Suffering from any addiction can feel overwhelming. Many people describe an addiction as something that felt good at first, and that was still within their control. Sex addiction is even more difficult to control due the pleasure that one experience while acting out. However, over time, it became something that controlled them.
In recent years, researchers have identified a specific struggle with compulsive sexual thoughts and behaviors. Many therapists describe this as sexual addiction.
A study published by the American Medical Association found that 7% of women and 10% of women reported “difficulty controlling sexual feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.” These sexual behaviors might include a preoccupation with sex, excessive use of pornography, or having multiple partners and affairs.
Perspectives on Recovery
Knowing that they’re not alone may or may not be a comfort to the millions of people who struggle with such sexual issues. Many people wonder how to cope and overcome a sex addiction.
The word “recovery” is sometimes debated within the mental health industry in general, and particularly within areas of addiction.
Many 12-step groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous and groups modeled after it, promote the idea that one must continue “recovery” forever. Under this perspective, not only should those addicted to one substance abstain, but they should avoid other commonly addictive substances and behaviors as well.
This idea is partially based on the concern that one addiction may be substituted for another. Someone may abstain from sexual acting out, but start drinking. If they can quit drinking then they may take up compulsive gambling. Because of these addictive tendencies, many believe it is important to stay on top of self-care, acknowledge areas of concern, and stay accountable to self and others.
Those with alternative views believe it may not be so straightforward. For example, they suggest that some people may be able to quit drinking for a while and slowly re-introduce an occasional beer or glass of wine. This debate remains ongoing within the mental health industry.
How Sex Addiction Recovery Works
Of course, sex addiction is somewhat different from substance abuse. It’s quite possible to go throughout life without alcohol. However, this would be unrealistic, if not unhealthy, when it comes to sex. Like with overeating, the “substance” itself is not the problem. However, acting in sexual ways that cause harm to you, others, and feel out of control is a different story.
Rather than abstaining from sex entirely, those in recovery learn to accept themselves as they are. They revisit or learn new ways of connecting authentically with others. This may be through finding new platonic friends, or through exploring more vulnerable and meaningful sex with partners.
Patrick Carnes, a well-known expert in sexual addiction, prescribes to the traditional 12-step method. In his book “Out of the Shadows,” he identifies new positive beliefs that those in recovery can come to accept. These include:
- “I am a worthwhile person deserving of pride”
- “I am loved and accepted by people who know me as I am”
- “My needs can be met by others when I let them know what I need”
- “Sex is but one expression of my need and care for others”
Through adopting these more self-loving views, many have found peace in recovery.
So Can I Actually Recover from Sex Addiction?
When it comes to the idea of actually recovering from sexual addiction, it may be simply a matter of semantics. What some people call “recovered” could include ongoing success in not sexually acting out. Others may feel comfort in the adage that recovery is not a destination but a journey.
Through following the steps of others, you two can feel free from compulsive behaviors, whether you call it recovered or not. A qualified therapist can help you customize the strategy that works best for you. And, ongoing self-care, self-love, and self-understanding can have benefits far beyond overcoming an addiction. It can also increase overall feelings of well-being, happiness, and contentment.
How Will I Recover?
Fortunately, many before you have had success on this road in recovery. Specific programs and therapies are found to be helpful in sexual addiction recovery. Here’s a brief look at three of the most-recommended treatments.
- Twelve-step groups. These include groups like Sex Addicts Anonymous, which follow the AA model. As noted, expert Patrick Carnes believes this is a key first step in recovery. While more research is needed, it is generally accepted that such groups often provide needed support and understanding for those wanting to recover.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This therapy is often used to help in sexual addiction recovery. CBT can help you identify cognitive distortions, or negative self-beliefs, that make it hard to recover. A CBT therapist can also help you identify triggers, vulnerabilities, and develop new coping skills to deal with your addiction.
- Inpatient treatment. Sometimes the structure of an inpatient program is recommended for those struggling with compulsive behaviors. This environment may help you abstain from acting out behaviors and begin the road to recovery.
How Do I Get Started?
The recovery process for any addiction can feel challenging, if not hopeless. However, even those who have had an extremely difficult road have been able to recover.
I am experienced in helping individuals like you recover from sexual addiction. Through using recommended approaches such as CBT, you will be able to reclaim healthy sexual behaviors. Additionally, you will learn that by taking care of yourself, you’ll also benefit those around you. Contact me today to set up an initial appointment and learn more about how I can help.