Contributor: The Refuge clinical team member Erica Smith, M.A., NCC
The topic of sexual addiction seems to be more prevalent now than ever before. One way in which sex addiction has been defined is that it is a progressive disorder of intimacy that consists of chronic and compulsive sexual thoughts and acts.
A Manifestation of Inner Emotional Pain
Another definition that has been offered by professionals in the mental health field is that sexual addiction is actually a manifestation of an individual’s inner emotional pain. Following this train of thought, the presence of low self-esteem and/or the inability to form and maintain significant interpersonal relationships leads one to act out in a sexual nature.
In this way, sex acts as a physical means of escaping from or coping with severe emotional pain that the individual does not know how else to manage, similar to that which occurs when individuals begin using drugs or alcohol to numb themselves from negative inner turmoil (1).
Yet, in considering this second definition, whereupon the presence of a sexual addiction is related, in part, to a person’s inability to form and maintain significant interpersonal relationships, it can be confusing as to why someone who is in a marital relationship would turn to the behaviors associated with sexual addiction in order to cope with inner pain.
Marriage, Marital Infidelity and Sexual Addiction
If a person is in a marriage, then isn’t it normal to assume that he or she has been successfully able to form and maintain a lasting relationship? Ideally, yes. But, in reality, the answer is no. For individuals who are struggling with an addiction to sex, even if they are in a loving marriage, their addiction supersedes their ability to focus on the positive aspects of their relationship.
Essentially, this addiction grabs hold of the individual in the same way that an addiction to drugs or alcohol does, quickly escalating into something that is beyond his or her control. As that escalation continues to develop, the more susceptible the individual becomes to falling into the destructive and devastating behavioral pattern of marital infidelity.
Infidelity and Sex Addiction
When thinking about marital infidelity, the first thing that typically comes to mind is that one person cheated on his or her partner by having a sexual relationship with another individual. For people who have a sex addiction, the act of having sexual relations with multiple partners outside of marriage can be an act of impulse.
In many cases, a person will go to great lengths to keep his or her addiction a secret from his or her spouse, whether it be out of shame, embarrassment, or fear that his or her partner will leave.
Making Everything into Sex
The nature of the sex addict is such that most, if not all, areas of thought become centered on things of a sexual nature. Sex and everything related to sex becomes the top priority.
Some sex addicts may try to fill their “cravings” by engaging in activities with their spouses, only to discover that their spouses are not able to meet the sexual needs that their brains have convinced them that they require. Whether it be the frequency in which the addict wants to have sex, the ways in which he or she wants to have sex, or something else, the failure to find satisfaction in having those needs met leads the addict to look elsewhere.
In other cases, sex addicts may be too fearful to express their desires to their spouses and instead search for ways to manage their urges outside of their marriage.
Emotional Bonds Are Not Related to Sexual Addiction
For the majority of sex addicts, acting out in marital infidelity is based simply on physical gratification alone. In other words, these individuals typically do not develop emotional bonds with, or feelings for, the person or persons with whom they are having the affair.
Like a drug addict, they are trying to get their urges to subside by experiencing the “high” that comes from participating in sexual activity. Most often, they keep their behaviors shrouded in secrecy, desperate to shelter their spouse from their actions.
What comes to light when individuals discover that their spouse has been sexually unfaithful is that the pain that they feel as a result of the affair is not always due to the fact that their spouse had a physical relationship with someone else.
Instead, it is most often the betrayal of trust that leads to the deepest emotional pain. The fact that an affair was had means that there was a prolonged period of time in which lying, secrets, and deceit were defining their marriage… and they weren’t even aware of it (2).
Overcoming the Compulsive Behaviors of Sexual Addiction
While sexual addiction and marital infidelity can cause irreparable damage to a relationship, there is treatment available that can help the addict overcome his or her compulsive behaviors, as well as treatment available to help restore the couple’s faith in each other and begin the process of healing their relationship.
There are a number of different treatment modalities that are known to be effective in treating sexual addiction. There are also numerous therapeutic methods that are effective in helping restore damaged relationships.
Therapies for Sex Addiction
For sex addicts, both individual therapy and group therapy can be extremely beneficial as they begin the healing process. Individual therapy provides people with a time to meet one-on-one with a therapist so that they can participate in in-depth explorations of themselves in a safe and confidential setting.
Group therapy allows for further support from peers who are experiencing similar struggles and can be a time to learn from one another. Couple’s therapy is an essential component in helping to restore the broken pieces that sex addiction and marital infidelity have caused within a relationship.
Additionally, it can be beneficial for each partner to participate in individual therapy along with couple’s therapy so that they have a place where they can process through their own thoughts with the support of an individual therapist.
About the Author:
This blog was written by The Refuge clinical content team member, Erica Smith, MA, NCC. Erica has several years of experience working in the treatment field as a clinical therapist and has her Master’s degree in Clinical Community Counseling from the American School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University.
With an awareness that addiction and trauma are closely linked, The Refuge – A Healing Place offers superior care for those who wish to recover from chemical dependency concerns and overcome trauma from the past.
The approach to treatment featured at this exemplary center is holistic in nature, with care focused on healing the whole person and not just the strife occurring in that individual’s life. The staff of caring professionals employed at The Refuge are expertly-trained to care for every need of every client who receives these beneficial and life-changing services.
At The Refuge, true healing and lasting recovery are achieved because of the attention paid to each person’s mind, body, and spirit.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on October 22, 2014
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 11, 2021
Published on AddictionHope.com
This is a great article, good information. I am dealing with my own struggle with my spouses infidelity and it’s so hard. Found a great read by Gregory Smith called How to Successfully Recover from Having Been Cheated On and it’s been very helpful as it hits on all these emotions that are felt as we try to get through it.