Sex addicts in treatment for a sexually compulsive behavior are generally asked to decide which behaviors are out of control and interfering   with their life.  These sexually addictive behaviors differ widely from person to person and they can change over time.  They include behaviors like excessive pornography use, commercial sex, voyeurism, compulsive hook-ups, and serial infidelities.  These are designated as “bottom line” behaviors or “inner circle” behaviors.  These are the things that the addict needs to stop doing completely.

These target behaviors determine how much time the addict has accumulated in sexual recovery.  As with recovery from alcoholism, sex addicts who slip and engage in an inner circle behavior lose their “time”.  They begin anew to count their sexually sober days from the day after the slip.

 

 

 

The major differences in sex addiction recovery as opposed to alcohol and drug addiction recovery are that:

  • Alcoholics all have the same target behavior, i.e. consuming alcohol or other drugs, whereas individual sex addicts can have very different target behaviors.
  • The sex addict will almost always have more than one bottom line behavior.  He or she may have a pattern of behavior that includes both commercial sex and serial affairs, or voyeurism and pornography, etc.
  • And recovering sex addicts can change their target behaviors as they proceed in recovery.

When is masturbation a problem for recovering sex addicts?

When sex addicts are new to recovery

Sex addicts who are new in recovery usually include masturbation among their inner circle behaviors.  This is done for various reasons.

Sex addicts almost always need a period of complete abstinence from sexual arousal in order for their nervous system to “reboot”.  As with any addiction, sex can be used as a drug, i.e. a way to self-medicate.  Therefore, sex addicts need to abstain from all sex in the same way that drug addicts need to detox from chemical dependency.  This allows the nervous system to get back to baseline and the dependence to subside.  It is only by doing this that addicts can become available for the real psychological work of recovery.

There is no fixed time frame for this initial period of abstinence but from 90 days up to a few months time is usually recommended.  During that time the addict in treatment will  agree not to have sex with anyone, including his or her partner and will abstain from masturbation.

When sex addicts  compulsively masturbate

For some sex addicts masturbation itself has become a compulsive behavior.  They cannot get through a day without masturbating and often masturbate many times a day, even to the point of self injury.  For these addicts masturbation has become a coping mechanism, a way to deal with the everyday stresses of life and to calm negative emotions.  One way to decide if masturbation has become an out of control behavior is if it is interfering with functioning.  Another sure way is to stop doing it for a while.  If this is impossible or unthinkable it may be a problem in itself.

When masturbation is part is coupled with pornography use addicts should not simply quit porn.  Masturbating without porn may be a continuation of addictive acting out when it is paired with pornographic memories or fantasies.  Most sex addicts have collected an extensive mental “data base” of sexual memories and imagery.  Once again, addicts will need a period of total abstinence until they are on firmer ground in their recovery.

When masturbation may lead to relapse

Even sex addicts who are not compulsive porn users,  masturbation involves addictive fantasies.  These are fantasies or memories of situations and behaviors such as voyeuristic or exhibitionistic behaviors, or other experiences such as anonymous sex, commercial sex etc.  Keeping these fantasies and memories engrained in the addict’s mind in masturbation fantasies can keep the addict in a rut.  This can prevent the addict from progressing in recovery.  They remain addicted to a specific behavior if only in their mind.  It is a short step to relapse back into the behavior itself.

When there are problems with avoidance of intimacy and  relational sex

Some addicts have difficulty having sex in a relationship with a real person.  They are hooked on porn scenarios, commercial sex or fleeting encounters to the exclusion of sex in a relationship.  Learning to function sexually, even with a person they are attracted to and care about can be a process.  The addict may use masturbation as an escape from this daunting prospect.

But until the sex addict is in good enough recovery to begin feel safe, to be open and vulnerable and to generally learn some relationship skills, masturbation may perpetuate a state of emotional isolation.

When should sex addicts masturbate?

Once the addict is in stable recovery, it is sometimes possible to use masturbation to help re-wire the brain, i.e. to experiment with different masturbation fantasies that are unrelated to the addicts past behaviors and that help the addict to imagine a different arousal situation.

Sex addicts who are in longer term recovery can often change their target behaviors by adding or subtracting behaviors from their “inner circle”.  In the beginning they may have put everything but the kitchen sink into their inner circle.  This usually includes masturbation.   But later they may find that masturbation is no longer a threat to their sobriety.  If it is no longer getting in the way of their relationships or their functioning, addicts may find that masturbations is just another kind of sexual experience.  They may even lose interest in it.

Find Dr. Hatch on Facebook at Sex Addictions Counseling or Twitter @SAResource and at www.sexaddictionscounseling.com

Check out Dr. Hatch’s books:

Living with a Sex Addict: The Basics from Crisis to Recovery and

Relationships in Recovery:  A Guide for Sex Addicts who are Starting Over