By M. Rivest Ph.D., D.S.T.
Board Certified: Sex Therapy & Counseling (UACCI)
336 760 1780
“We argued that night. I went to bed early. He stayed up. Somewhere about 2AM I noticed he was not in bed. I roamed through the darkness of the house. I found him in his usual spot, his basement office. The blue green glow of the computer made him look diseased. He was looking at porno, again,” reports a counseling client.
The Internet has become the newest, most rapidly growing form of sexual acting out for many sex addicts. The internet fills a need for “more, easier and better.” For the cybersex addict, increasing amounts of time are spent “surfing,” downloading, creating files, masturbating, reading information posted on sexual bulletin boards, exchanging sexual information live with others in sexual chat rooms or via computer cameras, or directing their own live sex shows on interactive sites–in short, looking for what’s new, what’s better than last time. The Internet just happens to provide many of the things sex addicts seek, all in one place: isolation, secrecy, fantasy material, endless variety, around-the-clock availability, instant accessibility and a rapid means of returning, low or no cost. Sex addicts on the Internet often experience a rapid progression of their addiction. The new sexual thrills lead to spending huge amounts of time, moving more quickly into more extreme behaviors, taking greater risks, and getting caught more frequently. Thus, internet sex has been referred to as the “crack cocaine” of sex addiction. Sexual addition is extremely destructive, both to the individual and to the marriage partner.
The most difficult marital problems today are Internet pornography adultery, and sexual fantasy. Most women feel that pornography is akin to adultery. They feel that this fantasy behavior threatens the marriage and their self esteem. Most feel betrayed, defiled and abused in the same way that one might feel after an affair. Most women report a loss of security in their relationship and believe that they have been living a lie. They feel that the future of the marriage is at risk, many want to leave the marriage.
Sexual addition can happen to both men and women. The beginning of most sexual addictions are formed long before adulthood, so the addictions are carried into marriage. The sexual addict is a person who tries to use sex to fill non-sexual needs. Sex becomes not an expression of love in a mature relationship, but rather a compulsive (and often highly ritualized) response to the emotional stresses of life.
Sexual addiction, like most other additions, is a way of running away from life, even for a moment. It is a vehicle for stress relief. But since it does not actually solve any problems or ease emotional pain the original problems are still there and now the addiction has created even more problems.
The addict feels shame about what he or she is doing. The sex addict more and more comes to live a double life.
If you are in relationship with someone you think is sexually addicted, your efforts to help may be actually adding to the problem. Sex addicts usually choose relationships with partners who unconsciously fit right into the addictive patterns. For example, typically the sex addict keeps on returning again and again to the sexually addictive behaviors and the partner accepts what is going on, or overlooks clues that would suggest something is wrong, or threatens to leave but doesn’t (or leaves and returns when the addict promises to change, only to learn later the addict did not stop), or takes responsibility for trying to control the addict’s behavior. None of these strategies work and actually add to the problem.
What the partner has to realize is that she or he needs help too in order to get out of her or his own addictive habits. The partner will need to learn how to stop enabling the sex addict and how to focus on her/himself, and how to take stands or draw boundaries that actually work.
A phrase that is used to describe a woman or a man in relationship with a sexual addict is a codependent of a sex addict, or co-addict. In her book, Back From Betrayal:Recovery for Women Involved With Sex Addicted Men, Jennifer Schneider presents a cohesive description of a co-addict. Schneider points out that the co-addict’s self esteem comes from her success as a people-pleaser. Her main goal in life is to try to figure out what her partner wants, and then give it to him. To assure success at pleasing, she may become extremely sensitive to the momentary mood of her partner. She may constantly worry about what he thinks about her and try extremely hard not to make a mistake. Because of these self-defeating characteristics, the co-addict usually is much more in tune with what someone else wants than with her own wants and needs.The underlying reason for such a belief is the co-addict’s conviction that no one could love her for herself, just as she is, that she must earn love and devotion. The energy expended on such an endeavor can take a heavy toll on the co-addict as she tries repeatedly and unsuccessfully to “keep her man happy.” She may engage in a variety of behaviors that range from the smallest violation of her value system to the truly dangerous and destructive. The co-addict, in an effort to please the addict, may do the following things. She may change her hair color, lose/gain weight, quit her job/go to work, or wear sexy underwear. Or she may perform sex acts that are unpleasant or repulsive to her, or attend events that shock and confuse her, swing with others, or expose herself to sexually transmitted diseases. Or, most importantly for a co-addict with children, she may use them and/or ignore them in her efforts to focus on the addict-partner.
