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The Quiet Desperation of Sex Addiction

October 9, 2023

The ways in which we teach men to “be real men” in our society limits their ability to openly discuss their sexuality and the range of complicated feelings and experiences they have had related to their sexuality. Consequently, they often carry the burdens of shame and painful memories of unwanted or confusing sexual experiences, or overwhelming or conflicted emotions. This can often lead to men seeking relief through sexually unhealthy or compulsive behaviors, drugs, alcohol, and more.

Understanding Male Sex Addiction

So what exactly is sex addiction, and how is it different from having sex? After all, sex can be a healthy, frequent aspect of life for you and your partner.

Often for many men, the source of their sexual compulsivity is rooted in struggles with their mental health.

Sex addiction is defined as compulsive behavior of a sexual nature that dominates your life. Someone struggling with sexual addiction will prioritize sex above everything else, even family, friends, and work, despite the negative consequences. Often misunderstood, sex addiction (also known as hypersexuality, sexual compulsivity, or sexual impulsivity) leads you to sacrifice other things you care about in pursuit of unhealthy behavior. This can have damaging effects on your relationships, finances, personal responsibilities, and overall well-being.

Often for many men, the source of their sexual compulsivity is rooted in struggles with their mental health. Sex addiction can be a symptom of co-occurring disorders like bipolar disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Various sexual acts can also become regular coping strategies for past trauma (such as childhood sexual trauma) or ongoing stress, loneliness, or depression, leading men to develop a sex addiction as a result.

Sex Addiction Is Often a Silent Struggle

If you’re addicted to sex, it can be difficult for others to understand or see your struggle. Why? Because for most, a sex addiction is a silent, inner turmoil of shame and guilt. You may experience intense feelings of anxiety or remorse as you carry out your addictions, especially if they conflict with your values or affect your relationships. On the other hand, you could also live in a world of secrecy as you try to hide your addiction from your family or pursue more drastic, even illegal sexual activities to feed your compulsive behaviors.

Over time, this hypersexuality can make a psychological and emotional impact on you and those you love. Your sex addiction can lead to low self-esteem and depression, especially if you experience detrimental relationship effects with those closest to you when your addiction is discovered. As a result, you may even struggle with thoughts of suicide or take on new addictions like drugs or alcohol as you experience the collateral damage of your sex addiction.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Sex Addiction?

man with head in heads

As you’re reading this, you may be asking yourself, How do I know if I have a sex addiction? Below are some signs and symptoms of sex addiction to watch out for:

  • Recurrent and intense sexual fantasies
  • Feeling guilt or remorse after sex
  • Inability to reduce or control your sexual behavior and fantasies
  • Using sexual behavior as an escape from other problems
  • Continuing sexual activity despite serious consequences
  • Engaging with several partners, even strangers
  • Lying to hide sexual acts
  • Difficulty establishing and maintaining healthy relationships

Sadly, these behaviors can make a negative impact on your everyday life, from becoming infected with sexually transmitted diseases to causing issues at work and ending your relationship with your partner.

One Man’s Struggle with Sex Addiction

A man in recovery from sex and drug addiction wrote the following essay for The Meadows’ Alumni newsletter more than 10 years ago, but the experiences he describes are still just as common among men today.

I was scared. I was lonely. I was a little boy. My father was a college professor. My mother was college-educated. I have two younger brothers and a younger sister. We had plenty of food and clothes. We got birthday presents. Santa Claus came to see us. We were a very distant family, like ships passing in the night. We rarely hugged. We rarely expressed emotion. We rarely talked about what was going with us as individuals or as a family. I was scared. I was lonely.

I remember that, when I reached puberty, a neighbor boy showed me masturbation. I masturbated a lot. Now I wasn’t so scared, and I wasn’t so lonely. I found a magazine. It was just an ordinary magazine with a picture of a woman in a bikini. It became my first pornography. I wasn’t so scared, and I wasn’t so lonely. When I was a sophomore in high school, I started drinking and, from the beginning, I drank alcoholically. I wasn’t so scared. I wasn’t so lonely.

I masturbated a lot, and I found Playboy, Penthouse, and other porn magazines and books. I drank a lot. I started dating. I got into relationships. I wanted the women to make me happy. I looked at the women the way I looked at the women in the porn: as objects. I would fantasize and lust about the women I was dating in the same way I did the women in the porn magazines and books. After a while, I could run the porn images in my head, and I no longer had to have the porn magazines and books. I drank a lot. I was scared. I was lonely.

I began to like myself and to discover who I was, my values, my interests. I began to connect with people on a more intimate level. I wasn’t so scared. I wasn’t so lonely.

I went to treatment for my alcoholism. When the staff discovered that I did cocaine and marijuana, they said I was a drug addict. I stopped drinking alcohol, but for the next two years, I continued to use cocaine and marijuana. I liked doing cocaine and marijuana with sex. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized that it was my sex addiction that kept me in my drug addiction for another two years. I was scared. I was lonely.

With no awareness of my sexual addiction, I got into recovery for my drug addiction. I was still using sex — porn, lusting, looking at women as objects, masturbating lustfully. I was scared. I was lonely.

When I went to treatment for my sexual addiction, I began to get into recovery. I began to learn something about intimacy with myself and other people, not just women, but men and women. I began a journey of overcoming shame, liking myself, and discovering who I was, my values, my interests. I began to connect with people on a more intimate level. I wasn’t so scared. I wasn’t so lonely.

Sex Addiction Treatment for Support and Recovery

If you’ve been diagnosed with sex addiction by a medical professional, it can be easy to feel shame and discouragement as you wonder what it means for your life. However, it’s important to know that real recovery is possible with the right sex addiction treatment.

It’s important to know that real recovery is possible with the right sex addiction treatment.

Once your addiction triggers are identified, the first treatment may include forms of psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Medications like SSRIs are sometimes prescribed if you have any co-occurring disorders. Treatment programs can also offer a combination of therapy, support, and medication under professional supervision, especially in an inpatient facility away from addictive triggers. Once treatment is complete, joining a recovery support group can be a helpful resource for community and accountability as well.

Men’s Sexual Recovery Workshop & Treatment

Sexually compulsive people are caught up in sexual addiction: thoughts and behaviors, pornography, lusting, leering, fantasizing, anonymous sex, one-night stands, prostitution, affairs, simultaneous relationships, adult bookstores, etc. They are scared. They are lonely. They are in pain. They feel guilt. They feel shame. They are living lives of quiet desperation — empty on the inside — while on the outside, they may have all the trappings of success.

When appropriately managed, sexual drive can be a positive and productive life force. It compels us to form relationships that inspire us to live better lives. In our Men’s Sexual Recovery Workshop, this inner drive is explored with compassion, humor, and a zest for life. Participants leave the workshop with the ability to form relationships in which sex can be enjoyable, fulfilling, and deeply meaningful again.

The workshop doesn’t take the place of inpatient treatment, but it is well-suited for men who want to jump-start their recovery process, prevent relapse, or acquire more tools and resources to support their continuing recovery. Reach out to learn more about this workshop or our inpatient sex addiction treatment program at Gentle Path at The Meadows. Our intake specialists would be happy to answer any questions you might have to find the best fit for you. You don’t have to live a life of quiet desperation; you can start on your journey of  freedom and healing from sex addiction today.