When managed in a healthy way, an active sex life can be one of life’s greatest gifts. Having been raised in an oppressive society about our homosexuality, sex can take on different meanings for gay men. Whether or not you believe the stereotype of gay men being promiscuous and “sex-starved”, the real truth is that when sex is taken to the extreme and it begins to interfere with your life and the accomplishment of your goals, damaging consequences can result that can destroy your future.
This article comes off the heels of my attendance at a recent professional workshop on treating compulsive sexual behaviours. It was an excellent investigation into the world of sexual addiction and was presented by Arizona-based therapist Paul Simpson, Ed.D. A lot of his presentation is mirrored by the work of Dr. Patrick Carnes, PhD, the pioneer of sexual addiction research and reputable author of a series of classic self-help books on sexual addiction treatment. Here is some useful information on sexual compulsivity and resources for recovery.
Am I Addicted To Sex?
When sex begins to interfere with your daily life, becomes a preoccupation to where you’re distracted from life tasks, or if sex controls your behaviour instead of you “being in the driver’s seat”, these are all indicators that there may be a addiction at play. Additional factors cited by Simpson include loss of boundaries and having sex with less discrimination and discernment, sexual activities becoming increasingly risky, continued acting-out despite physical/financial/emotional costs, sexual obsession, loss of time and energy, and neglect of self-care and important responsibilities. Increasing powerlessness and unmanageability are the hallmarks of a developing sexual addiction.
Have you ever wondered if your sexual behaviour is problematic? Just like with any addiction, denial can minimize the seriousness of your situation and “conveniently” block from awareness the reality of what’s truly going on. It can be easy to get swept up in the myth that to be gay means to have lots of casual sex and that there’s no limits to what’s acceptable, especially with the gay culture being sexualized by the media and the community itself at times.
This is not to pathologize sexual freedom or to condemn those who are liberal with their sexual behaviour; it merely points to the importance of establishing a definition of what constitutes healthy sexuality and responsibility to avoid negative repercussions for it’s potential mishandling. The Gay Men Sexual Addiction Screening Test is an assessment tool to help you evaluate your sexual activity. Go to the following site and complete the survey and see how you score: www.sexhelp.com/gsast.cfm. Use the results from this information to gauge any possible “red flags” in your current sexual behaviour.
Why We Get Addicted
All behaviour is purposeful. Everything we do has meaning and is intended to meet some kind of need, goal, or result. The origins of sexual addiction are unique to each individual and span biological and psychological motivations. The following are some underlying causes that may drive a person to act-out sexually, according to Simpson.
- Excitement: the need to experience an adrenaline rush, super-charged by risk and novelty.
- Comfort: sex as a way to cope with stress and bring about relief and relaxation; may also be a way to reward oneself for a positive accomplishment.
- Escape: a need to enter a trance-like state to avoid feelings; can be a disinhibitor and cause one to do things normally resisted.
- Affirmation: sex as a way to feel valued and validated; can act as a self-esteem boost and meets a need for wanting to be wanted and to matter.
- Helplessness: as a way to confirm a core belief that one has about believing he is defective and inferior.
- Power: sex as a way to fill psychological voids using dominance and control over another.
- Revenge: anger becomes eroticized and psychological wounds are acted-out.
If you have issues with sexual compulsivity, what unmet needs drive your sexual acting-out? It’s important to pinpoint your motives so that these needs can be addressed and met in more healthy ways. What hurts? What’s missing in your life? How does your sexuality manifest itself?
“Make healthy sexuality your primary goal and really define what that means to you…”
Getting A Handle On Your Impulses
Sexual addiction is not something that you can typically overcome by reading a book or through sheer willpower. This problem is powerful and causes significant distress and pain to the person struggling with it, as well as his loved ones and those affiliated with him. Working with a trained licensed therapist who specializes in sexual addiction is critical, as well as some form of group therapy or attendance in a Sex Addicts Anonymous support group. For some individuals, medication is needed and primary or secondary mental health issues and other addictions may need treatment as well. If you are struggling with sexual compulsivity, get help NOW before you become too trapped in the downward spiral. Treatment can be a long and challenging road and you will need lots of support and encouragement.
The following are some treatment-oriented suggestions from Simpson’s lecture that can help in overcoming sexual addiction. These are not intended as a substitute for therapy and it is highly recommended that you work with a therapist as you implement these strategies for maximum effectiveness and monitoring.
- Read books on sexual addiction for education. Look in the resources section of this article for recommended readings.
- Become adept at catching self-defeating thoughts and defeating them with cognitive restructuring techniques.
- Identify your triggers to acting-out and develop plans for dealing with these high-risk situations and feelings.
- Practice thought-stoppage techniques to retrain your mind in the use of healthy sexual cognitions.
- Explore ways to bring more healthy aliveness to your life. Find ways to bring more meaning and purpose to your existence and enhance your self-esteem. Build your support network and bring about more balance in all the areas of your life.
- Sexual acting-out can sometimes take on predictable patterns of execution. Learn to identify your “chain reactions” and reconstruct healthier rituals to avoid re-enacting unhealthy sexual behaviour.
- Make a list of all the consequences your sexual addiction has or could bring to your life. Make another list of all the benefits recovery can bring to you. Keep these lists with you at all times to take out as reference when you have impulses to act-out as a way to deter from following through with them.
- Develop a custom sexual addiction sobriety contract to clarify what your ongoing sobriety is going to look like with specific target behaviours and “battle plans” for dealing with violations and triggers for acting-out.
Resources & Conclusion
With effective treatment, motivation for change, and a solid support system, freedom from sexual addiction can be yours! Make healthy sexuality your primary goal and really define what that means to you. The following is a list of recommended resources and readings on this very complex topic!
- Article Reference: Dr. Paul Simpson