Read an Excerpt
What Is a Sexual Addiction?
O nce again I am sitting in a comfortable chair in a television studio. Along with me are the host, lights, camera and 'action' from the floor director. The most frequently asked question is, 'So, Dr. Doug, what really is sexual addiction anyway?' I'm sure you're probably also sitting in your comfortable chair right now with the same question popping into your mind.
A sex addict, much like an alcoholic or overeater, uses his or her drug of choice (sex) to avoid past or present pain and escape the realities of life. The sex addict uses sex in such a way that many of the following questions would be answered with a 'yes.'
The Sexual Addict Quiz
1. Have you engaged sexual behaviors that you wish you could stop?
2. Do you feel abnormally driven by your sexual drive?
3. Have you been in relationships just for sex?
4. Has masturbation been ongoing even after marriage?
5. Has pornography continued for you after a long-term, committed, sexual relationship?
6. Does your sexuality seem to be dragging down your personal potential?
7. Do you find that you spend a significant amount of time online viewing pornography or grooming others for sexual encounters?
8. Have you experienced an unwanted sexual encounter during childhood or adolescence?
9. Has monogamous sex grown boring?
The sexual addict tends to have a secret sexual life. He or she has a normal exterior life as a citizen and parent, and may be politically, socially or spiritually active in the community. But he or she has a secret life of cruising, masturbating, and frequenting adult bookstores, Internet chat rooms or prostitutes, or having affairs.
Everything may look normal on the outside, but the addict suffers silently. Unable to be honest, the addict is unable to sustain a true, emotionally intimate relationship. He or she lives with a voice inside that says, If you really knew me, you wouldn't love me.
Personally and professionally I know the hell of this addiction, and it's not fun. Fortunately, there is now help. Unfortunately for most of you reading these pages, there may not have been help or information available on sexual addiction when your parents were in the midst of their struggles. Most suffered secretly with an addiction for which they hated themselves.
Now to make it more complicated, sex addiction is not limited to one behavior. A sex addict, whether male or female, can be addicted to a variety of sexual behaviors. Some of these behaviors are listed below, but problems are not limited to these:
Voyeurism Fantasy Pornography Fetishes Chat rooms Exposing oneself Sexual literature Affairs Prostitutes One-night stands Masturbation Anonymous encounters Cross-dressing
Some sex addicts have affairs outside of their marriage; some use their spouse in a sexually disconnected manner; some leave their spouse alone sexually, preferring masturbation, fantasy or pornography. A sexual addict is similar to an alcoholic, where some prefer martinis, scotch and water, or beer, but all alcoholics still use alcohol in a way that is destructive to their lives.
There are common characteristics of sexual addiction that are shared by all types of addicts. Sexual addicts are either in denial or rationalize why they do what they do. Similar to other addicts, they blame others for their addiction.
Several roads may have been taken to becoming sexually addicted. Many sexual addicts have been victims of sexual, emotional or physical abuse. Others got on the path of sexual addiction due to a reward system they set up with pornography and fantasy. Others have chemical imbalances and as adolescents they treated this with orgasm responses to feel better. If you want more detailed information on the origins of sexual addiction, I recommend my book The Final Freedom: Pioneering Sexual Addiction Recovery.
Sexual addiction is often confused with a high libidoanother question I get asked frequently by the media. A man or woman with a high libido can have spirit, soul and body sex. He or she can also experience sexual satiation regularly. A high libido person enjoys relational sexthe key word here being 'enjoys.'
A sexual addict rarely if ever has sex in a spirit, soul and body manner. The sex addict often disconnects from his/her spouse during sexuality and orgasm. The sexual addict rarely feels satiated or satisfied sexually.
I think by now you can see why sexual addicts' lives might be chaotic and frustrating. They chase a high that can never satisfy them. They keep going for more, but they still aren't satisfied. They go for 'different' (whatever that may mean to them), and that doesn't satisfy. They go to their endless fantasy world, and that doesn't satisfy. So they go to the Internet, and they are left disconnected once again.
