Lucinda Bolinger, PCC-S and Certified Sex Addiction Therapist
It’s your nightmare scenario. You come home late, and you find your spouse/partner waiting for you in the living room. His/Her face looks strained/tear-stained and he/she asks you to sit down. Your spouse/partner says “Is there something you need to tell me about”? Frantically, you search for an answer. “What do you mean” is your “testing” response, as though this could be about anything. Your spouse/partner looks even more upset and says “I can’t believe you – I can’t believe you are going to act like you don’t know what I am talking about”. You consider telling him/her once more that he/she has been acting crazy, spying on you, over-thinking again, but this time, that doesn’t seem to be a good option. “Don’t lie this time, or it will be the last time” your spouse/partner says. He/she hands you a phone bill/credit card bill/phone number and says “What is this?” Your stomach sinks and you feel a cold sweat form at the front of your hairline. “Ok” you say, sighing, “Ok”. You sit down because you feel your knees shaking. It’s the beginning of a long night.
This scenario is playing out in more and more homes and relationships than ever before. The scenario in this case involves charges that a spouse/partner has traced to an escort service, phone sex line, Internet sex site, or strip club. But the scenario can also play out in even more graphic ways. Spouses/Partners come home to find prostitutes or female acquaintances or even close friends involved sexually with their husbands or wives. Spouses/Partners discover long term affairs or serial affairs that have begun either within their neighborhoods, their circle of friends, at a series of jobs, at a job that involves significant travel, over the Internet, or simply under their noses. Often the guilty party tells the discovering party that if he/she were more active or available sexually, “this wouldn’t be happening”. Other times, discovery brings an outpouring of relief and despair. Where to go from here?
When an individual appears to struggle with sexual behavior over which they believe themselves to have lost control, sexual addiction is an appropriate consideration. The course and progress of sexual addiction is as different as any individual who may find him or herself struggling with the behaviors. The journey of recovery from sexual addiction is challenging, but ultimately, if a commitment to recovery is made, rewarding and possible.
The criteria for determining sexual addiction have been documented by Patrick Carnes, Ph.D. There are 10 types of criteria that Dr. Carnes discovered that assist therapists and those struggling with addiction in concluding that sexual addiction is present*.
Recurrent failure (pattern) to resist impulses to engage in specific sexual behavior.
Frequent engaging in those behaviors to a greater extent or over a longer period of time than intended.
Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to stop, reduce, or control those behaviors.
Inordinate amount of time spent in obtaining sex, being sexual or recovering from sexual experiences.
Preoccupation with the behavior or preparatory activities.
Frequent engaging in the behavior when expected to fulfill occupational, academic, domestic, or social obligations.
Continuation of the behavior despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent social, financial, psychological, or physical problem that is caused or exacerbated by the behavior.
Need to increase the intensity, frequency, number, or risk of behaviors to achieve the desired effect, or diminished effect with continued behaviors at the same level of intensity, frequency, number or risk.
Giving up or limiting social, occupational, or recreational activities because of the behavior.
Distress, anxiety, restlessness, or irritability if unable to engage in the behavior.
*Facing The Shadow: Starting Sexual and Relationship Recovery, Patrick Carnes, Ph.D, Gentle Path Press, 2005.
Individuals who find themselves in recurrent situations in which sexual activity has become problematic can usually identify with at least some of these behaviors, however, at times only the intervention of spouses or family members provide a true perspective on behavior patterns. Other times, financial crises provide occasion to consider whether sexual behavior has become unmanageable.
If you or someone you love or are close to seems to exhibit these behaviors, please call me at Crossroads Counseling Group. You may also want to access the following link to Dr. Carnes’ website for additional information and to take free self-administered testing instruments and consider the results.