Addiction to Sex Often Requires Treatment or Therapy

Published November 9, 1989. According to the October issue of “Family Therapy News,” sex addiction is a major problem in the United Sates that often requires treatment or therapy. The newsletter, sponsored by the Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, has an interesting article written by Ralph Earle and Gregory Crow, both Ph.D.’s from Scottsdale, Arizona. It is titled “Sex Addiction: What Is It?”

The two counselors state there are many misconceptions about sex addiction. “Like anorexia, sex addiction,” they note, “is often viewed in a glamorous and unrealistic manner rather than as a disease or compulsion associated with powerlessness and unmanageability that results in feelings of shame, poor self-worth and, often, various forms of self-destruction. For the sex addict, the quest to duplicate sexual euphoria over and over becomes an obsession. Neglecting or sacrificing job, spouse and family, friends, and personal well-being, a sex addict ritualistically sets out to capture a sexual high again and again.”

Before you run to the Yellow Pages of the phone book to find a counselor to help you determine if you are a sex addict, please note that Earle and Crow state most of us fantasize about sex occasionally. Many respond in some way to a pretty girl in a bikini or a handsome male on the beach. The steamy sex scenes on television or in movies often evoke similar responses, and perhaps that is why these programs are viewed by millions daily. A new form of addiction may be occurring in this country.

For most people, sexual thoughts rarely interrupt the things we are doing until the addiction becomes more intense. Sex addicts imprint many of these images into their brain in powerful ways to be used again and again to excite themselves whenever a “fix” is needed. The fantasies occur for hours on end and take control of the addict’s life.  He or she then prepares for the next fix, the specific, ritualized sexual act that will produce the high.

As for treatment of sex addiction, both in marriage and out, Earle and Crow observe, “In our experience treating addicts, sex addiction mirrors other addictions. Sex addicts use sex as alcoholics use alcohol, as a ‘drug of choice’ to escape, to anesthetize their feelings, if only temporary. Sex addicts are people who, desperately alone and fearful of any truly intimate relationship, repeatedly and compulsively try to “connect” with others through highly impersonal, non-intimate behaviors: empty affairs, frequent visits to prostitutes, voyeurism, telephone sex, and the like.”

And there appears to be a cycle to sex addiction: (1) stress or emotional pain, (2) acting out, (3) shame and remorse, (4) promise of reform, (5) a brief period of reform, and (6) acting out again, which deepens despite the threat of loss of family, vocation, physical and emotional health and even freedom. Like other addicts, sex addicts are blind during the addictive cycle and deny the effects of their behavior on self or others.

Earle and Crow conclude, “Some people have difficulty with the idea that one can become addicted to sex in the way a person develops tolerance for and withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and other chemicals . . . Equally important is the ramification that this ‘disease’, like alcoholism, is most effectively treated like physical addictions.”

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