Being a sex addict isn't fun. You feel alone, disconnected and often disqualified from the very best of life. A hug from a loving child is chilled by the memory of where you were that day. The 'I love you' from your spouse seems shallow because of your secret life. Being unable to connect with those you love is the life of the sexual addict. Unfortunately, that means the sexual addict is not the only one impacted by his or her addiction.
Sexual addiction also has a huge impact on the spouse of a sexual addict. In our survey of adult children of sexual addicts, we found that most of the spouses were women and the sex addicts were men. Thus, if you are an adult child of a sexual addict, most likely your mother was the spouse of a sexual addict. It's also possible your mother was the sexual addict, which we will discuss shortly.
If your mother was the partner of a sex addict, the sex addiction probably had a tremendous impact on her soul. Who she was as a wife, friend, sexual partner, spiritual being and mother were all impacted. Her spouse was probably emotionally, spiritually and morally still an adolescent. He was also most likely extremely self-centered and insensitive to her needs. Her need for connection would have been unmet.
If she knew about her husband's addiction, her own sexuality could have been impacted or shamed. She probably felt like she never measured up and was married to a man for whom she was not his first love (the sex addiction was). There was also a 29 percent chance that her husband was a sexual anorexic.
As a sexual anorexic, her husband would have avoided her spiritually, emotionally and sexually. She may have gone months or years without sexual intimacy as he would use porn, masturbation, or have sexual or emotional relationships with others instead.
Sexual addiction in your family of origin may have resulted in the divorce of your parents. This divorce may also have brought into your life many individuals who your parents may have dated, married or even divorced.
I have worked with wives of sexual addicts for more than eighteen years. I can tell you in my professional experience that as a woman and a mother she is hurt, angry and impacted in almost every area of her life by this addiction. She alone often carries the secret of her husband's addiction.
In my book, Partners: Healing from His Addiction, I surveyed seventy wives of sexual addicts. The research shows that your mother had a large probability of struggling with depression, lower self-esteem and food issues. She may have acted out sexually herself, or alternatively became cold and distant to your suffering, or too clingy and manipulative.
I say all this so you can see that your mother and her parenting were impacted by the sexual addiction in your home. The mother she could have been and the mother you actually had were significantly different due to sex addiction.
A mother whose spiritual and emotional needs were being met would have been very different. A mother married to a man who truly was morally developed would have been different. A mother married to a man who wasn't self-absorbed and deceptive would have been different. A mother without the deep sense of betrayal from adultery or pornography would have been different. Without the secrets and the shame of your father's sexual addiction, your mother would have been differentand better.
Your mother had choices to make, but she also had fears of raising you alone, not feeling like she could work to make enough money and many others. She had reasons for her choices. Some of her reasons may have been less healthy than others, yet she was reacting to an unhealthy situation. If you grew up in a home with sexual addiction, then both parents were impacted. If your mother was a sexual addict, this would also have been true.
I think you're getting the picture that growing up in a family where there is a sexual addiction impacts all the family members. There still is one other person the sexual addiction would have impacted. That is you .
You have been impacted by the secret of sexual addiction. You had to react, adjust and grow up in an environment that sexual addiction was destroying. You didn't ask for this, and neither did I. But we can acknowledge the impact that sexual addiction has had on our lives.
We also have the choice to heal. We can stay unhealthy, or we can choose a lifestyle of recovery. I chose healing and recovery. My wife and children have had a man in their lives who did his own work to heal. My family is worth it, and I am worth healing.
You are worth it as well. The pages ahead will be insightful, and at times painful, but will definitely give you the possibility to place your feet on a path of tremendous healing. So grab hold of my hand and heart, and the hands and hearts of those who have participated in our survey, and we will walk together to a place called recovery.
M y dad was an alcoholic and a sex addict/ sexual anorexic. My mother struggled with borderline personality disorder and violent rages. Life was a daily hell-in-a-handbasket. We never knew what the evening was going to be like from one day to the next. One day we were hiding under the bed scared to death; the next day all was fine and dandy. My mother was in such turmoil all the timeshe hated my dad. She hated him looking like the nice guy, while she was always seen as the crazy one.
