Stanley Ducharme, Ph.D.
addiction is a compulsive and progressive condition for
many men and women. It cuts across people of all ages, economic
conditions, racial ethnicity and religious backgrounds.
Sexual addiction is characterized by a relentless search
for sexual gratification without regard to consequences
or personal safety. The addiction progresses gradually in
stages during which time the addict becomes increasingly
detached from friends, family and the real world. Ultimately,
the addictive cycle ends with serious legal, financial or
is easy to confuse the presence of a sexual compulsion or
addiction with a high sexual drive or libido. Having a sexual
addiction however is very different than having a strong
sexual libido. The individual with a sexual addiction finds
little satisfaction in sexual activities or in having an
intimate relationship. The emotional components of the sexual
relationship are non-existent. For most sexual addicts,
there is little concern for issues such as personal feelings,
attachment to others and emotional closeness. The sexual
act itself becomes all consuming.
spite of its prevalence and severity, sexual addiction is
rarely talked about and often misunderstood. Effective treatment
programs are limited and most people would prefer not discussing
such personal and embarrassing matters. These reactions
further intensify the feelings of despair experienced by
an individual with a sexual addiction. Self-loathing and
diminished feelings of self-worth are universal. Sexual
addictions also destroy relationships. Divorce is commonplace
and communication with ones partner becomes increasingly
difficult. The addict has a secret that he is unable to
share. Emotional distance in a relationship becomes a way
Progression of Sexual Addiction
the most prevalent form of sexual addiction is related to
the computer. Fantasy chat rooms, web cams and explicit
materials have proliferated in recent years. Typically,
masturbation and various forms of auto-erotic stimulation
accompany this compulsive search for sexual gratification.
For many sexual addicts, this behavior occupies multiple
hours each day and can significantly interfere with the
completion of other daily activities such as work, family
responsibilities and relationships. In more severe cases,
the search for gratification can literally consume the majority
of ones waking hours.
all addictions, the pursuit of sexual gratification can
progress rapidly over a period of months or years until
the behavior is unstoppable. Often, there is an escalation
of risk factors as well as an increasing exploitation of
the victim. Although these addictions tend to be seen primarily
in the male population they can at times occur with individuals
of either gender. Exact statistics as to the prevalence
of sexual addiction are generally unavailable because of
the shame and guilt associated with the behavior. Legal
consequences also prevent the collection of reliable statistics.
Secrecy and shame are the hallmark of a sexual addiction.
people would never consider engaging in the behaviors often
associated with sexual addiction. Typically, the seriousness
of the behaviors has gradually intensified over a period
of time until a major legal, marital or financial crisis
has developed in the life of the individual. At this point,
the addiction has reached overwhelming proportions and the
consequences can no longer be ignored or denied.
frequently, these addictive sexual behaviors are categorized
on three levels according to the degree of risk and the
legal consequences involved. Level one behaviors may include:
masturbation, prostitution and anonymous sex. Level two
behaviors often include: voyeurism, exhibitionism and sexually
explicit phone calls. Level three behaviors are considered
the most severe and may include: child molestation, incest
surprisingly, severe emotional turmoil also tends to accompany
a sexual addiction. For many people, the sexual behaviors
associated with an addiction can lead to intense feelings
of shame, guilt and despair. Severe periods of depression
often follow a period of sexual acting out behavior. Ending
the cycle of addiction often seems impossible. In such a
helpless situation, suicidal ideation and substance abuse
become a way of life. Life often feels out of control.
one is quite sure why people develop addictions to sex.
Generally, the reasons behind such addictions are different
for each individual. Psychologists however tend to think
that most addictions have some genetic influence as well
as psychological factors. Various addictions tend to follow
family lines leading many behavioral scientists to believe
that such behaviors are learned during childhood.
medical and psychological professionals believe that addictions
grow out of a need to escape or medicate emotional
problems and emotional pain. In this respect, a sexual compulsion
is similar to alcoholism or drug abuse. The behavior is
used to adjust a mood, cope with emotional turmoil or to
escape reality. Denial is commonplace.
obsessive thinking and a pre-occupation with sexual matters
can accompany the compulsive behaviors. There is an inner
turmoil in which the individual incessantly seeks gratification
while feeling a sense of self-loathing and detachment from
others. In many ways, the individual with a sexual addiction
develops a habit to only be aroused during certain situations
such as when exposed to pornographic material or when paying
the partner, living with a person who has developed a sexual
addiction, can be emotionally painful, isolating and extremely
frustrating. Partners often feel humiliated and embarrassed
by the actions of the sexual addict and have little emotional
support available to them. Friends may have few constructive
suggestions to offer and qualified professionals may be
difficult to find. Because of shame, talking about such
problems may be beyond a partners emotional capabilities.
For many people, living with a sexual addict is similar
to the experience of being emotionally abused. Silence seems
like the only alternative.
you are concerned that your partner may have a sexual addiction,
there are a number of steps that might be recommended. Clearly,
the first step is to speak with your partner and discuss
your observations and concerns. Like all addictions, a defensive
reaction is common. In some cases, the individual may not
realize that a problem exists or that certain behaviors
have become habitual. Encouraging psychological treatment
and providing strong emotional support are critical if changes
are expected. Expressing emotional support is often difficult
at this time because of personal distress and feelings of
is no one form of treatment that has been proven most effective.
Often, a combined treatment approach is used in working
with the person who has a sexual addiction. For example,
some of the psychiatric medications can be helpful in reducing
sexual drive or in decreasing sexually intrusive thoughts.
These medications may also allow an individual to consider
consequences before acting on a sexual urge or impulse.
In addition to medications, treatment almost always involves
therapy or counseling on a regular basis. In the United
States there are also self-help programs for people with
sexual addictions. These are modeled after the AA 12 step
programs and are found in most major cities in the US.
certain parts of the country, sexual compulsivity workshops
and retreats may be available. These workshops are aimed
at recognizing the origins of the addiction and developing
a realistic recovery program. These workshops are also built
on a 12-step model and follow the standard principles of
recovery. To date, there has been no research on their effectiveness.
any addiction, maintaining control and avoiding future problems
is a difficult, life long process. Maintaining sobriety
over sexual addictions requires strong motivation and a
constant vigilance during times of potential danger. With
good emotional support however, it is possible to make the
necessary changes. For most people, ending psychological
counseling too quickly and developing a false sense of confidence
are the biggest mistakes that can lead to future problems.
READINGS ON SEXUAL ADDICTION
Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction.
Patrick Carnes, Hazelden Publications, Center City,
Contrary to Love: Helping the Sexual Addict. Patrick
Carnes, Bantam Books, New York, 1992.
In the Shadows of the Net: Breaking Free of Compulsive
Online Sexual Behavior. Patrick Carnes, Hazelden Publications,
Center City, Minn., 2001.
Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Overcoming
Romantic and Sexual Addictions. Jed Diamond, G.T. Putnam
Publishing Company, New York, 1988.
The Warriors Journey Home: Healing Men, Healing
the Planet. Jed Diamond, New Harbinger Publications,
Oakland, CA., 1994.