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Sex addiction, also known as sexual compulsion and sexual dependancy describes any sexual activity that feels "out of control". A sex addict feels compelled to seek out and engage in sexual behaviour, in spite of the problems it may cause to his/her personal, social and work lives. It may encompass any single or multiple types of sexual behaviour.
Examples of behaviour may include:
The type of behaviour does not define addiction. The essential difference between the addict and the non-addict is that these behaviours feel out of control. An addict may spend an inordinate amount of time planning, engaging in and recovering from their chosen sexual activity.
In spite of the physical, emotional, relational, financial and even judicial cost of these activities, they feel unable to stop their behaviour. Or at least, unable to stay stopped.
Another key factor is that the chosen sexual behaviours are used to anaesthetise psychological pain. In the same way an alcoholic may get lost in a bottle or a compulsive gambler fixates on the next win to avoid the pain of life, the sex addict chooses sex as their way to cope with the world.
If you're unsure if the above description fits you or someone you know, who you think may be a sex addict, look also at: Am I a sex addict?
Finding out that your partner is a sex or pornography addict is devastating for most partners. Not only do partners experience the betrayal and deceit that often accompanies an affair, but they may also have to face a future with a partner living in recovery from addiction. Most partners have absolutely no idea that their partner is an addict until it is either disclosed or discovered, so shock is the first and most intense emotion. Along with that are feelings of anger, shame, self-doubt, loss and fear.
It’s impossible to know if someone is a sex addict without a thorough assessment with a sex therapist, but warning signs include increasing secrecy, isolation, moodiness and avoidance of couple, family and social responsibilities. There may be increased irritability, tiredness, depression and anxiety and some couples notice an impact on their sex life such as erectile difficulties or avoiding sex. But do remember there are many explanations for all of these behaviours so it’s important not to jump to conclusions. However, if you know your partner has struggled with addictions in the past and you also know that they use pornography – it may be worth asking if their pornography use has increased or become problem for them.
First and foremost you need to talk to each other. Many people with addiction go through a period of denial before they feel able to accept that the problem really is an addiction that has gotten out of control. If your partner accepts that they have a problem then you need to find help for both of you.
Your first port of call could be a RHM Recovery Group Meeting where they will do an assessment to decide if your partner would benefit from specialist sex addiction help (most do). You can also ask about getting help and support for yourself either through individual counselling or a group support programme.
If your partner doesn’t accept, or believe, that they have a problem then you can still reach out for help and support for yourself. The problem may not be addiction, but if it’s something that’s affecting your happiness then you can still benefit from talking to a counsellor about how you can move forward.