Is Sex Addiction spoiling your relationship?

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Is sex addiction spoiling your relationship?

Stop that sniggering at the back... sex addiction is a serious neurological disorder. People who suffer have strong sexually arousing fantasies, urges or behaviours that persist for six months or more. These will be causing them distress and problems in their professional, social, and personal life.

And NO, it isn’t just men who are sex addicts.

Women suffer too. In fact, research suggests around about 10% of the adult population have this issue.

So what is a sex addict and if you think your relationship is being threatened by your or your partner’s sex addiction, what can you do? Dad.Info asked Yasuhiro Kotera, Academic Lead in Counselling, Psychotherapy & Psychology at the University of Derby Online Learning for some answers:

Hello Yasu. Welcome to Dad.Info.

Are you a Dad?

I am a dad of 4; 1 four-year-old boy and newly born triplets (identical twin boys and a girl). Though it’s been really challenging to take care of them (especially triplets being premature), these four lives are the best things in mine and my wife’s lives. We are now very busy finding some rhythm. Before triplets, my son and I had about an hour of playing time a day: it could be flying a toy helicopter, kicking a ball, or simply running. While my wife was pregnant, I’ve asked around parents of triplets about their parental experience and learned that having one on one time with each child is important, so I’m planning to do that. 

Blimey, Good Luck with the new additions to your family!

What led you to study sex addiction?

Sex is not often discussed but is an important part of human life. I was really aware that how people see sex is really different cross-culturally. For example, in the Netherlands where my wife is from, people talk about sex more openly, and there is no shame in it. On the other hand, in Japan where I am from, I don’t think sex is often publicly talked about (though new generations may be more open to it). Coming to the UK, I met my colleague, Christine Rhodes, who has worked with sex addicts, so we have decided to research this area. 

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What does it mean, to be addicted to sex?

Sex addiction is predominantly a neurological disorder characterised by strong sexually arousing fantasies, urges or behaviours that persist for six months or more, which causes distress and impairment in the professional, social, and personal life of the individual, despite repeated attempts to reduce these behaviours. Who is a sex addict? Is it just men? No, there are many female addicts as well. Because of its definition being debated, there is some variance but about 10% of the adult population (male-female combined) is considered to have this addiction.

Many of us aren't as evolved as you and still might giggle at the idea of sex addiction? Why is it no laughing matter?

Sex addiction can lead to serious consequences including severe depression and suicide. As you implied in your question, a sense of shame is also often identified among sex addicts and because they fail to stop or reduce sexual behaviours, low self-esteem and hopelessness can be seen as well. 

If they are in a relationship, this addiction can also affect them negatively, often leading to a breakup, or divorce if married. It can ultimately destroy a family.  Some people cannot function well in their job because of their obsession with sexual behaviours, leading to quitting their job.

Along with that, financial consequences can be present as well. 

What happens to someone to make them a sex addict?

Research exploring the causes of sex addiction often report that adverse childhood experience (i.e. trauma) can lead to sex addiction. Almost all sex addicts (97%) reported exposure to traumatic childhood experience. 

Attachment style refers to an individual’s response to levels of anxiety and avoidance in relationships.

Sex addiction is also known as a ‘pathological attachment disorder’, sex addicts tend to have dysfunctional attachment style. The majority of sex addicts have either anxious or avoidant attachment style. That means they live with high anxiety fostered by the fear that their partner might leave and suffer avoidant attachment i.e. they avoid emotionally engaging in a relationship in order to protect themselves from being hurt or other intense emotions.

When someone develops anxious attachment, they need something to avoid that anxiety. Sex is then often used to soothe that anxiety. The reason why many scientific papers report the relevance of trauma may be that, through trauma, individuals develop anxious attachment, leading to sex addiction. 

How do sex addicts explain their problems to their family, their (older) children?

What is unique about sex addiction is that addicts often cannot tell others about it because it can contradict with their contract of marriage or relationship. This makes it hard to identify this addiction, and often makes treatment difficult.   I recommend they first talk to a therapist or other professionals as telling family can be difficult.  If they are in a situation where they really need to tell someone (e.g. to explain some of their behaviours), seeking advice is best. It needs to be done in a safe manner so as not to hurt their loved ones.

How can I support my partner if I think they are a sex addict?

It may be that they use sexual behaviours to soothe anxious attachment using sex to feel safe in a relationship. If possible, openly discuss sex addiction with them, because a sense of shame can be detrimental to a relationship, and their recovery. Pay attention to attachment style in your relationship.

How do you and your partner acknowledge each other? How much are you (both of you) willing to experience deep emotions in your relationship, and talk about them? Creating a safe relationship can be a step forward. 

If left untreated, how does it harm the addict?

Sex addicts may suffer from hopelessness, low self-esteem, depression, which could lead to suicide. From this perspective, being able to talk about it with someone is helpful. If you don’t know what is happening, you can never treat it. Knowing it and being able to acknowledge it can lead to better outcomes.

Thanks Yasu.

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If you need to talk about any of these issues further then do contact a professional, consider talking to your GP or access Relate’s Live Chat page for support.

About the Author

Yasu is a Neuro-Linguistic Programming trainer and coach, he began his career in Japan, strengthening psychological resources for workers. During this practice, Yasu became more interested in how mental distress was constructed, so decided to study it. During his Master’s studies for Counselling Psychology in San Francisco, Yasu started to work at a counselling centre and psychiatric unit, treating clients who suffered from diverse symptoms such as PTSD, depression, schizophrenia and some types of addiction. Since moving to the UK, Yasu has become an Accredited Psychotherapist with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), he sees clients online from Japan and the US. At the University of Derby Online Learning, Yasu manages Counselling and Psychotherapy programmes. 

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Guest Tuesday, 17 September 2019

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