Healing from Sexual Addiction, Part I
Daniel R. Henderson, Ph.D

At Promise-Keepers rallies, hundreds of men come forward to confess and ask prayer for their struggles with pornography. It is said that hotel managers report increased usage of pay-per-view "adult" movies when Christian conventions are in residence. Erstwhile committed Christian men and women come into to the office bemoaning the brokenness that results from an extramarital affair. Or, a man whom others know as a leader in the church, committed to ministry, enters counseling when his wife discovers that not only has he been spending increased amounts of money on pornography, but he has also visited massage parlors, strip clubs, and an occasional prostitute. More recently, we hear of men and women lured into habitual use of pornography or interpersonal "encounters" via the Internet. What is happening here?

In some cases, these individuals are simply struggling with the temptations and sin that all of us face either in sexual or other aspects of life. I suspect that many of those Christian conventioneers are merely "curious" about the material that is available and take the opportunity to "safely" and "anonymously" view those adult movies, unwittingly tarnishing their Christian witness (and that of their organization) in the process. For some, however, the sexual sin is habitual and out of control. Such individuals may be described as sexually addicted.

In the past several years, the idea of sexual addiction has become increasingly recognized and accepted. Whether or not sex addiction is an addiction in the same sense as alcohol or heroin addiction is a matter of debate. However, addiction can be a useful way to describe a repetitive pattern of thinking and behavior involving sex, which has destructive consequences for the individual and those in his/her circle of relationships.

Patrick Carnes, a well-known clinician and writer in the field of sex addiction, lists ten characteristics of sex addiction:

  1. A pattern of out-of-control behavior;
  2. Severe consequences due to sexual behavior;
  3. Inability to stop despite adverse consequences;
  4. Persistent pursuit of self-destructive or high-risk behavior;
  5. Ongoing desire or effort to limit sexual behavior [only temporarily successful];
  6. Sexual obsession and fantasy as a primary coping strategy;
  7. Increasing amounts of sexual experience because the current level of activity is no longer sufficient;
  8. Severe mood changes around sexual activity;
  9. Inordinate amounts of time spent in obtaining sex, being sexual, or recovering from sexual experience;
  10. Neglect of important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of sexual behavior. (Carnes, 1985; p. 10-11)

Dr. Harry Schaumburg, a Christian therapist who writes about and treats sex addiction, describes the cycle of sex addiction: A sex addict . . . believes that the other real or imaginary person(s) will relieve his or her inner emptiness. Each time the chosen sexual behavior(s) is used, the addict's emptiness is numbed or temporarily forgotten. But the consequences of the addict's unmet needs and external sexual behavior(s) continue. The emptiness returns, and with it the realization that whatever person or object or picture or video the addict used didn't provide lasting benefits. Then fear, anger, and/or resentment kick in, and the sex addict again must pursue the behavior(s) that he or she believes is essential to well-being and fulfillment. (Schaumburg, 1992; p. 48)

Sexual addiction is motivated by underlying feelings of sadness, loneliness and sense of being unlovable. The sex addict, like all of us, desires closeness and intimacy with others. However, the addict feels hopeless in his/her pursuit of this closeness, and instead turns to the feelings of "false intimacy" associated with sexual acting out. But, as pointed out above, these feelings never satisfy.

We live in a culture permeated with distorted, contradictory messages about sexuality. As a result, there are many avenues the sex addict can travel in their search for comfort and closeness. All of us need closeness, relationship with each other, and, ultimately, intimacy with God. Healing comes when addicts recognize and accept God's grace, and see themselves as God sees them: individuals of unique value. This realization frees us to be ourselves with God, and with each other: to establish true intimacy.

Healing from Sexual Addiction, Part II

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