Sex Addiction : a guide for couples : rebuilding intimacy part 2

Week 7: This blog is looking at rebuilding sexual intimacy between the couple following the discovery of sex addiction or porn addiction in their relationship.

 If you have missed the other blogs in our series – here is a recap: 

  • Week 1 focused on the couple obtaining individual help following the discovery of sex addiction.
  • Week 2 focused on understanding ‘therapeutic disclosure’ and how to conduct one. 
  • Week 3 focused on how to review the strength of the relationship
  • Week 4 focused on making the decision to stay together or is it time to end the relationship.
  • Week 5 focused on rebuilding trust in the couple relationship
  • Week 6 – part 1 focused on rebuilding non-sexual intimacy

All the material for the blog series was taken from Paula Hall’s new book “Sex Addiction – a guide for couples” which was released on 28th February 2019.

When do we start having sex again?

This is not an easy question to answer!  Depending where you are in your recovery as a couple and individually, sex could be the furthest thing from your mind, or you might be very keen to reclaim your sex life as a couple.  The way that you each feel about sex will depend on how your sex life was before the discovery of sex addiction or porn addiction in the relationship. If sex had always been a positive experience, then it will be easier to reclaim it. But if sex has been experienced negatively then it may be a longer journey to rebuild sexual confidence and intimacy.  Before deciding when to start having sex again, the first stage is to talk to one another about sex.

Talking about sex

Let’s be honest, many couples can find it difficult talking about sex at the best of times, let alone if you are a couple recovering from the discovery of sex addiction or porn addiction in your relationship.  There is a lot of fear going on for the couple.  Common fears are:

  • Feeling inadequate : partners can worry about living up to porn stars or people the addicted partner was acting out with.   The addicted partner may feel inadequate to prove that’s not the case.
  • Both of you feeling distracted : the addicted partner can have intrusive thoughts and images of past acting out behaviour and the partner is worrying what their addicted partner may be thinking about.  Couples have to work together to develop verbal and non-verbal ways of letting each other know they are fully present in the moment.
  • Fearing sex will hinder addiction recovery : partners often worry that having sex will ignite the sex addict’s libido and they will be more likely to act out. Conversely some worry that ‘not’ having sex could also trigger acting out and hence initiate sex when they don’t really want to. For some addicted partners having sex, or not having sex, can indeed increase cravings, and as well as developing strategies to manage this, they also need to reassure their partner that they are using those strategies.

The first step in overcoming these fears is to be honest with yourselves, and with each other, so you can work together to overcome them.  It is helpful to put time aside to agree what you want from a sexual relationship and agree a goal that you both want to aim for.  This can take time, so be patient.  Knowing you are both working together with a common goal can provide the necessary motivation and momentum needed. 

It is also common for couples recovering from the discovery of sex addiction to experience sexual problems such as difficult reaching orgasm, maintaining an erection, premature ejaculation or having mismatched sexual desire.  This can be very distressing for couples and we suggest seeking help with an accredited sex therapist who is also trained in sex addiction to talk through the fears as well as any physical problems.

Developing sexual intimacy

Sexual intimacy results from developing and deepening other areas of intimacy first (see part 1 of our blog on non-sexual intimacy).

When you have sex, it’s important to know that you’re ready.  Ready emotionally, relationally and physically.  Having sex is going to feel risky at first and to minimise those risks it makes sense to ensure your core conditions are right. Your core conditions are likely to include: 

  • Your emotional needs : choosing a time when you are feeling in a good enough emotional space
  • Your relationship needs : if there are unresolved problems bubbling under the surface, you are not going to be in the right frame of mind for sex.  Talk through these problems and commit equally to fixing them.  You both also need to feel comfortable with your physical appearance and that you won’t be judged for how you look or perform sexually.
  • Your physical needs – there is a common myth that sex should always be spontaneous, but planning can build erotic anticipation, allow time for any fears to be talked about, as well as organising you won’t be disturbed or overhead.  You also need to be feel safe that at any time while having sex, you can say no.  Your partner may feel disappointed, but they can be understanding and gracious about it.  Having a conversation beforehand can help avoid awkwardness, guilt and resentments.

There are many hurdles for couples recovering sexual intimacy with each other, but if you both remain committed to your individual recovery and continue to deepen other areas of intimacy, then sexual fulfilment can be found again. Indeed, it can be better than ever.