Counseling for sex addiction: The first step
Are you interested in stopping addiction to sex? Here, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Dorothy Hayden, teaches you how to do a cost/benefit anaylsis before you begin counseling for any type of sex addiction (including porn addiction). Based on a SMART Recovery technique, a CBA is an essential part of change. Continue reading here to get prepared for your first counseling session, and address your questions about sex addiction at the end.
Motivation for Change : A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Sexual Addiction
“Sexual addicts risk everything for the call of the erotic which promises euphoria and yet never seems to deliver in a real, consistent way and is usually followed by remorse and shame. Is the pleasure worth the consequences? Not when the negative consequences, which are different for everyone, begin to outweigh these brief periods of erotic arousal. That is when the person seeks treatment.”
Adapted from The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health
Sex addiction counseling: The first session
You hesitantly make the call to the sex addiction counselor. You proceed, sheepishly, to your prescribed seat on the proverbial leather coach. Peering over at the therapist, you realize what this person represents – giving up the thing that provides you with so many things, not the least of which is intense, super-stimulating sexual pleasure. You decide you don’t like her.
As you sit quietly, waiting for this “presence” to say something, you start weighing the pros and cons of changing your sexual behaviors. You no doubt feel tremendous ambivalence about changing them. You realize you haven’t addressed the problem until now because it seemed too damn difficult. Anyway, is there life after sex addiction treatment? What happens to your sexuality? It’s hard to even imagine what sex looks like without compulsion, addiction and self-destruction.
To try to overcome sex addiction involves dealing with the ambivalence that, on the one hand you really, really love it and want to never let it go, and on the other hand, you know it’s like a malignant growth that’s sucking your vitality dry. This conundrum is called ambivalence and it’s the first issue to be addressed in treatment. It’s time for SMART RECOVERY’s technique of doing a cost/benefit analysis on the addiction.
As you go through this process, ask yourself whether the price you pay in terms of your self esteem and quality of life really worth the fleeting sexual pleasure that ultimately doesn’t satisfy? Do these costs seem significant to you? Do they seem like legitimate reasons to take steps to overcome your addiction?
The Many, Many Costs of Sex Addiction
“Sexual addicts risk everything for the call of the erotic which promises euphoria and yet never seems to never deliver in a real, consistent way and is usually followed by remorse and shame. Is the pleasure worth the consequences? It is when the negative consequences, which are different for everyone, begin to outweigh these brief periods of erotic arousal that the person seeks help.”
Adapted from The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health
It’s hard for any of us to walk away from pleasure, even when we know it is in our best interest. For sex addicts, it’s nearly impossible. No price seems too high for them to pay because they are driven by the mirage of a beautiful, ephemeral ghost that continually promises but never delivers. And, yet, they keep returning to the empty well to quench their thirst.
This is a condition that gradually bleeds away everything the person holds dear. The life of a sex addict gradually becomes very small. The freedom of self is impaired. Energies are consumed. The rapacious need for a particular kind of sexual experience drives the addict to spend untold hours in the world of his addiction. Inexorably, the compulsion begins to exact higher and higher costs.
Whether it be on the internet indulging in sexual fantasies with fantasy people, being on the phone to the sex hot-lines, or frantically searching the net and the S&M clubs for someone who will act out a particular, ritualized fetish fantasy, or cruising the bars searching for the “one” who will have sex in a public toilet, or going to dungeons to be whipped, flogged and humiliated, sex addiction is a devastating illness that takes an enormous toll.
Friends slip away. Hobbies and activities once enjoyed are dropped. Financial security crumbles as sums as high as $40,000 or $50,000 a year are spent on sex. Then there is perpetual fear of exposure. Relationships with partners are ruined, as the appeal of intimate sex with a partner pales in comparison to the intense “high” of indulging in the dark and devious world of sexual compulsion.
Sex addiction is not fun
Sex addicts, on the whole, are not having fun. They suffer from the shame, self-hatred and humiliation which are the fodder in which they live. And yet, they are consumed by an irresistible impulse to keep returning to the experience of intense, euphoric pleasure that they know will create suffering for them in the long run.
Further emotional costs include fear and anxiety, sadness and depression, anger, disgust with yourself, boredom, a sense of existential lonesomeness, emotional instability, and feelings of worthlessness. There may be reduction in personal integrity if dishonesty and acting out are at odds with core values and beliefs.
With time, the compulsion begins to strip away all that the person holds dear: close relationships, enjoyable activities and hobbies, trust between himself and his partner, quality time with children, having a spiritual/moral center, commitment to productive, meaningful employment and financial security.
Yet there is a more subtle, more insidious cost of sexual acting out that, to my mind, exacts the highest cost of this addiction. From a developmental point of view, addiction to sex keeps you in an infantile holding pattern, hindering your path to maturity and your growth as a human being. In what ways?
How Sex Addiction Keeps You “Stuck”
- When you use a mood-alternating behavior to mask negative feelings like depression and anxiety, the issues that give rise to those unwanted states are never understood or resolved. The result? You’re stuck with them forever.
- When you use sexuality as a pivotal part of your personal identity, other aspects of your personality don’t blossom.
- When you use sex/porn/masturbation as a primary or exclusive coping mechanism, you don’t learn to develop higher-level coping skills (like problem solving, assertiveness skills, altruism, or humor that would make your life a lot smoother and allow you to have better regulation of inner states.
