There is a lie our society is trying to sell us: “Sex addiction is not an addiction.” However, as they say, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck,…it’s probably a duck. Like any addiction, we need to look at the behavior the person is involved in and whether or not they are able to stop. (For example, whatever they use to numb, checkout, or medicate themselves with, such as shopping, time spent viewing social media, gaming, drugs, sex, etc.)
Have they tried to stop but are not experiencing success? Are larger amounts or doses of the substance needed? Is not only more time or quantity needed but also partaking more often to obtain their fix? By the way, try convincing a spouse of a sex addict they shouldn’t be hurt by their partner’s behavior. Try to explain it’s not really an addiction or a problem they should not be all that concerned about.
Frequently, I have this conversation with a new client who believes he or she is not a sex, drug, alcohol or gambling addict. For those of us in the mental health field, this is normal for us to meet resistance, and we all have tools to help carefully peal it away. Now, this is not a big deal to me and is not going a make or break us in regard to our ability to work together. I do not need to convince them they are something they believe they’re not. However, as I have written before, I look at behavior X and ask the person, “Does this behavior you are currently involved in cause you any problems?” I then define a problem in 5 areas.
Has behavior X affected your health?
Has behavior X affected your money?
Has behavior X affected your career?
Has behavior X affected your legal status (any arrests or fines?)
Finally, has behavior X affected any of your personal or professional relationships?
Most often, we both agree that behavior X has affected a relationship at some level. Now, that is something we can work on improving together.
It is for this same reason we need to have a conversation about what sex addiction is. Too often it is seen and heard as all or nothing. I don’t think it’s that simple. I see sex addiction more on a continuum of severity, but it is an addiction nonetheless, as everything on the continuum is destructive and will eventually cause problems. The following is applicable for both genders, single, married or divorced. So let’s take a look at this continuum.
Let’s start on the far left of this continuum, The Monogamous Cheater. This is a person who uses “eye candy” to meet their needs. They believe it is okay to look but not touch. Most likely, this person will never physically or emotionally cheat on their partner; however, they have an entire rolodex of images filed away in their mind.
Moving to the right on this continuum, we have The Flirt. This is a person who uses eye candy, but they will go a step further and actually engage in conversation with another person face-to-face or online. Most often, it is in person with eye contact, light conversation, compliments, laughter over comments or jokes, an allotment of time spent together and giving the other person attention. However, they are often not serious about getting to know the individual as a person. They view them simply as an object. This can occur at work, a social event or just in a public setting, etc.
Next, we will discuss The Emotional Affair. This is where two people begin spending extra time with one another and show extra attention or affection toward one another. Conversations become less about work or projects and more about their feelings. They may over share feelings of dissatisfaction in regard to the current relationship they are in with another partner. They intentionally meet with one another separate from other people. Innocent or playful touch may occur.
Porn: Pornography comes in many forms; however, the most common is found on the internet, in printed magazines, in movies, DVDs, TV, novelty shops with sexual paraphilia, erotica, etc. Sexting is also a form of porn, such as texting nude or nearly nude images of yourself. The lesser acknowledged form of pornography is what I refer to as female porn, such as written in books, novels, women’s and teen’s magazines, blogs, internet chat rooms, thoughts and even fantasies.
Porn and Masturbation: As we continue to move to the right on the continuum, we see more “addict” behavior. When an individual attaches masturbation to any of the forms of pornography listed above, the brain begins to connect positive reinforcement with the chemicals released upon orgasm to the images. The brain says, “I love those M&M’s (chemicals) with those images and thoughts.” At this level, the individual begins to explore interactions with others in the form of phone sex, internet chat rooms, virtual sex experiences, holograms, internet Skype, FaceTime, strip clubs, etc.
Now, let’s discuss The Physical Affair. At this point, the individual is now engaging in direct contact with another person through grooming behaviors with the intent of a physical sexual experience and opportunity with someone they have known in the past or have a current professional or personal relationship with. This can occur in, but limited to, a one-night stand, hook ups, and swinger relationships.
Finally, on the far right of the continuum, we have Anonymous Sex. This individual might be bored with physical acting out with people they have had some relationship with and are now looking for anyone to have sex with. It now has nothing to do with a relationship. It’s now becomes only about the fix and getting the next bigger and better “high.” Common sense, health risks, relationship loss, job loss, or getting caught means nothing to them. This may involve, but is not limited to, acting out with prostitutes, escorts, massage parlors, brothels, Craig’s List, bookstores, clubs, orgies, or opposite and same gender relations.
I believe this is a better way to think about sex addiction, as we work toward better ideas and models to treat sex addiction in the future. All or nothing is just not good enough anymore.
Cory Schortzman is an author, speaker, teacher and licensed mental health professional. Since 2008, he has served as the Executive Director of Transformed Hearts Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, CO. He is the founder of SARA, the Sexual Addiction Recovery Association. Cory is passionate about helping couples and individuals overcome sex addiction. He is also passionate about bringing awareness to the public and supporting the elimination of sex and human trafficking. Cory has been married since 1998 to his beautiful wife, Kerry, and lives in Colorado with their four daughters. He and Kerry have been seen on the CBS Early Show, Inside Edition, and ABC Good Morning America, Fox 21 News, and TLC/Discovery discussing the harm of sex addiction and the joys of recovery. He has also been heard on numerous radio programs.
Cory’s books include: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light the Workbook, Into the Light the Steps, Ashes to Beauty the Steps, 301 Dating Ideas, 301 Conversational Ideas, 301 Ways to Say I Love You, 301 Ways to Love Your Children & 301 Recovery Tools & Tips.