Only a few of us think that the way we participate in sexual activity is addictive, but often the beginnings of sexual addictions show up in covert ways that we may miss if we are not attentive.
I just spent three days at a symposium on addiction and the speakers there reminded me of just how ubiquitous sexual additions are in our society.
Most of the time I tend to think of men as the ones harboring secret sexual addictions but, of course, women are just as subject to sexual addictions as men. We really are not that different, are we?
The Truth About Sexual Addiction
Strangely, most sexual addictions have little to do with sex, other than the fact that the behaviors take place in the context of sexuality. Exhibitionism is really about wanting to feel the power of having shocked someone. Pornography is about fantasy.
Most of the others, like sadomasochistic fetishes are all about regaining a sense of power and control. Strangely enough, even the avoidance of sex can be a “addictive” behavior according to Maureen Canning of the Meadows Treatment Center.
As a wife who avoided sex over the course of many years of my previous marriages, this one got my attention. I was, as many women are, quite able to enjoy a courtship and “honeymoon” phase of an active and athletic sex life during the beginning phases of my relationships.
But, as the relationship moved out of the fantasy stage and into the reality of a real, day to day set of interactions, sex disappeared. It didn’t disappear because my husband wasn’t interested. No, it disappeared because I became angry and disgusted with his continuing to be happy with sex as the lifeblood of our relationship.
Once we were married I think I expected our relationship to magically blossom into a real intimate connection. Never mind that I had no clue how to do that. But I was certain it was my husband’s fault because HE was such an angry, avoidant, workaholic.
Certainly I was the innocent victim of his deliberate withholding of time, attention and kindness. So, I withheld sexual contact from him because I was so angry with him. I never thought of it as being addictive behavior.
But if you re-frame how you think about what addiction is, you can easily see how it really is an addictive process. As Maureen Canning says, most sexual addiction is really about power and control.
I was clearly attempting to get a sense of power in the relationship by moving into the Self-Protective withdrawal position. I put up barriers to prevent myself from feeling vulnerable to his angry, avoidant behaviors. I did this in an attempt to get power and control over feeling like his Victim…
How many wives do this? I asked Maureen if she new of any other resources for information about this form of addiction she calls “Sexual Anorexia” and she directed me to a book by Patrick Carnes. I have not yet gotten a copy of the book but I do think it’s fascinating.
A lot of unhappy husbands will probably relate to this scenario. Maureen talked about the “offending” quality of this behavior. I have to admit I never would have thought of myself as doing any “offending” by this behavior, but I was clearly damaging my relationship.
The word offending does bring up legal or even criminal meaning, but one simple definition is “wrong”. And it was indeed “wrong” of me to withhold sex in order to meet my own power and control needs.
But don’t you offending men take heart at this either, because addictive relationships generally require two addicts. The partners to the Sexual Anorexic are obviously the “Co-dependant” in the relationship and just as addicted in their own way. One partner is generally a “Sex Addict” and the other is the “Sexual Anorexic”. Both are just opposite ends of the spectrum from the other.
The more classic “Sex Addict” is the one who gets a sense of power and control by engaging in some form of sexual activity. Of course, the sex act itself is mood enhancing and can be a way to alter an unhappy mood.
Where Is The Real Problem?
Sex is not meant to be about power and control or even mood enhancing. Sex is supposed to be intimate, passionate play with your partner. Any other covert use for it is “wrong” or “offensive”. If passionate play is not how either of you experience your sexual relationship, then there is a problem.
So What Do You Do If You Are Using Sex Addictively?
First of all you have to just recognize that you are using sex (or your sexual power as in Sexual Anorexia) in a way that is harmful to your relationship. Once you recognize what you are doing you have to stop the offensive behavior and deal with the feelings that are buried underneath the behavior.
This can be a simple but uncomfortable process, or it can be a complex and debilitating one. If you begin the process of eliminating your sexual addictive behaviors and find yourself feeling overwhelmed. Don’t hesitate to call a professional because, like any addiction, if it is severe enough it can be life threatening.
No joke, the feelings underneath the sexual addictions can be very intense and lead to severe withdrawal symptoms. Take care of yourself as you open your eyes to how you may have been unwittingly causing harm to your relationship.