Dealing with Sexual Dependence/Recovery

It should be noted that any dependency or addiction progressively gets worse until the addict makes the decision to change the problem behaviour and/or get help. A person has to be ready and willing to deal with the life issues that have been avoided through sexual behaviour and/or sexual relationships.

All recovery from dependency is about making life changes and learning to live without the level of stimulation (the ‘high’) that the addiction provided. A person dealing with addiction to a substance also needs to make changes beyond dealing with the physical side effects of withdrawal from the drug. Otherwise, people can give up one addiction and replace it with addiction to another substance or behaviour pattern because they are still struggling with the same issues that led to dependence in the first place.

There are many philosophies and programs that deal with overcoming dependence on a substance or behaviour pattern. The best treatment will be one the person believes in and with which s/he is comfortable. This will be different for everyone.

  • Some people find that they are successful with private counselling or see a counsellor in addition to attending a self-help program. Counsellors use a variety of approaches to help people work through issues and make necessary life changes.
  • Medication may be prescribed to deal with underlying conditions like depression. This may also help the person use therapy more effectively.
  • There is a self-help program developed by Stanton Peele and Archie Brodsky in their book The Truth About Addiction. It looks at addiction as a habit that has gotten out of control. They believe that a person gradually comes to depend on certain behaviours or mood altering drugs to relieve stress, insecurities, anxieties, etc. Recovery involves replacing these behaviour patterns with life enhancing behaviours and coping techniques. In this way a person can mature or grow out of dependence to a healthier place and learn to deal with life in a more balanced way.
  • Sex Addicts Anonymous is a twelve-step program that categorizes sexual behaviour as either ‘healthy’ or ‘acting out’. Acting out is any sexual behaviour which is abusive, high- risk, painful, costly, or compulsive. Abstinence in this program does not mean giving up sex (celibacy). It means not acting-out by setting boundaries on patterns of behaviour that lead to acting out. This is done with the help of a sponsor - a person who is a recovering sex addict. (adapted from “Abstinence” a pamphlet distributed by the International Service Organization of Sex Addicts Anonymous, 1997)
  • Sexual Compulsives Anonymous is another 12-Step fellowship, inclusive of all sexual orientations, that provides information about defining sexual sobriety and developing a sexual recovery plan.
  • There are many self-help books and Internet sites on dealing with addiction. See Related Resources for suggestions. 

NOTE:  Remember that there is much more to a person than their addiction.  People sometimes refer to themselves as “addicts” in a rather belittling way. Don’t buy into it. Belittling oneself is never a good path to recovery.  

A note for partners, spouses, friends and families

If someone close to you is showing signs of sexual dependence, you may be going through some difficult times. Understand that this person might not welcome your concern about their behaviour and may react with anger or denial. If this person is your partner, s/he may try to blame you for the situation.

You may also find yourself sliding into patterns of behaviour that do not improve the situation. As the dependency progresses, the addict’s behaviour usually becomes more and more self-centered. This can lead to personal interactions that become very manipulative. It can be difficult to keep yourself from being drawn into these patterns.

Some things to keep in mind

  • The sexual dependent is responsible for his or her actions. S/he is not doing this because of anything you have done or said. You have the right to ask her or him to stop the behaviours. You might need to consider leaving the relationship if your partner is uncooperative and the two of you cannot agree on what is/is not acceptable in your relationship. You do not have to tolerate disrespectful behaviour.
  • Contact an organization like Al-Anon. They will direct you to a group where the friends and families of people with a dependency can get support and information.
  • Most people find that recovery cannot happen alone. Encourage your partner or friend to seek help from someone who specializes in sex addiction. Providing resources can be helpful, but remember that you cannot force help on someone who is not ready for it.
  • Your partner or friend may not be able to recover as quickly as you might wish. It is important to be patient while, at the same time, encouraging of his or her process of recovery.
  • You do not have to stop your life in order to deal with a sexual dependent, even during recovery. You can be supportive while taking care of yourself and your priorities.

Adapted from “A Few Words About the Use of the Term ‘Addict’” by Dr. David C. Bissette, Psy.D.; www.healthymind.com