- Every time you give in to an impulse to behave sexually, you’re missing an opportunity to cultivate the skill of impulse control. Research shows that individuals with high degrees of impulse control do better in life in all areas.
- A healthy personality has the capacity for intimacy and the capacity for compassion. Engaging in compulsive sexual acts is a totally narcissistic act. You are not concerned with others, rather seeing people only as need-satisfying objects.
- Mature people do not distort reality to make it compatible with their wants and fears. They accept reality for what it is and adapt to it. Sex addicts, on the other hand, denounce reality in favor of sexual preoccupation and overactive sexual fantasies.
- The time and energy expended in your sexual “thing” is non-creative, non-productive energy. Healthy people have in place a set of meaningful, realistic goals and use their time and energy in achieving them. If a particular goal turns out to be unattainable, they cultivate new goals.
As we’ve seen, the costs of active sex addiction are many. You may be having severe marital problems or, at the very least, decreased connection and intimacy with your partner. Have you been spending quality time with your children? Does staying up all night looking at Internet porn leave you sleep deprived and drained of energy for your work, your hobbies, friends, formally valued recreation and hobbies? Do you feel a sense of being “stuck” in our life – that there’s no growth or change or movement?
A question for you: What is the likelihood of these problems continuing if your behavior remains unchanged?
The Delicious Benefits of Sex Addiction
Why do we addicts chase the fix again, and again, and again, despite whatever horrific consequences must be faced?
I’m fond of saying that addiction is hard to treat because IT WORKS!! Let’s face it. Contemplating walking away from intense, super-stimulating sexual pleasure isn’t easy. That’s certainly one of the “benefits” of your addiction. But there are many other benefits, some of which you may not even be aware of. Ask yourself: What does my particular sexual “thing” do for me psychologically? Many different things, I suspect. Is it power? Control? Stress-reduction? A sense of connection? The rush of being desired by many women? Or is it the need to be recognized, seen as competent, acknowledged for who you really are and still be accepted? What are the psychological benefits YOU receive from sexual acting-out? How do you perceive your sexual behaviors as meeting deeper needs than the need for sex?
Neurotransmitter release in the brain accounts for your feeling of euphoria that leads the way into the “erotic haze” where you can spend as much as five hours a day feeling entranced, safe, thrilled, and excited with an enhanced sense of well-being. Not self-esteem, mind you, because building self-esteem requires work, Perhaps an exaggerated, slightly grandiose part of yourself takes over and through sexual fantasy, you can feel totally empowered.
There’s some pretty powerful benefits, wouldn’t you say?
The addict repeatedly loses himself and his life-realities in the emotions and sensations generated by sexual fantasy and behaviors. In “The Erotic Haze”, the addict is finally soothed and comforted in a way that may have been missing from his childhood. Time spent in “The Erotic Haze” is stress-and- anxiety free and meets unmet pressing, narcissistic needs. Sex addiction is a narcissistic behavior because the only exclusive concern is about him and his pleasure. In the Erotic Haze, there is perfect control. In it he achieves blissful satisfaction that is unavailable to him in real life.
Sexual enactment is the addict’s only source of safety, pleasure, soothing and acceptance. It vitalizes and connects. It relieves loneliness, emptiness and depression.
The sex addict has anxiety about being unable to get what he needs from real people. His desperate search for the fulfillment of unmet childhood needs inevitably ends in disillusionment. So he returns to his reliance on sexual fantasies and enactments to lessen anxiety about connection and intimacy and as a way to achieve a sense of self-affirmation.
Sex, for the addict, begins to be his primary value and a confirmation of his sense of self. Feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, and worthlessness magically disappear while sexually preoccupied, through acting out or through spending untold hours on the Internet.
By losing himself in sexual fantasies and constantly seeing others as potential sex partners, or by erotic Internet enactments, the sex addict is able to significantly reduce and control a wide variety of threatening and uncomfortable emotional states. Diminished depression, anxiety and rage are some of the payoffs.
In my experience working with sex addicts, there usually comes a distinct “point”, as though a bell goes off in their heads, or a gear in their brain moves and they get it!! The Moment of Clarity so much discussed in AA. It’s the moment when you get it in your guts that the benefits aren’t worth the cost.
Then you’re really ready to do RECOVERY.
A Cost/Benefit Analysis of Sexual Recovery
Now let’s examine a cost/benefit analysis of a commitment to a long-term recovery program.
The cost of recovery is willingness to be open to change, insight and goal-directed actions. You must pay the cost of risking going to people, who can sometimes be arbitrary and unavailable, to get your needs met rather than turning to an addiction.
In recovery, you will no doubt grieve the loss of your compulsive sexual behaviors. After all, they’ve been with you for oh -so -long a time and you’ve relied on them for so many things in addition to sexual pleasure. Your “Erotic Haze” has been your safe haven from the storms of life stressors, interpersonal conflict, and negative emotional states for many, many years. However, following the painful process of grieving a loss a new chapter in your life emerges.
The benefits of recovery are many. Freedom from a self-imposed, compulsive state where you suffer the self-esteem diminishing experience of not being able to control your own behavior. Freedom from having to lie and hide, more free time, increased productivity on the job, the ability to rebuild a sense of self-mastery and self-efficacy (the belief that you can do what’s required on you), clearer thinking, better decision making, adequate sleep. Emotional regulation. Ability to experience non-sexual pleasures of ordinary life. A template of what’s healthy, hot, connected sexuality with a cherished one can be. A better spouse, friend, parent, friend, son and employee. You can live better without it! You really can!
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