I would stand outside my mother's door at night as a child and listen for noises to tell me if she was alive. I was convinced she would commit suicide, but if I could hear her crying at least I knew she was alive. My dad would be gone. He was either out drinking and 'sexing,' or downstairs reading. He was never available for us.
I started to notice early on that my mom was starving, and I couldn't figure it out. My dad seemed so nice and easy to be around. As I got older, I began to see that they never interacted with each other, so I began requesting that they talk or hold hands or kiss. It seemed odd, and I assumed a role that turned out to run my life later. The role was that of caretaker/facilitatorgetting them to work it out was my mission.
They came to me for advice, and I would usually have some good advice for them. I tried to get them into therapy, but they never seemed to be on the same page when it came to 'wanting help.' As I took on this role, it interfered with everything: schoolwork, friends and boys. Everything normal got tainted by what was happening to my parents and to us kids.
I noticed all kinds of weird characteristics in my life that I didn't have control over, so I began attending Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) meetings and that helped a lot; at least I could see other kids were suffering, too. I began to understand that my parents had a lot of addictions and that I was a product of that environment. I began to understand that I had built a lifestyle around helping them instead of centering my life around God. This was starving me of God's plan for my life.
I had so much confusion and rage, but I was determined to find my life. I read every book I could get my hands on, and learned and grew in my understanding of addiction and codependency. It was a hard road, but it felt good to be me.
Nine years ago my father died of cancer, and it was eye-opening because my mother changed. All of a sudden this woman I had known for thirty-one years was coming aliveshe lost weight, she joined a gym, she took classes, she began to travel, and she started to spend money more freely. It was remarkable! And she would say over and over again, 'I'm free to live now! I feel like all the hate just drained out of my body when your dad died.' I can now see my mother, and it was incredibly healing and freeing for me to see her happy. It was freeing to break the silence in my household. We began to talk about it and deal with it.
Two years ago, I watched a video by Dr. Weiss called Sexual Anorexia. What happened to me as a child had a namesexual anorexia. The slow, silent starving of our family through my father's addiction had a name! I shared this information with my brothers and with everyone I came across who had similar circumstances. I felt further freedom in my life to move out of the trap of addiction and into a life of peace. I see life as a journey, and I am learning every day how to walk freeand now I have the knowledge and tools to grasp what is happening and resolve it. I live with a loving husband and two children who love God, and I am involved in an exciting ministry where I use the gifts God gave me. There is life after being a child of a sex addict!
I remember racing on my pride and joy, a Honda 50cc motorcycle, and hitting the roads outside the city limits in our rural agricultural community. I was off to visit an older woman in her mid-twenties. She was a friend who had pursued me. In my imagination I made it seem that she was my girlfriend. Nothing like this had happened to me before, and it seemed to awaken within me passions that I had no awareness of before that summer. I would often drive out to her home in the country. I would spend summer days with her in the family swimming pool, hang with her for a few hours, and then head back to my house in our small Midwestern community. It was the summer of my fourteenth year. The world was mine. You see, I had a crush on this woman. She unquestionably had my heart. She could make me feel alive, like nothing else I had ever encountered.
The interesting thing is that she had also captured my father's heart. He also was spending unusual amounts of time with her. In fact, one time when I was visiting this woman, my father, according to her, had also visited with her on that same day. She revealed that my father called her often. It wasn't long before I realized that my father was having an affair with this woman.
She became part of the bigger story in my father's life. This woman helped him redecorate our family home when my father sent my mother to another state to visit her sister. This woman picked out the carpet, helped paint, hung wallpaper; her personality was permanently fingerprinted in our home. My mother came back from her visit, walked into the house, and as I watched her face in horror I realized that she had been duped. My father somehow made this all seem plausible. He pulled off these types of things from time to time during the course of my parents' marriage.
