I am impressed with the fact that men, the same men who are reluctant to have any fears or vulnerabilities, are all but obsessed with one persistent insecurity: their sexual potency. Normal men seem to be just this side of having a body dysmorphic disorder about their penis size and experience performance anxiety that is crippling enough to make them take ED drugs when they don’t need them.
A recent NYTimes.com article (1/25/15) reported the data on men’s Google searches which found that men make more Google searches about their penises than about any other body part, more than about their lungs, liver, feet , ears, nose, throat and brain combined.
Sex Addicts in recovery have worked hard to identify their damaging addictive sexual behaviors such as out-of-control porn use, constant sexual hook-ups, or the obsessive pursuit of commercial sex. And they are often able to identify and eliminate other addictions such as drugs or alcohol which co-exist with their primary sex addiction.
In addition to these off limits behaviors, sex addiction treatment and 12-step programs help the addict to be on the alert for “slippery” behaviors. These might include things like driving through the neighborhood where the addict’s favorite sexual massage parlor is located. These are red flags because although they are not forbidden, they can lead down the path toward relapse.
Addicts are afraid of other people. Sex addiction has been aptly described as an intimacy disorder, a disorder resulting from an avoidance of intimacy and a compartmentalization of one’s life and one’s sense of self. and their early life experience typically makes them feel unlovable and unable to be themselves around other people. Addicts deal with this dilemma by creating a facade or false self that they show to the world. Their real self, including their deepest sexual desires are compartmentalized and hidden.
Perhaps you have been involved with someone who appears to be seriously interested in the relationship but who sometimes goes emotionally off the rails, lashes out at you, and becomes over-defensive. And what if they also have an exaggerated need for attention, over-react when criticized, and seem to shut you out for no reason?
Leaving aside the question of whether you should stick around, and assuming instead that you see some value in this person, you may be wondering whether they are exhibiting signs of a personality disorder. And if you think they are, you may begin to speculate as to whether the person is a narcissist or a borderline.
A reader posted this question as to whether serial cheaters can change. In thinking about it I realized the answer is not a simple yes or no. Many factors enter into the prognosis for serial cheating such as the characteristics of the cheater, whether the cheating is part of an addiction, the motivation to cheat and the motivation to change.
Cheating in general is so common that it further complicates separating out what is serial cheating and what is just the normal state of affairs (as it were). The statistics I have seen are from the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy:
People seeking help for sex addiction are anxious to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They are often stunned when I tell them that, even for those who are diligent and motivated, the whole process takes about 3 to 5 years.
Some practitioners might say that, like alcoholism, sex addiction is a chronic condition requiring continuous treatment for life to prevent relapse. I don’t think this is always the case. As I have argued elsewhere I believe that sex addiction recovery is possible and lasting. At some point people can say “I am a recovered sex addict”.
And yet the actual process of getting to that point of solid and reliable recovery seems to take a determined effort over a period of years. There is one possible form of sex addiction which may be different, and I will discuss that further on.
The Six Stages of Sex Addiction Recovery
Manipulation can be very subtle. We often talk about how manipulative addicts are. And in particular we talk about how sex addicts manipulate others in order to avoid discovery, throw their partner off the scent and “gaslight” their partners. In gaslighting, a term taken from the 1944 movie Gaslight, a person controls another person by finding ways to make them think that they are imagining things or that they are actually delusional.
Asking a sex addict to take a polygraph seemed ludicrous to me at first. First off, it seems like something you do with a criminal, not with a patient who has come in for help with a sexually compulsive behavior.
I do not take sides on the issue of whether it is better to stay in a marriage or committed relationship with a sex addict or whether it is better to get away and start over. I think there are many valid arguments on both sides depending on the situation.