What is Sex Addiction?
Sex addiction is a compulsive behavior in which the addict prioritizes his/her life around the preoccupation and pursuit of sex. It becomes the organizing principle of one’s life. Sex can become addictive in the same way that alcohol, drugs, gambling and food can become addictive. Research shows that powerful chemicals are released in the brain when the addict becomes preoccupied with sexually related thoughts, fantasies, and behaviors. The addict enters into a trance-like state “hijacking” the brain and leading the addict to find ways to act out their addiction. Many describe this as a take-over by a “secret self,” a state in which they leave the reality of their lives and relationships and retreat into sex. The addict often experiences shame and guilt after acting out. The despair of this can trigger further compulsive behavior. The addict falls into a self-destructive cycle of impaired thinking and judgment, with urges and cravings that lead to unmanageable sexual behavior. This acting-out behavior leads to severe consequences in the addict’s life.
Addicts use sex in the same way the alcoholic uses alcohol – to escape painful emotions and stress. Addicts often live in denial, lying about and minimizing their behaviors to others and to themselves. Over time this can lead to isolation and difficulties in creating and maintaining emotional intimacy with others.
There are multiple ways in which the addiction can be acted out. Some sexually compulsive behaviors include the excessive use of pornography, compulsive masturbation, internet sex (chat rooms, hookup sites, internet porn), chronic infidelity, multiple sex partners, voyeurism, sexual harassment and professional boundary violation, exhibitionism, and paying for sex (escorts, prostitutes, strip clubs). More serious behaviors include child molesting, incest, rape and violence.
If the addict does not seek treatment the addiction can lead to emotional, physical, and financial distress. Risk-taking behaviors can also lead to illness and death. Many addicts try to go it alone in their recovery without the help of an experienced therapist or recovery program. This ultimately leads to relapse and further shame. The goal of treatment is to help the addict create a healthy sexuality free from self destruction and pain.
Many of us have received shame-based messages about sex, our sex practices, and our sexuality. I provide a confidential, nonjudgmental environment to explore healthy intimacy and the ways in which sex can become unhealthy and self-destructive. Through empathic support, compassion, and education, you will acquire the tools necessary to establish sobriety and begin the process of recovery. Recovery from sex addiction does not mean an end to a sexual life, but rather a beginning to a life of healthy sex, intimacy, and increased self-esteem.
I believe that sex addiction, like all addictions, is rooted in past trauma. To successfully treat the addiction one needs to examine the traumas of the past and how they echo in one’s life today. It can be challenging and painful to revisit the traumas of our lives. I am committed to creating a healthy and safe partnership to help you shed light on the dark experiences and relationships that have contributed to your addiction.
Assessment and Therapy
In treating sexual addiction I offer an integrative approach that addresses sexual compulsivity and it’s underlying causes. All treatment is customized to meet your specific needs. Our work together begins with a comprehensive biopsychosocial interview as well as psychological testing. The assessment will help us identify treatment recommendations that best meet your recovery needs.
Individual psychotherapy is a key component of treatment to address issues related to problematic sexual behaviors. In the initial phase of therapy we work to identify your cycle of addiction and triggers and develop a relapse prevention strategy. Many people new to recovery are in crisis and need help and support in dealing with the consequences of addictive behavior. Rest assured that these concerns will be addressed. As therapy progresses we will explore the traumas that are at the root of your addiction. Our goal throughout the process will be to improve your emotional, physical and relational health. Couples and/or family therapy, as well as group therapy with others in recovery may also be recommended.
My treatment approach incorporates state-of-the-art, evidence-based techniques to raise your awareness and gain control over your life. Treatment modalities incorporate cognitive-behavioral techniques, task-center addiction recovery, psychodynamic therapy and trauma recovery. You will also be encouraged to seek support with 12-step fellowships such as Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous and Sexual Compulsives Anonymous.
Please click here to learn more about the range of sex addiction treatment services Mark Falango, LCSW, CSAT offers.
Beginning recovery and overcoming addiction is challenging, but with commitment, intention, and hard work the addict can build a life of intimacy, health, and hope.
If you are concerned that you meet the criteria for sex addiction you can take a free, brief, online assessment, by visiting www.sexhelp.com. Look for the link “Am I A Sex Addict?” at the top of the page. Your responses are completely confidential and you do not have to provide your name or email address.
If you identify as a gay or bi-attractional man or a man who has sex with men and are concerned that you may have a sex addiction problem, you can download the following sexual addiction screening test:
• GBSAST – Gay and Bisexual Sexual Addiction Screening Test (PDF)
Please read my viewpoint on sex addiction in the recent Philadelphia Magazine online article:
Addicted: The Dark Side of Gay Sex.