My mother told her sons on several occasions that she was not my father's first choice for a marriage partner. Although they had dated, he actually pined for someone else and apparently settled for my mom. She grieved this, being an unloved married woman. Even to this day, now years after my father's death, the story is not far from my mother's heart.
My father was raised in a single-parent home. His father died when he was two years of age. My grandmother did not marry again. Although my father was not very open about his childhood, it appears he had a reckless upbringing. I have attempted to piece things together as best as I can. My father was different from his mother. She was extremely conservative, while he lived life as wildly as he could within the constraints of a religiously controlling environment.
As far back as I can recall, my father did not cherish or pursue my mother's heart. I can remember so many times on vacation, we would be walking in amusement parks or beaches or wherever, and my father and my older brother would be walking ten or fifteen paces ahead of my mother. I felt a responsibility not to let her be left behind so I would walk with her. I longed to be up with my dad, to be setting the pace. Over time I began to pity my mother. Even at quite a young age, I realized that my dad did not do anything purposefully to make my mother feel special. The design of their marriage was reflected in my mother's countenance. She did not seem to be a happy woman.
By the time I was in elementary school, I noticed that my father was friendly with other men's wives. He had a tendency to be too friendly. We would go out to eat at a restaurant, and he would be flirtatious with our waitperson. Instead of being impressive to his sons, as if it was 'a guy thing,' we were deeply disturbed. It was one of those things we never talked about. We could see what this did to our mother; it broke her. Over the years, I watched my father being nice, too nice, to other womenand not very nice to my own mother. I did not know enough to put words to this issue, but I was noticing nonetheless.
Over time, my mother would make comments regarding my father's behavior. Her strategy to remain connected or to 'feel' attached to my father was to accuse, to become embittered, and to become negative. Now as I look back, this family system was modeled for my brothers and me; our lives were affected by my father's addiction, which was all about relationships. The majority of the time, these relationships appeared to take the form of emotional girlfriends, but some of these did move into the realm of the physical. He used these relationships to medicate himself. I have learned that addictions can take a variety of forms. For my dad, it was emotional girlfriends. It seemed that wherever we lived, wherever we moved, whatever he did, he had a girlfriend. Even in the latter years of his life, he found ways to be attached to other women and not my mother. This was incredibly painful for her. She became a desperate woman.
I grew up in a home that embraced the masculine. I only have brothers, and the way my father treated my mother made me believe that women's thoughts and ideas were of little significance. When I first married, it became painfully apparent that I had few skills or little understanding of the ways that women think and make sense of their world. Ultimately, I chose a path similar to the one that had been so graphically modeled by my father. I too found my marriage more difficult than I had hoped. I felt unskilled and alone. The answer to my problem seemed familiar. The solution seemed obvious; I would remain emotionally unattached from my wife and make emotional attachments to other women. I also made a promise to myself that these relationships would never become physical, as if that made it acceptable. My addictive behavior, which took the form of medicating my pain by emotionally using women, exhausted me and my wife, and took the life out of our marriage. It was also incredibly selfish and unkind to others. Our lives were filled with doubt; my wife did not trust me, and our marriage was void of any type of healthy connection. I violated the covenant with my wife; I committed adultery. The cost of not dealing with the pain of my early years, of choosing to medicate the pain instead of working toward healing, of choosing to follow a familiar path, cost me more than I wanted to pay, took me places I eventually did not want to go, and kept me longer than I wanted to stay.
By the mercy of God, his healing power in our lives and some close friends, I am grateful to say my life and marriage have been restored. The path God led me on was long. It was hard, lonely and often discouragingand yet remarkably right. His path of recovery, his restoration has brought life.
H i, my name is Jessica. I am thirty-one now. I was fifteen years old when my dad left our family. At first he told us that things were just 'not working' with my mom. A few months later, we learned that he had been having extramarital affairs for the last five years. More and more lies were uncovered as time passed. I was shocked and horrified. On the surface we were a model family. Later I realized that was a front, behind which there was very little communication and a consistent avoidance of conflict.
