The start of the new year generally brings a discussion with family, friends or work colleagues about committing to a new year resolution.  The shops are stuffed full of motivational books or blu-rays/DVDs telling you how to lose weight or get fit.  On social media, there’s a push to take up ‘dry January’ in a bid to detox from drinking too much over Christmas.

At the Laurel Centre, we see men and women with problems with their sexual behaviour.  They have either been caught by their partner and realise that they possibly have an addiction, or they have come to realise themselves that they are not happy with their sexually compulsive behaviour.  This blog will firstly look at the definition of sex addiction, and then move on to talk about what help is available to you if you identify that you have an unhealthy relationship with sex and/or pornography.

What is sex addiction?

The definition of addiction is that someone has a behaviour that has become all-consuming and feels out-of-control and that behaviour is having a negative and destructive effect on their lives.  This could be drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, video gaming or shopping.  The person has realised that they cannot stop their behaviour, or stay stopped, in spite of these negative consequences.  Sex addiction is no different, the sexual behaviour could be masturbation, watching pornography, visiting prostitutes, sex with strangers, having multiple affairs or cyber-sex etc.  The actual behaviour or the frequency of the behaviour does not make you an addict, it is the preoccupation of the activity despite the possible damaging consequences.  If you are not sure if your behaviour can be classed as an addiction, then complete this questionnaire (link) to find out.

The function of sex addiction

Just like other addictions, sex addiction serves a psychological purpose.  Sex addiction helps the person cope with life – an opportunity to escape from the reality of their world.  The sexual behaviour helps alleviate negative emotions and replace them with positive emotions (for a time).

Our brains were designed to seek pleasure and avoid pain as part of our survival instinct.  Our brain remembers pleasurable tasks (such as eating and having sex), so we can repeat these tasks to ensure our survival.  Our brain also alerts us if we feel under threat, or might be about to experience pain.  One way of coping with pain is distraction so our brains will think of options to avoid feeling pain.  Pain does not need to be an actual physical assault, it could be as simple as feeling bored!  We can distract ourselves from that ‘pain’ in numerous ways that are not damaging to ourselves.  Unfortunately, for the person with a sex addiction, the only way that seems to ‘work’ is pursuing the compulsive sexual behaviour – even if that behaviour will have a negative impact on their relationship, work, friends, family or work.

3 steps in breaking free from your sex addiction

Step 1

The first step in any form of personal change, is to admit that something needs changing.  A big step for people struggling with sex addiction or porn addiction is admitting they have a problem.  Shame can hold people back from seeking the help that they need.  We would like to encourage you that counsellors trained in sex addiction will receive your story with care and sensitivity.

Step 2

The second step in the recovery journey, is to not travel the journey on your own.  Addiction thrives in secrecy.  We recommend that you meet with people who understand sex addiction and porn addiction.  This can be in the form of personal therapy as well as attending a 12 step group such as SAA or SLAA.  The Laurel Centre can help you find a therapist to see face to face or via Skype.  We also host regular workshops and courses to help people get support from fellow addicts.

Step 3

The third step is making a commitment to yourself.  To believe that you are worth investing in.  It takes a lot of courage, determination and possibly blood, sweat and tears.  Addicts in recovery will look at their whole life in light of their addiction and possibly make changes in the following areas : work, friends, family, exercise, sleep, eating and drinking habits, hobbies, leisure activities, religion and charity work.  We have written blogs on different aspects of recovery, so it is worth checking them out to gain information.

Breaking free of any addiction is hard work but it is worth it!   Here is a testimonial from one delegate of our 6-day intensive course.  We hope this will encourage you to make breaking free of sex addiction or porn addiction your resolution for 2020:

My life was totally out of control and rotten. I have lurched from one failed attempt to give up abusive and damaging sexual behaviour to another. For the first time in my life I feel armed with a certainty that I have an addiction that needs to be, and can be, cured. For the first time I can understand the genesis of my behaviours and how they went from comfort to addiction. I now know practical guidelines within which I can restore myself to mental, emotional, moral and sexual health. I believe that I will come to recognise this week as the most important in my adult life, because finally I feel armed to stay clean, sober, safe and honest.