Denial is a form of distorted thinking. In fact it is a masterpiece of distorted thinking. Breaking through denial marks the beginning of addiction treatment. This is just as true for sexual addiction and behavioral addictions generally as it is for chemical dependency.
Without treatment, the set of ideas, rationalizations and beliefs that constitute a system of denial become more and more entrenched and tend to spread, becoming a world view which supports a deceptive and disordered way of life.
Even for a practicing sex addict, there are moments of clear-headedness when he or she suspects that they are engaging in a problematic or pathological pattern of behavior. But that awareness does not hold up. Why? Because denial is distorted thinking in the context of a semi-dissociated (i.e. “checked out”) state.
An intriguing new study in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found that the more narcissistic people were, the more internet pornography they watched. For both men and women ranging in age from 18 to 61 years, those who watched more porn scored higher on tests of general narcissism and sexual narcissism.
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.
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:
The enormous global proliferation of online pornography has made a vast array of sexually explicit material available to a large teen audience on laptops, tablets and smart phones. And if smart accessories catch on, you will soon be able to wear your pornography.
Online pornography accounts for such an overwhelming proportion of internet traffic that a new search engine has been created specifically for adult content. It was designed by two former Google employees and searches only for pre-screened adult content that is free of illicit or malevolent intent. It is also designed to protect the user from cookies and other forms of identity tracking. The site was launched on September 15th and according to the founders has “taken off like a rocket.”
Internet porn has long been seen as more readily accessible than riskier and more costly habits like prostitutes, massage parlors or anonymous hook-ups. This in turn makes it more easily available to youth, with the typical first exposure being in the pre-teen years.
These 10 things are not so much myths as they are distortions born of fear and misinformation. When people do not understand sex addiction treatment they may see it as suspect or threatening in some way. This is most often based on very little direct knowledge or a misunderstanding of what they have heard.
The prejudice against sex addiction treatment is much like any other prejudice. It is constantly reinforced by other people who have the same prejudice and it breeds all kinds of misinformation about the feared group. These false beliefs serve to create further distance from that group of people and solidify the prejudice.
It is a scientific fact that when we hold an extreme view, one that is all the way at one end of the attitude scale, we are very bad at making discriminations about the attitudes of people who are at the other end of the scale. We lump the “others” together in an unexamined way. And the more polarized our attitude, the more forcefully we tend to believe it.
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.
Most sex addicts, no matter what their behaviors consist in (prostitutes, anonymous sex, serial seductions, pornography etc.) will tend to sexualize other people they look at. You might say that sex addicts view the world through sex colored glasses. But this does not mean that they are voyeurs.
Voyeurism is a distinct category of behavior that characterizes certain sex addicts. And although most people who identify as sex addicts have more than one type of behavior, research by Patrick Carnes and others found that there were 10 distinguishable types or clusters of addictive behavior of which voyeurism was one.
We commonly think of our sex addict self as bad. And indeed the addict part of us does things that harm others and ourselves and that usually go against our deeply held values. We would like to distance ourselves from this part of us, to stamp it out.
In poetic language we think of the addict as a “dark passenger”. Clinically, we think of the addict behavior as a learned byproduct of early attachment injuries.
But in practice I believe that it is impossible to simply lock that evil twin in a closet or cut it out of us.