How can I control my sex addiction?
Thank you for your question. The issue of sex addiction is serious so I appreciate that you brought it up.
My first question would be, “what makes you say you are addicted to sex?” While you are thinking about that question, let us look at some of the parameters you could use to assess yourself.
What is a sex addiction?
If you were to remove the word “sex” from this equation, would you still consider yourself an addict?
We have been socialised within our families, societies and even religions to think of sex in negative terms, such that whenever many people enjoy anything on the sexual spectrum, they feel guilty, as if they are doing something wrong; they may even try to stop on their own.
If they repeat their chosen sexual behaviour, they automatically diagnose themselves as ‘addicted to sex’ when what they mean is they enjoy sexual behaviour even when they feel they should not.
Addiction is a disease
You cannot diagnose yourself based on your own subjective opinion. Feeling guilty about sex does not equal being addicted to sex.
Addiction requires a professional assessment for proper diagnosis. Even if you have an addiction, the appropriate professional would still need to speak to the intensity or parameters of your addiction, which would require a proper assessment of not just the ‘addiction’ but also of its impact.
There are certain parameters that must be met before a person can be considered as suffering from an addiction. For simplicity’s sake, I would conceptualise it these two ways:
a) Is there an element of impulsivity to the person’s behaviour?
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In other words, is the person able to think through their decisions and choose accordingly or do they feel unable to control, ignore, sidestep, avoid, overlook or even distract themselves from the behaviour? If the answer here is ‘no’, then I would know this is something that needs further exploration.
b) Is there an element of compulsivity? Simply put, can they stop their behaviour at any time they want or do they feel driven to the behaviour, unable to stop themselves? Again, if the answer here is ‘no’, then I would explore this further.
What are some symptoms of sex addiction?
Sexual addiction has many similarities to other addictions, the key difference being that the person is addicted to a pleasurable behaviour, instead of a numbing or heightening substance.
Sexual addiction is really about overstimulating the pleasure centres of your brain, creating a persistent and insatiable thirst for sexually ‘feeling good’ all the time.
A person addicted to sex may experience heightened feelings of sadness, hopelessness and helplessness at their perceived inability to ‘stop’ on their own. It also has an element of shame due to some of the reckless behaviours that co-exist with it e.g. indiscriminate sex.
People who suffer from this addiction will describe having sex with people they would never otherwise choose just so they could get sexual release, and then feeling horrible afterwards.
In addition, sexual addiction can co-exist with certain behaviours such as excessive consumption of pornography, excessive masturbation, voyeuristic and/or exhibitionist tendencies that leave them feeling vulnerable, disgusted, disgusting and worse.
Sexual addiction can also spill over and negatively impact non-sexual areas of their life due to the impulsive and compulsive nature of it e.g. choosing to have sex during lunch hour and getting late or missing the entire afternoon at work, having unrealistic sexual expectations of their life partner, financial recklessness e.g. spending a lot of money for hotel rooms and more.
As you can see, this can be an insidious and overwhelming addiction.
Is there hope?
Yes! Yes, there is always hope. Here are a few pointers:
Lose the shame
Remember that we all have our challenges so there is no need to feel ashamed of having this problem. Acceptance is the first step to restoration so accept that this is a problem and spend your time and energy on getting help, not on carrying guilt and shame.
Seek support. This can be as simple as sharing with your family doctor, trusted friend or some other safe person that you have a problem and need some help.
Whoever you choose to tell will likely refer you to a doctor who will likely refer you to a sex therapist, psychiatrist or other professional.
Addiction thrives in secrecy so pierce it by identifying a person or small circle of people who can be #TeamYou as you find your way back to health and wholeness.
The key traits that you need in members of #TeamYou include empathy, compassion, love, accountability, dignity and integrity. You need to be able to express your desires and struggles in a safe space to a person or people who can hold you accountable through the process.
Along with accountability – or perhaps as part of your accountability – you will need to eliminate temptations to minimize your struggles e.g. if you have a tendency to ‘hook up’ with random strangers over lunch hour, have lunch with colleagues and commit to staying with them from beginning to end.
If you know that being alone in your house or room makes it too easy to spend endless hours on pornography or masturbation, leave your door open (if you live with others) and/or find other ways to fill your time and to keep your hands and mind occupied with things that do not derail your progress.
Define healthy sexuality for yourself
It is very easy for you or someone else to say “this is bad” but do you know what would be good? Spend some time - preferably with a therapist - exploring what a healthy sex life looks like to you.
Addiction warps your reality so it is time to unwrap it by determining what healthy sexual behaviour looks like to you, so that you will be able to know whether you are making any progress.
Dear reader, knowing what you know now, would you still say you are addicted to sex? If not, please revisit number 5 above; get clear on what healthy sex looks like to you.
If yes, please use the steps above a guideline towards restoring yourself to having a happy, healthy sex life, which is what I wish for you.
Maggie Gitu is a marriage, family and sex therapist.
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The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Evewoman.co.ke