In sex addiction treatment and in therapy in general, we talk a lot about people needing to have good “boundaries.” (Take the quiz on relationship boundaries.)
Boundaries are limits on what you will or will not do.
Boundaries are basic internal principles guiding your behavior through which you can keep yourself safe, calm, rational and respectful of those around you.
Addicts use their addiction to self-medicate, escape or rebel. When emotions such as anger, fear, loneliness and shame pile up in difficult situations addicts reach for their “drug.”
If you are calm, effective and appropriate in getting your needs met then you diminish the feelings that can trigger your addictive behavior.
In sex addiction treatment the term “boundaries” is often used in a narrow sense to mean rules about what behaviors are acceptable and what behaviors are part of your addiction. These boundaries identify behaviors that signal relapse.
The broader meaning of boundaries in sex addiction treatment and therapy in general includes things like:
It’s not just sex addicts, all men really want more sex
Yes, it’s official. Well, sort of…
In a quick scan of the subject I found that there is some skepticism about the extent to which men want more sex.
The answer seems to be “they do, but…” The “but” is as follows.
Sex addiction and marital sex
This is a multifaceted issue, one that is sometimes hard to untangle.
Brad (fake name) is a sex addict/sex offender currently serving a 9 year prison sentence in federal prison. We have written back and forth for the last couple of years since he first started his sentence.
Brad had been active in the recovery community prior to going to prison. He attended a two-week outpatient intensive and had been in a group for sex offenders, as well as attending 12-step Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings and therapy. Brad is in his 40’s, married with three children.
The need for addicts to connect with other addicts
With the help of his chaplain, Brad has been able to organize some recovery activities to help fellow sex addicts in his prison. Here is part of his recent email (yes, he has email) to me, reprinted with his permission.
As a therapist I have noticed that partners of sex addicts frequently have characteristics of love addicts. This is not always the case of course.
Partners of sex addicts may be innocent bystanders. But I think there are some reasons to suggest an affinity between love addicts and sex addicts.
There are underlying similarities between sex addicts and love addicts in terms of brain chemistry, intimacy issues, abandonment fear and co-dependentence. Both tend to have early childhood trauma and attachment issues.
However, I think it is the separate, distinct characteristics of each that attract them to each other.
Here are my thoughts on how this pairing might come about and what function it might serve for the addict and the partner.
Addicts are often very hard workers despite their addiction. Alcoholics, drug addicts, sex addicts, gamblers and over-eaters are sometimes “over-achievers,” driving themselves in order to overcome fears of being unworthy or unlovable.
This is not a new idea. Think of the stock image of the “functioning alcoholic” who pours his energy into doing one thing (work) really well but is a practicing alcoholic the rest of the time leaving no room for anything else in his life.
Working, building a career and getting ahead are not bad things and as sex addiction therapists we believe that meaningful activity is essential to people’s well-being. We encourage our patients to keep busy believing that this will help them prevent relapse.
So how can work itself be a problem? Here are some ways in which work can be counter-productive to getting and staying sober.
Sex addicts who have a variety of other sexually addictive behaviors, often find excuses for thinking that their internet porn use is not really a problem and may even be a good thing. Are they wrong? Let’s look at some common lines of reasoning that addicts present and my validity score for each one.
Trauma and addiction go hand in hand. Recent research points to the conclusion that all addictions, drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, etc, share common patterns in neurobiology, genetics and childhood attachment history. Traumatic experiences in childhood are believed to be a major risk factor for sex addiction and other addictions by virtue of the way they affect brain development, emotion regulation, attachment patterns and coping mechanisms in general.
A book about trauma, addiction and healing
Reflective Meditations is a spare, elegantly presented series of reflections on many of the most important ideas in trauma and addiction theory and treatment. It is presented in a series of short paragraphs along with lovely original photography by the author. The book is an interesting mixture in that it is a primer on the basic information about the topic, presented as a series of daily meditations and indirectly built on Tait’s own experience.
Sex addiction in a parent means there is family dysfunction and sexual dysfunction in the environment of the child. This in turn impacts families and places children at risk for many problems including sex addiction as adults.
Researchers have reported that:
“Even when the children are not fully aware of the parent’s abnormal sexual behavior, they may eventually replicate it themselves.”
Sex addiction in a family does not automatically mean that the children will grow up to be addicts but it does increase the possibility of the child experiencing abuse or trauma in a number of ways.