Understanding Sexual Compulsions | Center for Growth Therapy

Understanding Sexual Compulsions

Alex , CAS, MSW, ACSW, LCSW — Founder & executive director

What is a sexual compulsion? Sexual compulsions are best understood as a form of an intimacy disorder. Individuals who suffer from sexual compulsivity typically experience compulsive sexual thoughts and/or actions. For example, people who struggle with sexual dependence compulsively masturbate, view pornographic material, surf the web, engage in phone sex, swing, have affairs, attend strip clubs, frequent massage parlors, engage in voyeurism and—in the extreme—rape people. The common element among people who have sexual compulsions is that they feel powerless to stop / control their behavior. It’s as if the behaviors are controlling them. Frequently, the sexual behaviors are progressive. Even as they suffer the natural consequences of their behaviors: poor self esteem, depression, loss of interest in things not sexual, financial problems, relationship troubles, health risks, job loss and possible arrest, they are still unable to listen to their rational self. They are unable to stop.

Individuals who have sexual compulsivity organize their world around sex. They interact with people as a way to facilitate their ability to obtain sexual pleasure. Sexual compulsivity takes up a lot of energy. As their energy investment increases, a pattern of behavior tends to emerge. Specifically, the sexual compulsions begins to engage in ritualistic behaviors as part of their “acting out.” Though it’s different from person to person, the ritualistic behaviors may be flirting, masturbating, cruising online, having one-night stands, swinging, engaging in sex with a prostitute, and even raping someone. Sex compulsivity is not about the actual sexual behavior, but about the anticipation of sexual behavior, the temporary relief felt during sexual behavior, and the denial of feelings while being sexual. Most notably, after the sexual acting out, there is usually some combination of: remorse, guilt, depression, despair, shame, hopelessness, confusion and resolve not to do it again. Then the cycle repeats itself.

While the recovery process is different for each sexual compulsion, there are some themes. Recovery typically involves the following four categories: 1) Detoxing; 2) De-traumatizing; 3) Centering & Healing; and 4) Sexual Health. We define Detoxing as stopping the behavior and learning to tolerate the uncomfortable feelings: boredom, discomfort, anxiety, emptiness, pain, and sadness. De-traumatizing is best understood as identifying and exploring past events that have contributed to the uncomfortable feelings that the sexual compulsivity masks. Centering and Healing refers to learning to be comfortable with self and identifying new coping mechanisms to reduce negative feelings. Sexual Health is defined as learning ways in which to express one’s own sexuality. Full recovery is not celibacy, but rather developing the skill set needed to be sexually intimate with self and others.

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