Make Love, Not War? (Treatment of Sex Addiction)

When does sex turn from being love to an addiction? There are many theories about this, and it is often thought that when sex is used compulsively, to “numb out” or to get high, these are indicators to addiction. Also, crossing boundaries as well as hiding sexual behavior can be signposts in crossing over to addiction. Losing other areas of your life, such as concentration at work and spending less time with family and friends is also something to look out for. If you’ve experienced negative consequences if others found out about your sexual behaviors or have you tried to stop any sexual behaviors but eventually returned to them is a clear signpost. All of these are to illustrate how similar (nearly identical) sex addiction is from other forms of substance abuse. But how do we treat sexual addiction?

Treatment in general includes a blend of individual, marital, and group therapy. Key tasks for recovery include breaking through denial, education about the addiction process, and beginning sobriety. These are not necessarily chronological and most addicts will begin efforts on several of these simultaneously during the preliminary stage of therapy.

Much of the work in these initial responsibilities is designed to help create stability for the addict and his or her family. For instance, it is not unusual for the addict to continue to play down or deny the extent, frequency and/or harm caused by the sexual acting out. Reading books on the topic, attending self help groups with others dealing with the same addiction, or working on a sexual history can help the individual more completely acknowledge the need for help.

Establishing sobriety early on in treatment is an important, yet often tricky task. Defining sobriety can be demanding, being the precise behaviors to be sober are sometimes vague. In addition, addicts must distinguish the people, places, emotional states, and relational dynamics that prompt them into the addictive process and which need to be avoided or more efficiently managed. If one's primary form of acting out is via the Internet, computer usage can be restricted to certain times or places, and filtering or monitoring software can be used. A comprehensive plan of action for recovery also needs to be formed. This plan can be shared with one's partner or family as part of a general process of restoring relational conviction.

Group work is highly recommended because it offers the recovering addict both support and responsibility. Within 12-step groups, it is common to seek out a sponsor with whom one can work through the 12-steps and check-in concerning sobriety. Such groups often offer the added benefit of increased flexibility (more groups per week, alternate hours, locations, etc.) at no cost. This is especially helpful when encouraging the addict to have regular contact with someone regarding recovery, which is vital during the initial stage of treatment.

Couples therapy is also a critical part of recovery. A spouse or partner may fail to see the need for his or her participation. Primarily, the goal of couples therapy is to steady the relationship and help the spouse work through the ordeal they have experienced. The eventual goal is to establish a desired level of intimacy, both sexually and non-sexually. An essential aim is to help the couple restore trust in the relationship through a practice of apology and forgiveness.

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