I recently read an article that was about how conservative sex addiction therapy can be. Often at the core of a lot of 12 Step based therapy programs is a focus on abstinence from what’s causing you the most problems. In sex addiction this is often referred to as “the bottom line”, the things you never hope to return to. These often focus on one-night stands, use of prostitutes, masturbating, watching porn and putting aside “high risk sex”.
Unlike some other recovery orientated therapy, there isn’t usually a focus on total abstinence – as there is with drugs and alcohol (which in most cases usually considered anything that affects you from the neck upwards as a relapse) – Instead recovery from sex addiction focuses on being abstinence from acting out.
In the initial phases of some sex addiction treatment, some people are to focus on total abstinence – this can usually be done in the form of a contract with a therapist or treatment center. Total abstinence is whereby a person doesn’t drink, smoke, drink coffee or do anything sexual at all. They usually refrain from approaching or sitting next to people whom they find sexually attractive also. This probably lasts for about 30 days and then a person begins to find their bottom lines.
Bottom line are the behaviours that usually give off the biggest reward, they are usually associated with higher risks – such as infidelity and novelty. There is an effect often cited in sex therapy as “the Coolidge effect”, it comes from where male animals when paired with a new female after sex will regain their libido much quicker (Steiger et al, 2008). The novelty of something new produces higher level of reward, it is reported that some sex addicts unwittingly develop this method in their sex life by pushing things further or into newer experiences.
Whilst some therapists claim there is no such thing as sex addiction (Grubbs, 2021), compulsive sexual behaviour is still recognised by the World Health Organisation under the ICD coding and is contained within The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Even the National Health Service in the UK (the worst mental health resource on the planet) is confused at little bit over this matter:
Experts disagree about whether it’s possible to become addicted to sex.
Some sex and relationship experts believe people can become addicted to the enjoyable feeling or “high” experienced during sex and sexual activity, but others disagree.The UK NHS
Whilst it can be healthy within sex to try newer things to enhance some pleasures, sex addicts are viewed as having over-adapted towards pushing things further. Often it is reported in sex addiction recovery circles that it is a state that is similar to heroin, alcohol or meth. A state whereby the pleasure centers of the brain begin to become engorged with blood and dopamine, after sex they are emptied out leaving sex addicts feeling depressed, irritable and lonely. The only way to soothe this can become a robotic behaviour to do it all over again. Filling the things that are empty, and emptying the things that are full.
However, how does this marry up to a modern take on sex and romance? This all sounds very much like if you are to have sex again in your life you must have one partner only and not push things too far. It flies very much in the face of the modern sex life philosophy of do anything to anyone.
One has to remember that sex addiction therapy is for people that are in a disordered state, their sex life has had an impact on their health, family, friends, career/job and sometimes even the law. For instance, is there anything wrong with alcohol, if controlled? Or chocolate cake? But if you’re pathologically hooked towards alcohol, or morbidly obese, alcohol and chocolate cake would be most unhelpful things to take. But for those who aren’t hooked on a pathological level they could both be a fine enjoying and rewarding choice with little consequences.
It is true that recovery can seem a little conservative for some, but it depends what you want out of life. Are you prepared to accept that somethings aren’t helping you? There in lies the way to view things, what are your needs and what’s going to help you, and what things are holding you back?
When I work with people I always run through a “decisional balance” with them, although basic, it is an insightful tool.
“Decisional Balance” questions can look like the following:
- What do you enjoy about your current behaviour/alcohol/sex/drugs?
- What don’t you like about your current behaviour/alcohol/sex/drugs?
- What would it cost you if you were to change?
- What rewards would you get out of changing?
It is up to the individual to make an informed choice on their life, if something is holding them back they may consider changing it or managing it in a different way.
NHS (2021) Can you become addicted to sex?
Grubbs. (2021) ‘Sex addiction’ isn’t a justification for killing, or really an addiction – it reflects a person’s own moral misgivings about sex
Steiger, Ragna, Eggert and Müller (2008) The Coolidge effect, individual recognition and selection for distinctive cuticular signatures in a burying beetle,