There is hope for recovery from sexual addiction. Recovery is a process that occurs over time. Recovery and healing are not one-time events. Sexual addiction takes many years to develop and will require time for genuine health to be restored. It’s much like losing weight: it takes time to gain weight and will take time to lose it.

Many adjustments will need to be made in order to overcome sexual addiction. Changes include giving up sexual fantasizing and flirting, changes in the way one dresses, getting Internet filters, joining support groups and entering therapy.

Honesty is the foundation to recovery for any addict, and it's no different for the sexual addict. Healing does not occur if secrets are kept. Recovery will require a willingness and commitment to go the distance. The quality of recovery is directly related to how much effort is made to get well. We can never underestimate the power of prayer in the healing of addictions.

The five components to treatment

According to Mark Laaser,1 author and recovering sex addict, there are five components to treatment and recovery for sexual addiction. They are:

  1. Stopping sexual behaviours
  2. Stopping rituals
  3. Stopping fantasy
  4. Healing despair
  5. Healing shame.
  1. Stopping sexual behaviours

Admitting there's a problem is the first step to coming out of denial. Once the addiction is admitted, the next step is to stop addictive behaviours. Just as an alcoholic must stop drinking alcohol, a sex addict must stop all sexual acting out behaviours. Sometimes these behaviours are obvious, like no more sex outside of marriage, but sometimes they are subtle, like flirting. Again, this is where honesty with self and others is vital.

Recovery support is essential, because trying to stop these behaviours without the support of God and others is nearly impossible. Addicts learn from other recovering addicts what healthy sexual behaviour is and what it is not. Without help to address the underlying causes that drive sexual addiction, sexual addicts are only able to stop acting out temporarily, and that only because of an enormous amount of willpower. Eventually willpower alone is not enough. Unable to withstand the mental obsession and physical temptations, addicts return to their addictive sexual behaviour. This cycle of control and failure to control is a classic characteristic of addiction.

Help and support can be found in many ways. Recovery support can include support groups, like Sex Addicts Anonymous, recovery sponsors, accountability partners, in- or outpatient treatment programs, counselling, medical help and Internet filters.

2. Stopping rituals

All addictions have rituals. Rituals can be anything from thoughts to behaviours that eventually lead to sexual acting out. Addicts need to identify their personal rituals so that they can intercept the addictive cycle before they act out. Rituals could include things like fantasizing about having sex with a co-worker, imagining what your neighbour looks like without clothes on, arranging your schedule for some alone time with your computer so you can log in to porn sites uninterrupted.

3. Stopping fantasy

Sexual fantasy is at the heart of sexual addiction and alone is enough to trigger sexual stimulation. Fantasy has a powerful grip on the mind, which does not respond to commands to "stop." The more effort made to stop fantasizing, the stronger the fantasy gets. So how does a sex addict stop fantasizing? First, by understanding that the fantasies are created for a reason: they provide emotional escape and reduce stress. If an addict is to break free from fantasizing, they must uncover the reasons why they have to "escape."

4. Healing despair

Most sex addicts feel they are beyond redemption, that their sexual behaviour is so appalling that forgiveness is impossible. Self hatred leads to despair and sometimes even to suicide. The journey to despair occurs in isolation, but recovery from despair takes place in a safe and loving community. This means the sex addict faces a huge inner conflict to either stay in hiding or come out of hiding.

Sexual acting out strengthens despair, leading an addict into greater isolation and shame. It seems counterintuitive and yet it is a spiritual truth. This is why support groups for sex addicts are vital. As a sex addict learns that others have gone down the same road and have begun to heal, despair ebbs away and hope returns.

5. Healing shame

There is healthy shame and unhealthy shame. Healthy shame occurs when I have done something wrong, like lying, and I feel shame about it. My feeling of shame tells me I have sinned and that I need to deal with it through confession and repentance.

Unhealthy shame occurs when I have done something wrong and feel like a bad person. Unhealthy shame tells me I am worthless, I am no good. Unhealthy shame attacks my value as a person; healthy shame judges my behaviour, not my person, as right or wrong. I may have done something bad, but that doesn’t make me a bad person.

Addicts have to learn how to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy shame. Engaging in shameful behaviour does not mean that an addict is a shameful person, unworthy of love. It means that they have engaged in unhealthy behaviour that can be forgiven.

Michele Langmead was a registered counsellor with Focus on the Family Canada at the time of publication. .

1 Laaser, Mark R. Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction, 1992, p.150. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA.

© 2010 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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