As a sexual addiction counselor, my experience has revealed three sexual addiction identifiers that a client is addicted to sex: tolerance, abstinence, and withdrawal. In the addiction field, these are commonly regarded as being traits that potential addicts show signs of being addicted to a substance, a behavior, or even a mental experience (such as fantasy relationships). In regards to sexual addiction, my client and I can apply these three identifiers as to whether addiction is present in the client’s life to porn, sex, relationships, lust, or various combinations of these.
The term tolerance means the addict has the tendency to tolerate more of the substance, behavior, or activity and receives less from it and overtime needs increasing the dosage to maintain or increase the desired effect. For sexual addiction, tolerance refers to a need to increase the amount of obsessive thinking, risky behaviors, or intensity of activity, but with less and less return. In other words, what use to work when we were teenagers doesn’t work very well in our 20’s or 30’s. The activity to gain the sexual high crosses more and more boundaries and requires more and more risk to get the same high. When I have my client share and/or write out his sexual history, it is often evident that his sexual activity escalated over the years, crossing one line after another, first in his thought life, then in his behaviors. For example, the teen years are filled with masturbation to fantasies, then he finds porn magazines, later darker sexual porn clips online, then graduates to sexual partners, affairs, and then maybe to prostitutes. The client can begin to see how he needed more and more of the “drug” called sex.
The term abstinence refers to the tendency where the addict tries to stop or quit using the addictive activity or substance. The addict will often feel shame or fear after the sexual activity is over and hate what he has done. He then swears to himself that that was “the last time.” He may do this many times and then eventually go back to the addiction. Something inside the addict tells himself that he should stop. One recovery group has a saying, “Stopping isn’t our problem…we’ve stopped a thousand times. Our problem is staying stopped.” I often hear my client tell me that he has tried to stop on his own but every time he later acted out again and again.
The term withdrawal represents the symptoms that the addict may experience when the sexual activity or substance is unattainable. These symptoms can be physical, emotional, or both. Dr. Patrick Carnes identified that sex addicts have a distorted belief that includes, “Sex is one of my most important needs. I’ll do anything to get it.” Our culture often teaches that sex is a need that every human must obtain but the sex addict takes it further and believes is must be obtained at all cost: to the detriment of his marriage, family, business, friendships, hobbies, etc. This is no different from the drug addict or alcoholic feeling he’ll die without his fix. Yet the reality is just the opposite, not giving into the hunger and thirst for the addiction doesn’t kill.
After working with a client for a few months and he obtains long-term sobriety, some will look back on his transition as a time when he felt very confused and essentially in a state of mental fog. He begins to understand that he was in a state of shock in which his system had to slowly recovery from the trauma of a lifetime of self-inflicted wounds. Sobriety leads to a new way of thinking after the mental fog lifts. He begins to see more clearly of how the addiction kept him from living in the real world. Without the addictive behaviors, he was able to feel what’s really going on inside himself. This process doesn’t come easily or quickly. The support of others in recovery and an experienced counselor by your side is vital. In a group of recovering sex addicts, the client will see that others have been successful in getting free from the addictive life. He gets to experience the group members shares of experience, strength and hope.
If you recognize these three sexual addiction identifiers in your life and you want to obtain recovery and healing, please don’t wait another day to contact me to setup an individual session. I will return your call or message within 24-hours. I truly care about you and that you begin your journey of freedom!