, self-directed people. They don't want to rely on anyone, because
feel that they could be let down. They have a hard time trusting people.
This usually comes from their dysfunctional family growing up. This is not
about blaming, but identify where the became "ill." The
"addiction" becomes the "trusted source of comfort." We don't know how to ask
for help. That is why this usually goes on and on and on.
4. Sex becomes my more important need. It may not seem like it, but really we
live from sexual experience to sexual experience. It begins to dictate our
lives. The root of the word addiction in Latin is "ad dictum," meaning, to the
dictator. These core belief are present in most addictions, drugs, pot,
alcohol, sex, food, working, gambling, and spending.
In counseling we address these 4 core beliefs. We have them start to break
these rules. We encourage people to talk in a safe and confidential place.
Usually with their therapist, support group, or 12 step group (SA-Sexaholics
Anonymous). We don't encourage lying to spouses, but we don't think it is wise
to share everything, like their sexual history timeline with their spouse.
We need to help them get used to sharing honestly with them selves and then a
sponsor. Their spouse is typically coming from the place [and it is an
understandable and healthy place] that their spouse has committed
adultery, at least at a mental level. We help the sex addict
start to "get sober" as we call it. That is they stop using porn, masturbation,
etc. and they start to develop new ways of coping. They start to feel
emotion again or possibly for the first time a a deeper level. We help
them ask for help for what they need in life. We help they develop a
better relationship with God. Many people have a relationship and have
been going to church, but their addiction has gotten in the way.
This is just a glimpse of the work we can do to gain recovery from this
problem that seems to be affecting so many of us.
Recovery is the process where we are tired of
using and we say good by to our 'drug of choice.' The process of recovery is three-fold: Physical, Emotional and Spiritual. Some substances have a direct effect on our nervous system like alcohol, pot, street drugs and prescription medicine.
Sex addiction is what we call a "process addiction" as they involve behaviors
and not a substance. Other process addictions are compulsive, gambling, spending, work and Internet use. Don't be fooled. These behaviors can be very addictive and affect our brains just as much.
Emotionally, addicts are numb. That is why many people with addiction look so good. They function pretty well. They appear even tempered at the beginning stages, because they are sedating ourselves with the glass of wine at night, the porn fix weekly or the "shopping therapy" on the weekend. They really don't really think that there is anything wrong. This is what is called denial.
Masturbation usually falls in the category in that the addict says to themselves
I am not really hurting anyone. A spouse, parents or concerned person begins to feel more than they addict is feeling.
As the concerned person becomes more motivated to help the addict, the addict
does less to help their own life. The need to be "independent" and not controlled is a very strong need. It surpasses rational thinking and logic. They unconsciously choose to continue in their addictive cycle rather than look at the reality of what is going and doing what their spouse wants. Thus feeling "independent," they are actually
dependent on the
sexing, eating, drinking, working, shopping, gambling, or drug use.
For instance, there is a center in our brain called the
"Cingulate Gyrus." This area has to do with attention. It is the "channel changer" in our brain. When this works well, we are able to see options, have cognitive flexibility and be able to shift our attention from one idea to the next. When it doesn't work well, we get
STUCK, not being able to get a thought, worry or resentment out of our minds. People who struggle with "Cingulate Gyrus" problems tend to hold on to resentments from the past, worry a lot, and their brains gets into a lock-in mode. These people often come from alcoholic homes. Addiction is appealing to them. It momentarily takes away the obsession and resentment and numbs it with pleasant feelings. But the obsession become switched to the obsession to use or compulsion to act out. We know that sexual addiction and compulsive gambling affect the same center of the brain, "Cingulate Gyrus," as in cocaine addiction. Dr. Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist whose clinics have looked at more that 20,000 SPECT brain scans of individuals, has provided us with a lot of useful information regarding addiction. His website,
brainplace.com is very helpful.
Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step programs have helped countless individuals who have struggled with addiction. The steps are simple spiritual processes that when utilized help people overcome what they could not do on their own. These principles, even though they appear simplistic, are pretty profound and life changing once they are explored, understood and practiced. The recovering addict claims "spiritual progress, rather than perfection." (taken from the book
Alcoholics Anonymous) Perfection was part of the disease. Addicts could not admit many mistakes, imperfection or any problems prior to recovery. Why? Shame is a big part of it. We tend to use the word shame to describe what in fact is really, "toxic shame." Healthy shame reminds us that "we are not God." Most of the shame addicts experience is this "toxic shame," that is not being human. To compensate for the sense of shame, they are perfectionists. It is difficult for them to be honest with themselves about their faults, their shortcomings and the life in general. Without honesty, there is little growth. So unrecovered addicts tend to repeat the same mistakes without ever learning. Shame makes them arrogant, prideful and "better than life." They are in a "better than/less than" dance. You are either better than them or less than them. Health is recognizing that each person was created by God and that we have all been affected by the fall. This disease has affect us all. Since we have the serum, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, why then do we pretend to not have the disease. Shame? If we can only see ourselves as we really how, think how much more we could repent and make progress. In a shame-free
environment, there is acceptance. Acceptance of another human weaknesses and strengths. By accepting we don't meaning condoning sinful behavior, but acknowledging and dealing with it. Because of shame we don't even want to deal with it. We bury it. We repress it. We actually don't think it is there. That is why so many alcoholics don't really think that there is a problem. Shame is the experience of being a "defective human being." Recovery helps us see that we are a "human being with defects." This shift in our approach to ourselves, helps us see ourselves as we really are and then repent and recover.
Another element that addicts experience is that they feel so out of control, that they overcompensate by trying to control the externals--people, place, situation. Letting go is foreign to the life of an addict. In essence, they are "control freaks." We tend to think of negative situations involving control. But control can be trying to make everyone happy. Not ever really telling people that we are upset, because we don't want to upset the proverbial apple cart which would ultimately make us feel out of control. We don't want to be rejected, so we lie. Lying could be seen as form of control. We would any of us lie, except to alter peoples perceptions of ourselves. God knows that truth. We try to control our feelings. The more we seem to control, the more out of control we feel. We use our drug of choice, to give us a false sense of control.
We SURRENDER TO WIN. We need to
totally surrender unconditionally. We acknowledge that we cannot win the
battle against addiction and have totally made a mess of our our life. We
are better off if we stop running our life and let God run it for us. We
pray in Step 11, "asking only for God's will and the power to carry it out."
We are like a prisoner of war who who surrenders with our hands up and we do
whatever our higher power tells us to do.
We GIVE AWAY TO KEEP. This strange expression identifies our selfishness and
understanding that we can only be healed as "we give away what God has given
us." "Freely you have received, freely give." (Matthew 10:8)
When we are hoarding, greedy and stingy we are likely to use our addiction again
as we have left a state of Grace.
We SUFFER TO GET WELL. There is no way to escape pain or suffering in this life.
It is a truth that most alcoholics as well as most people try to ignore.
The alcoholic, drug addict and sex addict use their substance to avoid
suffering. This is why they use. Many people reserve the term
alcoholic for those that really suffer--shaking, needing another drink, getting
sick from drinking. But perhaps they are numbing themselves in minor ways
and are too out of touch with themselves to identify that they are drinking as a
form of self medication. To recover, we must go through the pain. We
must learn to be mature and to face reality. Thankfully, the 12 steps help
us face reality with the Grace of God.
We DIE TO LIVE. This beautiful paradox comes right out of the biblical idea of
"losing our life" (Matt. 10:39) and denying one's self and carrying one's cross.
(Matt. 16:24) The harder we hold on to our life, the more it slips through our
fingers without us realizing it. (We call this white knuckling it) But
when we empty ourselves of our ego, and die to our dreams, our will and our
ways, God will give us life. We must die daily. While we may decide
to surrender at a certain point of time, we must surrender every moment, so as
to acquire God's grace to keep us sober. This only comes through death,
his and ours.
Sexual Addiction-mp3 recording. This talk was given to the
Stephen's ministers at Northcreek Presbyterian Church. The above handout
on Treatment for Sexual Addiction can goes with this talk.