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Is Sex Addiction Real?

Is Sex Addiction Real?

The other day I was walking through the mall with my two-year-old grandson (actually he was running). His focus and purpose was to simply run as fast as he could… until we passed by a popular clothing store.  In the oversized doorway to the store, there was a 15’ x 10’ photograph of a mostly-naked man with a paint-brushed-on six-pack.  The imagery was so intense, even my oblivious grandson slowed down, craned his neck around to take the image into his little brain, and in the process almost took out another shopper. I’m not quite sure how the vendor sold clothing with that advertisement since only the waistband of the model’s pants were visible, but apparently sex sells; there was a constant stream of people entering the store and exiting with their purchases.

For most people, that gigantic image was likely quite pleasant to witness. And yet, for some men and women, that image might stimulate or “trigger” an automatic chemical response in the brain that compels them to engage in sexual fantasy or sexual acting out behavior. For those men and women, that compulsion feels unstoppable despite the catastrophic consequences of the resulting behavior. For those people, sex has taken on an addictive quality.

Just as in alcohol or drug addiction, the sexual acting out behaviors generate chemical responses in the brain that help the person feel better. For some, they use it to numb emotional pain. For others, they begin engaging in the behavior simply because it feels good. But for those who have an addiction, the “drug” becomes irresistible. Over time, they need more intense stimulation to get the same effect. For many, the sexual acting out behaviors begin to take over their lives.  They can spend untold hours obsessing about when they can act out again and engaging in those behaviors. Often they will forego activities with family, friends, work, or school in favor of being alone to act out. Some lose their relationships, marriages, families and jobs and their lives become unmanageable.

If you think you might have a problem with compulsive sexual behavior, here are some questions you can ask yourself:

Preoccupied: Do you often find yourself preoccupied with sexual thoughts?

Ashamed: Do you hide some of your sexual behavior from others?

Treatment: Have you ever sought therapy for sexual behavior you did not like?

Hurt others: Has anyone been hurt emotionally because of your sexual behaviors?

Out of control: Do you feel controlled by your sexual desire?

Sad: When you have sex, do you feel depressed afterwards?

If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, you may have a problem with sex addiction. There are several things you can do to get help.  A Certified Sex Addiction Therapist can help you figure out if sex addiction is a problem for you and can help you begin a program of recovery.

There are also many 12-step groups in the Bay Area that focus on recovery from sexually compulsive behaviors. Groups such as Sexaholics Anonymous (, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (, and Sex Addicts Anonymous (

Community Presbyterian Counseling Center in Danville, CA, has a comprehensive program for helping families affected by sex addiction. We have groups for those struggling with sexual compulsivity as well as groups for the partners who are traumatized by the acting out behaviors.  We also have groups for couples to help them find a basis for communication in the very stressful stages of early recovery. My colleague, Terry Kendrick, frequently explains to couples that, “The bad news is, your marriage will never be the same.  The good news is, your marriage will never be the same.” Embarking on a journey of healing brings change, not only individually, but for the entire family.  My personal passion is to help people as they seek to restore sanity in their lives and reclaim that which the thief of addiction has stolen.

We have new groups forming this fall.  Please check out the counseling center’s website for details if you are interested.

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