The Many Faces Of Sexual Addiction
The article entitled “Insatiable: The Real Lives of Sex Addicts” in the May issue of GQ magazine is a positive step in helping to overcome the stigma attached to sexual addiction. The media can serve as a source of much-needed education when it allows people to understand the pain associated with sexual addiction, and sometimes get in touch with their own difficulties associated with the multitude of behaviors of sex addicts. Sexual addiction is like any other addiction, and there is more and more neuroscience evidence to support this fact. Unfortunately, the media also glamorizes sexual addiction at times, which impedes the process of raising awareness about its true nature. Casting the struggles that some high profile individuals have with sexual addiction in a positive light leads people to believe that sexual addiction is just an excuse for people to engage in affairs or that it’s appropriate and celebrated celebrities get to have lots of sex while lay people who engage in the same behaviors are frequently vilified.
The article in GQ magazine, which was written by Nathaniel Penn, addresses the plethora of “hookup” apps like Tinder and Grindr as ways that individuals find sexual liaisons; the number of professionals seeking sex addiction therapy training doubling since 2008, the lack of insurance coverage for sex addiction; and the increasing popularity of Sex Addicts Anonymous as a 12 Step Group for sex addiction growing by 10 percent each year for the past decade. The article focuses on a potpourri of individuals—from all walks of life—who have struggled with or who still struggle with sexual addiction and through that we see the wide range of behaviors associated with this addiction.
NO INSURANCE COVERAGE
As the GQ article rightfully states, the absence of a DSM code is a deterrent in that it doesn’t allow sexual addiction treatment to be covered by health insurance nor does it provide funding for much-needed research. The sexual addiction research currently being conducted is largely funded through private donations from organizations like the American Foundation for Addiction Research (AFAR).
On a brighter note, the recent inclusion of Internet gaming and gambling disorder in the DSM has bolstered credibility for the recognition of non-substance related addictions, paving the path for sexual addiction to be recognized in the near future. Hopefully, in the interim, the media will continue to portray sexual addiction in an honest light in order to reduce its stigma and to open the door for people to become more educated about the true nature of this painful addiction.
SEXUAL ADDICTION ON THE RISE
While most sex addicts have a history of trauma and tend to come from certain specific family structures, we’re witnessing an increasing number of sex addicts in recent years whose addiction did not seem to have these typical precursors. One of the reasons for this shift is the proliferation of the adult entertainment industry, online pornography, and the widespread availability of hookup sites such as Tinder and Grindr. This landscape allows people to become addicted to sex because these types of technology-assisted sexual behaviors are strong enough to stimulate the brain beyond what it was originally designed to tolerate.
SEXUAL ADDICTION IS DIVERSE
Sexual addiction has one of the most diverse manifestations of any addiction. When you’re working with alcoholics, it really doesn’t matter what they’re drinking, it could be beer, wine, or vodka and abstinence from alcohol is the goal. Individuals who suffer from alcoholism know what they have to stay away from. When you’re dealing with sex addicts, their behavior manifests in so many different ways and understanding the specific behaviors reveals important clues as to how to treat the addiction because different behaviors are treated in different ways. While one person may act out through juggling multiple relationships, another person may turn to prostitutes or child pornography. Certain behaviors may be intended to meet different underlying unmet needs and wants or they may be manifestations of various types of unresolved childhood trauma. No matter how the sex addict is acting out in their disease, a life in recovery from sex addiction still has healthy sexual activity in it. Sex addicts must find a healthy relationship with sex in order to live a healthy life. Therein lies one of the challenges of treating sex addiction.
UNRESOLVED EMOTIONAL TRAUMA
The vast majority of sex addicts suffer from some sort of physical, sexual or relational trauma, which lies at the core of their addiction. Sex addicts often do not believe they have any inherent worth or value and typically don’t believe they can rely on other people to meet their needs, making it difficult for them to be honest, authentic and vulnerable enough to sustain long-term relationships. These faulty core beliefs come from childhood as we learn what to expect from other people from our primary caregivers when we’re young.
Developed by Patrick Carnes, PATHOS is a brief screen for sex addiction that is composed of six questions. Using a cutoff score of three, the PATHOS correctly identifies 88.3% of male sex addicts. In such cases, individuals should be assessed for sexual addiction.
RECOVERY IS WITHIN REACH
At Gentle Path at The Meadows, we acknowledge the contribution of underlying trauma and insecure attachment to the development of adult addictions and relational problems. At the same time, we hold patients accountable by asking them to take responsibility for how their maladaptive behaviors have negatively impacted and even harmed other people. At Gentle Path at The Meadows, the difficult journey of working through trauma and being accountable for one’s addiction takes place in an environment that is strengthened by peer support. Our clients can comfortably share their stories with each other and build healthy friendships with other males who are also in sexual addiction recovery. When men gather together with the intention of changing the core of who they are, without distraction and fear of stigma from the outside world, a container of safety is created. This safe container in treatment creates the foundation of peer support that will continue to be fortified through continued participation in the 12-step recovery fellowship.