Addiction in general is a betrayal of trust, but sex addiction can do more damage to a relationships than any addiction to drugs. Discovering that the person you love has been seeking intimacy from complete strangers while jeopardizing your wellbeing through the possibility of STDs can be shattering. In many cases, it can be traumatizing.
Coming back from that is hard for both parties. Revealing a sex addiction – or having it be revealed for you – will completely change your life. Finding out about your partner’s sex addiction may very likely end a relationship built on decades of love and adoration. The very idea of sex afterwards will seem tarnished, and amidst the fury, hurt, and confusion, the thought that things eventually get better seems distant at best.
It is possible to lead a healthy sex life after sex addiction, for both the addict and their partner. What that means, however, depends entirely on the two of you. There is no perfect rulebook for treating a sex addiction and moving past it. You will have to decide on your own terms how the two of you will be moving forward, both with the relationship and your own individual lives. There will be many decisions to make, none of which should be made early on, but only after the dust has settled and the initial rage and chaos has passed on.
What Is Sex Addiction?
There are several different names for it, but a sex addiction essentially boils down to a process addiction dependent on sexual gratification. Process addictions are addictions that do not involve an addictive substance, but are rooted in a similar cycle of wanting, seeking, gaining pleasure, feeling guilt, and wanting it all over again.
People seek out sex over gambling, food, or drugs for any number of reasons. Most of the time, it is to use sex as an analgesic. Oftentimes, sex addicts struggle greatly with intimacy and love, and seek the instant gratification of a quick affair with a stranger to get off rather than seeking intimacy with a long-time partner. Sometimes, a pattern emerges within times of great stress where a person seeks sex as a way to relieve pressure and feel good, to the point that the taboo of cheating and sneaking off becomes the only way that person can get off.
Sex addictions are primarily characterized by unstoppable behavior despite clear consequences, as well as recognizing that the behavior is a problem (both to the addict and their partner/s). Sex addiction can also manifest through:
- Constant and uncontrollable inappropriate behavior at work
- Constant unwanted advances towards others despite rebuffs
- Very frequent and disruptive masturbation
- Daily and hours-long viewing of pornography
- Inability to stop or slow down sexual cravings despite clear consequences
- Lying about extramarital activities and engaging in them despite the risk
Sex addiction isn’t defined by the amount or kind of sex someone has. It isn’t identified through sexual preference or inclination. It does not depend on the presence of paraphilia (extreme or unusual sexual desires, including fetishism). First and foremost, sex addiction is the need for sexual gratification at all costs. Clinically, someone with sex addiction isn’t so much addicted to sex as they are in need of something to fill a great void or feed an endless cycle. Sex just happens to be the thing they use, rather than gambling or drugs. This is often coupled with a fear of being open and honest with someone else, fear of being vulnerable in a relationship, and inability to develop an honest and intimate bond with another person past the superficial, or without lies.
This is where the first complications arise on the road to recovery. It isn’t that sex addicts are incapable of telling the truth – rather, a major part of recovery involves reforming and improving the bond of trust that was shattered in the early days of the reveal. The possibilities of a relapse coupled with the innate instinct to seek out sexual gratification as a way to cope with the stress of recovery makes this very difficult for both parties. The addicts worry whether they can maintain their commitment, and self-doubt can potentially eat away at them without proper help. The addict’s partner fears trusting them, because it could lead to even more pain, and self-loathing due to ‘falling for it again’.
The first step to leading a healthy sex life is rebuilding the relationship from the ground up, with rules, boundaries, and consequences, after much time spent in treatment.
How Sex Addiction Is Treated
Sex addiction is primarily treated through therapy. Not every sex addiction has a similar root cause, and there are many factors that feed into the origin of a sex addiction, as well as factors that continue to support the addiction in various ways. It takes a professional to accurately diagnose someone with a process addiction and help them determine the best way forward.
Therapy can come in different ways and is usually recommended for both parties. While the addict needs therapy, most partners appreciate help from a therapist as well. The shock of the discovery coupled with the transition through early recovery and the rest of the treatment process can lead to the development of PTSD and other forms of anxiety. Finding out about a partner’s sex addiction can leave a person feeling broken. Therapy can help them put themselves back together.
Couples’ therapy is not a good idea in early recovery, and neither is making any significant decisions about the state of the relationship. It’s important to consider pursuing legal avenues and thinking about divorce, but nothing should be done until the initial shock has worn off, and the reality of the situation is a little easier to swallow and fully comprehend.
Ultimately, sex addicts must confront what they’ve done, come clean to their partners with the full extent of their actions, and seek individual therapy and counseling to understand how to best overcome their weaknesses, address the causes of their behavior, and find out how to be a better human being. Only then can a healthy sex life – and a healthier relationship – eventually develop.
It’s Your Path and Your Path Alone
Whether you decide to stay together is up to you two as consenting adults. If you’re a sex addict and have gone your separate ways, and you’re afraid of striking up a commitment with someone new, then don’t. Seek professional help to discuss your fears and apprehensions and find ways to overcome the worry that things will go wrong.
IF you and your partner decided to keep the marriage or relationship alive, then be sure to give things some time before you reincorporate sex. It’s important to establish rules and boundaries that ensure that both parties trust each other before getting intimate again. It may take months or years, but this is something you have to work at.
There is no right way to lead a healthy sex life after sex addiction. Not having sex isn’t the answer for most people – but reverting to your old ways isn’t it, either. Discover what behavior you and your partner can agree on as normal and acceptable, and what behavior borders on old habits and feelings of betrayal. Then stick to those rules.