To “please and keep her man” the co-addict will often attempt to become indispensable to the addict. Not surprisingly, with the need to be indispensable, the co-addict’s most constant emotional state is one of fear. In their book, Women Who Love Sex Addicts: Help For Healing from the Effects of a Relationship With A Sex Addict, Douglas Weiss and Dianne DeBusk list some of the common fears a co-addict may experience. The list includes such beliefs as I was afraid I wasn’t woman enough for him; I was afraid I could never please him sexually; I was afraid there was something wrong with me; I was afraid I was a pervert; I was afraid that I wouldn’t protect my kids if they were being hurt by him; I was afraid of his anger; I was afraid he would give me a disease. Living with such fears inevitably leads the co-addict to attempt to control the addict’s behavior. Her (unconscious) rationale for this is that if she can keep him within certain parameters of behavior, she won’t have to experience her fears of inadequacy and of being abandoned, In reality, such attempts are about as effective as trying to keep the dam from bursting by running around and sticking a finger in the many holes that keep appearing. Nevertheless, the co-addict repeatedly attempts to control the addict with such behaviors as calling or beeping him several times a day in order to find out where he is; checking his wallet for tell-tale evidence; going through credit card bills; checking his shirts for lipstick smudges or his dirty underwear for signs of semen; throwing away pornographic material. She may also attempt to manipulate his behavior with a variety of behaviors of her own, including acting overly understanding and/or becoming a screamer-yeller. Neither works; nor does anything else she tries.
Eventually the secret life of the sexual addict is discovered and the couple experiences a tremendous crisis.
Without professional help things get worse. Since the disease of sexual addiction is, like any addiction, it gets more time-consuming and costly as time goes by.
Often, the sexual addict will then enter a period of extreme remorse, beg for forgiveness, and promise never to act out again. His promises at the time are probably sincere and most co-addicts want to believe the words. A honeymoon period may follow, including intense sexual activity between the two people. Since, for the co-addict, sex is often a sign of love, she may be lulled into believing everything is really all right, offer forgiveness and bind up her wounded spirit and go on. She is later shattered to discover the unaccounted for time and secrecy has returned.
The Cyber Sex Addiction Checklist A high number of YES answers may be a sign of some issues with sex addiction.
1. Spending increasing amounts of online time focused on sexual or romantic intrigue or involvement.
2. Involvement in multiple romantic or sexual affairs in chat rooms.
3. Not considering online sexual or romantic “affairs” to be a possible violation of spousal/partnership commitments.
4. Failed attempts to cut back on frequency of online or Internet sexual and romantic involvement or interaction.
5. Online use interferes with work (tired or late due to previous night’s use, online while at work, etc.).
6. Online use interferes with primary relationships (e.g., minimizing or lying to partners about online activities, spending less time with family or partners).
7. Intense engagement in collecting Internet pornography.
8. Engaging in fantasy online acts or experiences which would be illegal if carried out (e.g., rape, child molestation).
9. Decreased social or family interactive time due to online fantasy involvements.
10. Being secretive or lying about amount of time spent online or type of sexual/romantic fantasy activities carried out online.
11. Engaging with sexual or romantic partners met online, while also involved in marital or other primary relationship.
12. Increasing complaints and concern from family or friends about the amount of time spent online.
13. Frequently becoming angry or extremely irritable when asked to give up online involvement to engage with partners, family or friends.
14. Primary focus of sexual or romantic life becomes increasingly related to computer activity (including pornographic CD-ROM use).
For more information go to www.sexcounslors.org.