Sex Addiction

Powerful, baffling and cunning are the words used to describe addiction…

Addictions are simultaneously necessary and distressing to an individual. Sexual addictions are most often tied to a great deal of shame — one hides their tracks and feels like a deviant for staring at a computer screen for hours looking at pornography or arranging affairs. Their activities steal from intimacy with a loved partner and slowly begin to make ones’ life unmanageable, as lies and behaving outside one’s own standard of integrity is common.

So why does a person engage in behavior that is so distressing?

There are wide. divergent reasons for different individuals, but, sex addiction is usually a cry for help. What’s going on “on the outside” doesn’t begin to match the inner distress.

Sometimes a person has an addictive personality and sex takes the place of alcohol or drugs. Excessive use of excessive pleasurable activities to cope with unmanageable conflict, pressure, or stress defines the person who become hooked on buying, gambling, exercise, co-dependency, or sex.

Often there is underlying impulsivity — sensation seeking — low self-esteem and depression/anxiety and a blocked capacity for intimate relationships. Often there is a family history of addictive behavior or obsessive-compulsive rituals.

Sex addiction is labeled as a problem when:

  • Sex is the primary or obsessive focus
  • Sex is both necessary and distressing
  • Sex is out of control and the person is acting outside their value system
  • Sex is interfering with establishing a healthy intimate relationship or marriage
  • Sex has resulted in difficulty with work such as browsing internet pornography or inability to concentrate
  • Sex is obsessive or compulsive

In our decades of experience, we have found that any type of addictive behavior is an indication that one’s life is out of balance.

There are multiple reasons for sex addiction to take hold as a coping mechanism:

  • Anger or rage related to powerlessness experienced in childhood
  • Depression or anxiety that gets effectively relieved by distracting oneself with sex
  • Fears related to relationships and intimacy
  • Attachment issues where an individual finds that they can neither stay in nor leave a relationship
  • A person lacks skills to effectively navigate their world because of social anxiety, obsessive compulsive perfectionism, bipolar-like mood changes, and so on
  • Unfinished, unresolved issues from childhood, often revolving around trauma in the family of origin

So How Does One Recover?

This is not like stopping smoking or starting exercising, though each is quite difficult. First, the individual abstains from the behavior, often with therapeutic assistance. Typically. there is a variation of “cold-turkey” in which the underlying symptoms increase. The individual become very anxious, angry, depressed with distorted beliefs. This is described by therapists as difficulty with “affect-regulation”. The individual often is less effective in dealing with daily tasks, feeling less powerful. At this stage of recovery, the therapist is able to access “unfinished business” from the past, challenge distorted beliefs, and introduce tools for better management of emotions.

One major goal is to turn to people for support, which is why 12-step groups are so useful. Also learning to express inner states with loved ones is critical.

Often aspects of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder become apparent and learning to focus, complete tasks, and discipline oneself become more effective is also critical. Finally, increasing self-cohesion, that integrating one’s past, present and future, and improve g one’s relationship with self is critical for recovering.

The Treatment

Treatment begins with a thorough assessment. Individuals can be widely divergent in their addictive behaviors, so interventions are based on a complete delineation of the contributing factors.

At Marriage Therapy Institute, we work with the individual or couple as available and appropriate. For out-of-town clients, we offer an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), consisting of three-hours of daily treatment that includes individual or couples therapy plus group therapy. Participation in a 12-step program is also encouraged between sessions. If co-dependency is an issue, special treatment for the identified client or partner is available.

Paraphilia/Gender Confusion

Individuals sometimes develop atypical sexual arousal patterns (paraphilias) that interfere with intimacy as a couple. Examples include: fetishes, transvestism, preferences for violence, and so on. In our experience, these paraphilias are often tied to childhood trauma caused by neglect. We also work with issues related to gender confusion and dissatisfaction with one’s sense of self and identity.


Intensive Outpatient Therapy is covered by most insurance plans. Call us with your insurance information, and we can help you confirm coverage, including your out-of-pocket costs based on the number of treatment hours each day.

Treating the Addiction, Treating the Relationship

At Marriage Therapy Institute, we not only treat the sex addict, but we treat the partner’s and/or family’s residual suffering, and then we treat the relationship(s) and the damages done to the relationship(s) as well. It’s a 360 degree approach, and one we’ve found imperative to the healing needed for longer-term success.

Free Consultation

Contact us for a free consultation. We can conduct an initial assessment by phone to provide more specific guidance prior to therapy. Let us know what you or your partner may be dealing with, and let us assist you in taking whatever necessary next steps are available and recommended.

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