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Sex addiction - basic guide.

Sex addiction - basic guide.

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Sex addiction - basic guide.

Sex and porn addiction can include excessively indulging in one or a combination of some of the following most often in secret:

  • Porn – on/off-line images and film
  • On-line chatting, sexting and dating via 'hook-up' apps
  • Use of regular dating sites when already in a good relationship
  • On-line use of sex workers such as web cams or sex chat lines
  • Sexual encounters with strangers – physical and by phone/texting
  • Multiple secret relationships/partners when in a commited relationsip
  • Affairs – brief and over-time
  • Masturbation used compulsively/excessively
  • Using workers in the sex industry
  • Sex clubs and parties, lap-dancing clubs, sex cinemas
  • Fetish-type behaviours and paraphilias
  • Group sex and swinging
  • Unwanted demands on a partner

What is sex addiction and when does it become a problem?

We are all addicted in some way.  We all love our routines, our favourite rituals and habits, perhaps a favourite drink such as the coffee we need at work, or a particular food, or even a place we like to visit frequently.  These benign addictions are not a worry for us as long as they don’t become excessive – such as too many cups of coffee or too much junk food!  It is natural for us all to search out and stick with things that bring pleasure, order and consistency in our lives. It is also very human to look for and find a sense of comfort and security in our lives and simple things like our habits and personal preferences are a part of this.  

Addictions become a concern when they progress to being both unhealthy, out of control and having a negative impact on our lives.  For example, when eating junk foods leads to high cholesterol and heart problems but at the same time there is a dependence or craving for it that can’t be controlled.  More severe addictions can then have a negative impact on other aspects of our lives.  An example is gambling where the craving to gamble leads to serious loss of money and assets and leads into serious debt.  Addictions are also a problem when they affect your relationships and you find yourself sacrificing the needs of your partner or children to pursue the addiction.

A feature of harmful addiction is a pattern of escalation from less harmful acts to those that are likely to have a serious impact.  An example of this would be the use of on-line porn which progresses to chatting on-line (sometimes after paying) and then escalates further to meeting people face to face.  This type of pattern shows that you are becoming less and less in control of your behaviours and urges and may be in need of professional help for addiction.

Where does addiction come from and why you?

There are many theories about how we get caught up in an addiction and obviously it depends a lot on individual circumstances.  One very important and widely accepted idea, and one we work with a great deal, is that addiction serves the purpose of helping us deal with difficult things in our lives.  The addiction becomes a way of self-soothing, escape or distraction from painful experiences.  These experiences, past or present, usually lead to problems managing emotions which find a different form of expression ie addiction.  Addictions help people to manage difficult emotions such as anger, hurt, loneliness or feelings of rejection.  It requires careful work with a professional counsellor or therapist to trace back to the source of the difficult emotions which underpin the harmful and addictive behaviours and then put in place a treatment and recovery programme.

In some areas, such as sex addiction, opportunity also plays a key role.  For example, the internet has increased massively access to porn, and this opportunity has combined with addicts’ previous difficult experiences to form a very powerful combination which fuels compulsive urges.

How does treatment for addiction work?

Assessment of your addictive behaviours and compulsions.

Firstly you will want to know if you are addicted (or compulsive) and to give you an accurate assessment we look at: frequency and type of behaviours, impact of the behaviours on your health, relationships, work and life goals, levels of escalation of the behaviours, and your ability to manage any cravings and triggers.  Assessment will involve looking at the behaviours themselves but also exploring carefully your background, upbringing and experiences that may have had a bearing on your emotional state.

Behaviour management: putting in place effective controls and techniques to manage triggers.

Addictions take time and commitment to manage but initially we can agree a plan to reduce and control the most damaging aspects of your behaviours to keep you and important aspects of your life such as family and work as safe as possible.  This will enable treatment to take place most effectively.  We will guide you in putting successful controls in place so that you can protect yourself against the cravings, urges and compulsive feelings that the addiction brings.  This will involve understanding what triggers your need to indulge in the addictive behaviours and learning skills to reduce their control over you.

Develop understanding of and resolving issues at the root of the addiction:

If addiction is your problem we will explore different aspects of your experiences past and present to develop insights into what purpose the addiction is serving.  This will point to important areas that the therapy can concentrate on - examples might be low self-esteem, stress, relationship issues or general unhappiness with your life's direction and your achievements.  Sometimes getting in control of the addiction can be gained by dealing with traumatic events and other emotionally disturbing experiences such as serious accidents, abuse or bullying.  

Personal skills and strategies:  

We will help you develop ways to manage the addiction such as new thinking skills and identifying potential avoidable and unavoidable triggers and techniques for avoiding relapses into addictive behaviours.  We will also look at your goals and aspirations for your future and find ways to enjoy a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle free of addiction.  Often addictive behaviours follow a cycle including a dormant or sleeping phase which might be while your life is well balanced and meeting your needs.  If the balance is upset the behaviours that you have depended on in the past can re-surface so you will be learning techniques during therapy to manage those.

Making changes that last: 

Finally we will focus on helping you to make permanent changes in areas of your life that are leading to addiction.  For example, you may need to explore the bigger picture of your life: your work, relationships and long-term goals and whether or not these are consistent with your personal values.  This may lead to life-changing decisions which are fundamental to your happiness and well-being but also quite difficult for you to make.  We can help you explore these as part of the treatment for addiction and help you to recognise and overcome your own resistance to change and levels of motivation. 

Partners of addicts: what help can they get?

Partners have as difficult a time as their addict boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands or wives experience.  If they do not receive professional help they can be drawn into the addiction and become a co-addict trying to control and cure the behaviours of their partner.  Seeing a separate therapist to their addict partner, they can deal with the emotional stress of living with a partner with addiction and also learn techniques to avoid becoming a co-addict and look after themselves and others such as children better.  A therapist in this area who is also a couple counsellor can help partners of addicts explore their long-term choices and perhaps come to terms with the option of leaving the relationship. 

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