It’s a chronic, progressive disease of the brain’s reward and related circuitry systems. Sexual addiction has also been called sexual dependency, sexual compulsivity and hypersexual disorder.
No matter what you call it, these compulsive behaviors completely dominate the addict’s life. Sexual addicts make sex a priority more important than family, friends, and work. Sex becomes the central role and addicts are willing to sacrifice what they cherish most to preserve and continue their unhealthy behavior.
According to the Health Research Funding organization, between 12 to 30 million people are affected by sexual addictions in the United States.
For many of these people, they feel great shame and their partners feel intense betrayal. The loss of a serious relationship or marriage is a common risk when dealing with sexual addictions. There’s a path of hope in saving the relationship though with professional help and treatment.
Ed Dudding of Coeur d’Alene Counseling specializes in sex addict counseling. He says, “There are actually 20 specific different types of compulsive behavior related to sex addictions. These behaviors can destroy relationships, but as part of sexual addiction recovery I work with patients to stop the behaviors, restore communication between partners and provide them tools to bring the relationship back to a healthy state.”
One of Dudding’s patients has been in recovery for about four years. He said that prior to entering counseling, he felt that his marriage was in serious jeopardy. The most difficult part of his journey has been addressing feelings of being inadequate as a partner, admitting to failures and working to overcome those. He says, “Learning how to grieve my mistakes and move on from them has been important.”
Through the treatment process, he and his wife have gained tools individually and together to help them strengthen their communication. He says, “It hasn’t been easy but we’ve put the work in and it can be done. It’s crucial that you build the relationship because you want it to be better. You learn about becoming a better person for yourself in the process.”
His wife said that she had to individually deal with the pain too. For her, “The beginning was the hardest part, with the unknown element of what comes next.” But as treatment progressed, they both began to feel a shift towards a positive outlook on the future. Now they are more aware of their feelings and how to connect with each other.
Those suffering from compulsive sexual behaviors are usually filled with angst and turmoil. Dudding says, “I know that those affected by sexual addictions are struggling to have peace, struggling to maintain relationships … and most importantly, I know that they want to stop. That’s why I’m passionate about helping them.”
Another one of Dudding’s patients hadn’t been married that long when potentially permanent damage to he and his wife’s future was possible. He, however, through treatment has been in recovery for three years.
He says the counseling has saved their relationship by “helping him identify the core issue of the problems, learning to communicate more often and effectively and figuring out how to change bad habits,” Having someone help hold you accountable during a time of change can make a difference. He adds “You might think changing bad habits is easy to do on your own, but it really is a lot harder than you’d think.”
For this couple there really hasn’t been one part of the journey so far that’s struck them as the most difficult, but rather just sticking to it with the principles learned in treatment and not letting thing slide backwards to old habits and patterns. The husband notes, “It’s about making sure the relationship is cared for first.”
His wife says, “I couldn’t pinpoint one moment where there was that shift and we felt a positive outlook for our future. It was more of a gradual movement over time with treatment. But, I did notice our points of anxiety became fewer and farther between.”
If they were talking to someone facing the same situation they were a few years ago, they both agreed that it’s important to know you can get through this. “It’s not easy, but it’s possible,” she says.
Her husband adds, “Any relationship is going to require work, or it doesn’t work. Counseling helped me refocus my energy and provide me, and us, with the skills and tools to make things work.”
If you or someone you know may need help with sexual addictions, take the first step by talking to a professional today.