There was an emphasis on social skill, status and external beauty. My father was fed by the attention and affirmation of other women. He lost his mother at the age of twelve and had to grow up really fast to help raise his six siblings. The absence of her in his life created a void, leading to what I now understand as sexual addiction in my father's life.
His behavior seemed to deteriorate even more after he moved out. He drank more and was in a number of relationships with women, one of which led to a marriage lasting just six months. I always hoped for the reconciliation of my parents. Unfortunately, his behavior drove their relationship to its end.
As a result of the breakdown of my family, the things I thought would be constant in my life experience had fallen apart. My own father had threatened to exit our lives altogether with a move to another state if we would not accept his current mistress. I was accommodating to save myself from further loss. What a mess!
The tendency for me to please people and live in a performance-oriented fashion was hard to quit. I felt as though I would be abandoned if I did not meet another person's expectations. If my own father left us, what would keep anyone else from leaving me? Relationships were very objectifiedthey served a purpose rather than yielding true connection and intimacy.
In telling my story, I must include that a few years later my older sister and I connected with God and became Christians. This was very helpful as it grounded me and began the healing of my heart. Looking back, I can see ways my father's issues bled through in the rest of our lives before there was an obvious problem. I remember my father commenting on my appearance regularly. This was especially uncomfortable during puberty and devastating when the comments were made in the presence of others. He would also remark about the state of other people . . . weight gained, weight lost, wealth, and the accumulation or loss of things.
I remember him flirting with other women. I remember times when he was tipsy and he would 'inadvertently' touch my rear. I remember my relationship with Dad not really being relational because it was more important that he be productive.
For instance, any conversation with my father during a ride up a chairlift would be competing with Time magazine, sips of peppermint schnapps and classical music blaring through his headphones. Dinner was consumed while watching Jeopardy, and afternoons were spent with basketball games on the TV while my dad read the newspaper and shined shoes: multitasking at its best, relationships at their worst. I was something else to check off on a list.
I recall times my mom and dad would be very tense but nothing was processed: just a lot of clear messages beneath the surface, but rarely anything verbalized. I learned that art of behaving accordingly.
All this drastically affected my relationships with men and my view of them. I had the tendency to lose myself in what a man wanted me to be in order to get the security and acceptance I was so hungry for. I felt a conflicted desire: On one hand I wanted to reject them before they could reject me, but on the other I had an overwhelming need for their approval. My pattern was to continually date, but only for short periods of a few weeks or months. I was not promiscuous. The relationships involved kissing and some exploration. I was determined not to be used, but I did recognize the power of sexuality in a relationship.
I was aghast when early in high school my dad suggested that I get on the Pill (I had been dating a guy for just two weeks!). Now I can see it was a reflection of his promiscuous lifestyle being projected onto me. Though I was shocked at the time, his continuous offers led to my having premarital sex in a future relationship. I certainly carried the performance-oriented dynamic into my sexual life. I was supposed to be good at it and a source of pleasure, but my enjoyment really didn't matter. Sadly, it took a few years into my ten-year marriage for me to really experience the mutual satisfaction of a sexual relationship. What a difference.
Thankfully, there were a few great male leaders in my life who healed my warped perspective. One of them is my wonderful husband. He endured a lot of undeserved mistrust and held steady when I attempted to drive him away. The others were the pastors at my church. What a contrast to experience being valued unconditionally and to be taught life principles that they showed by example. I was very protective and resisted being vulnerable at first. It was so inviting, thoughthe freedom, the life and the healing. It was a process, but not an easy one. I had to rework a lot of patterns in my thinking, feelings and behavior. And a lot of the emotions I had worked so hard to shut down and avoid had to be let out, too. Parts of my heart were resurrected, and the lenses through which I viewed the world greatly transformed! It was very hard at first, and my inclination was to run from the pain rather than moving through it to healing. But as I took each step, I was more eager to take the next because of the level of freedom and wholeness that I began to experience. Also, the depth and richness to relationships just kept getting better.
©2007. Doug Weiss, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Beyond the Bedroom-Healing for Adult Children of Sex Addicts . No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street , Deerfield Beach , FL 33442.