Posted on 4th April 2013 but Eamonn O'Mahony a Sex Addiction Counsellor
Sex addiction has become more visible in recent years. The media has reported celebrities checking into rehab for help with sex addiction. The positive side of this exposure has been to bring sex addiction into people’s awareness. However the negative side has been perhaps to think that only a certain section of society ends up struggling with the issue. The fact is that sex addiction is a real issue that can affect anyone irrespective of their gender, race, age or sexual orientation.
Sex addiction occurs when a person’s sexual behaviours become compulsive and out of control. There are attempts to control the behaviours but despite knowing that there will be negative consequences, the person continues to engage in the specific behaviours. Such behaviours can be many and varied – looking at internet porn, frequenting chat rooms, visiting prostitutes, multiple affairs, voyeurism, compulsive masturbation. Engaging in any of these behaviours doesn’t necessarily mean a person is a sex addict. It is the out of control nature and inability to stop that define it as an addiction.
Sex addiction usually develops over time and becomes a pattern that gets embedded into a person’s life. It is often hidden. The person can feel great shame and so tries hard to keep things secret. People with sex addiction often say they feel like two people – the person that family, friends and work colleagues see and the person that has this other secret life.
One area which has become particularly problematic is the internet. The internet has revolutionised how we communicate and gather information in the last decade. However for some it has become addictive. Widespread access to sexual content has never been easier or cheaper. Examples of such content are viewing pornography in picture or video form, viewing live sex acts through webcam or skype, engaging in sexual conversation in chat rooms or social networking sites such as Facebook, finding listings for escort/prostitute services and personal ads, The range of technology is also varied – personal computer, lap top, iphone and smartphone. With the advent of the iphone and smartphone access is now unlimited. People are no longer tied to computer terminals so access can happen almost anywhere.
The consequences of sex addiction are many. There is the impact on a relationship, with the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection and of passing it on to a partner. There is reduced intimacy with a partner who can’t live up to the pornographic images. People can feel continually stressed, in despair, full of shame, sometimes suicidal. People can become depressed and isolated. Self esteem can be badly affected as people struggle to understand why they can’t stop.
Fortunately there is a way forward for people struggling with sex addiction. The first step begins with acknowledging there is a problem. The next part is to break out of the isolation and tell someone else and ask for help. This is usually a hugely fearful step as people expect judgement and rejection. Sex addiction thrives in secrecy and by sharing with another person the power and hold of the addiction is lessened. Seeking out a counsellor who is knowledgeable about sex addiction is also very helpful. Counselling can help by identifying the behaviours that are addictive and help to put boundaries around them. As the person begins to get some time away from these behaviours/patterns there then is time to explore what might have contributed to the problem in the first place.
In addition to counselling there is help available through 12 step programmes such as Sex Addicts Anonymous and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. These groups work along the lines of Alcoholics Anonymous. They are free and confidential and can provide on-going support over the years to maintain recovery.
Eamonn works at the University Counselling Service at UEA as the Staff Counsellor. Eamonn also runs a small private counselling practice in Norwich helping people who struggle with addictive and compulsive sexual behaviour. He trained to be a Certified Sex Addiction therapist in the United States.
Eamonn O’Mahony, 4th April 2013