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Despite the various information found in recovery books and websites, we partners often have questions that remain unanswered, that perhaps someone recovering from sex addiction may have a clearer perspective on. We post a collection of questions here reflecting different aspects of sex addiction and recovery. They are answered by sincere, dedicated men in recovery who gift their time as a living amends.

Ask a Sex Addict/Compulsive (SAC)Questions:

My boyfriend has a porn addiction that started when he was 8; he is now almost 20. He told me about it before we started dating and I still love him and support him. I don't think of him any less. He is trying to stop but has recently relapsed.
I just have one simple question, as his partner, what all can I do to help him to the road of recovery?

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This may be a simple question but the answer is quite complex. First, though I want to say there is sincerity and empathy evident in your approach towards the challenges that your boyfriend is facing. These qualities in themselves are very encouraging for those who are trying to break the chains of addiction. Know that our heart goes out to you- watching a loved one sink back into their addiction can be devastating as one faces one's powerlessness over that person's choices. Care has to be taken to avoid veering dangerously close to the fine-line into co-dependency, which I would like to discuss here.

If you were to become the primary impetus and reason for him to work through his difficulties, there could be a transference of responsibility for the recovery onto you, which would not be helpful for him and would be detrimental to you and your relationship. I believe that his true recovery will depend entirely upon his own genuine desire to rid himself of this disease. You cannot love it out of him although it is probably well-intentioned on your part to try doing so. Your care and sincerity can be very useful to him after he has broken his chains and he is feeling vulnerable and broken.

Take care not to become his manager, counselor and his police or he may perceive that he is doing recovery for you, to please you and to keep you with him. But when his addiction flares and is trying to activate again (as is likely when he's under stress)  he will be avoiding you and dodging your good intentions, even blaming you, like a cruel game. This can deeply damage your relationship, be hurtful to you and will not require him to be the one responsible for his own recovery, so I believe that it may be wise to avoid putting yourself in that position as soon as possible.

What actions I would recommend is to assist him in socializing and being out in the world. Gently help him to avoid being isolated, especially alone with his computer. If he truly wants this disease out of his life then he should seriously limit the use of his computer and devices. Being away from them entirely for 90 days would be the best! (although, again, be careful that you don't take it on yourself to enforce this suggestion or you'll be putting yourself in the "cop" role). And during this time of abstinence from his tech gadgets, he could generate new behaviors as outlined in the Posarc section: posarc.com/recovery/info-for-sex-addicts in the area about "Top Line Behaviors". Maybe you could suggest that you both watch the video clips in the Posarc section: posarc.com/resources/media/videos especially the 6-part series farther down titled "Your Brain on Porn". These rather fun, educational clips outline the science behind the addiction and explain the approaches to successfully avoiding it.

Since your boyfriend has likely experienced continuous use since he was very young, his brain's neural network has become wired for this stimulus and will not welcome the elimination of it. Pornography compulsion/addiction is deeply rooted in the physiological and emotional systems. Porn use affects how we relate to one another and how one works through the stresses and challenges of everyday life. Porn acts as both a numbing agent to dull outside stress and also acts as an internal stimulant and can generate the feel-good aspects of everyday life (being chosen; to be victorious; experiencing sexual intimacy) although they are contrived through porn use. There are extremely powerful, endogenous drugs being released into his system from using porn and this creates an actual drug addiction, and the scenario therefore needs to be treated as such. It is said that internet porn addiction is one of the most difficult addictions to overcome and by saying this I intend to stress the severity of this very common but yet widely unknown addiction which has become a pandemic that is ravaging our society.

Please encourage your boyfriend to get professional help and also, there are many healing programs already established for this disease. A trained therapist plus attending a SA 12-Step meetings is a good way to begin (see our Resource pages for more info). There is a way into recovery but there are many more ways to fail. And most guys feel that they can do this alone. Not needing or asking for help or direction is in our nature, but after we attempt to quit on our own and fail, often over.. and over again, there can be devastating effects to our psyche and self-esteem. We can end up adopting a false-belief that we are incapable of stopping and that we should quit trying simply to avoid the depression and become discouraged. What's worse here is that this bad-feeling of low self-esteem from failing to quit actually triggers the 'need' or the craving to plug back into porn, simply as a way to attain the drugs that will make us feel good again. This is a deeply destructive cycle and not one to toy with. He is lucky to have you at his side to help him through this most challenging of addictions. Be patient with him and get help with your own feelings around his addiction so your stress about this doesn't end up unconsciously hurting his efforts at recovery. No one means for that to happen but the addict new to recovery is facing plenty of his own difficulties so if possible, let him know you're there for him but also take good care of yourself as well. Active addiction has a way of sending everyone near into the chaos, so please make sure you're on terra firma yourself. If you need more help, reach out for a coaching session here and avail yourself of help specific to your personal concerns.

We wish you hope, strength and a future of love and connection.
Sincerely, the team at Posarc

Have your deceptions caused you to not believe others so easily?

After my own extended duration of feeling 'possessed' with addiction, and the extent that I was hiding and protecting it, I realize how easy that was for me. Addiction generates an incredible wall of denial around it. I believe that I have a fairly good and honorable nature but this compulsion overtook that nature entirely. I was obviously lying to my wife but I was even lying to my addiction therapist and 12-Step groups, thinking that if I could convince others that I was doing good then I must be. But the biggest lie was to myself. If I could honestly believe that I was doing OK and getting away with lying to myself then the split within me was beyond my control. Luckily I was not that good of a liar and was tripped up by my own convoluted layers of excuses that eventually became too complicated and unsubstantiated, so just dissolved, leaving me exposed and honest. So, yes, my own ability to deceive even loved ones (who knew me really well!) caused me to wonder how often, and how deep other people's deceptions might be. All in all, not a great way to live. Today, living a transparent life has allowed me to expect that same level of honesty from others I interact with.

Assuming that you were hiding your addiction from your wife (or partner) was there ever a time before your discovery that you felt compelled to come out with it, to tell the truth?

Yes. And I was, of course, also minimizing the full implications and magnitude of my behaviors. I thought that opening up and being honest about my 'little secret' would just be a simple discussion, that she would laugh at me like I was just a silly boy. Her laughter, compassion and understanding would then free me of the deep shame that I felt. The weight of shame was wrapping around me like lead, dragging me to the ocean floor. I instinctually knew that this act of honesty would result in an explosion so I kept it buried, thinking that I should just stop acting out instead of voluntarily starting a big fight. But instead of quitting, the compulsion only grew, as they seem to do.

Why do addicts seem so cavalier about whether the relationship survives or not? He does not seem to care unless he's being kicked out or I threaten to break up with him.

Addicts who are not yet in recovery mode, or who are in the early phases of recovery, are often not yet able to be reflective and to consider the feelings and emotions of their partner. Addicts often feel more punished by being denied their 'drug' by the partner than feel empathy and guilt for their destructive behaviors.
It is said that the active addict's dream is to live a life without consequences. This is common before recovery and in the early phase of recovery and/but the addict should mature out of that thinking as they progress with their recovery process.
When the addict realizes his partner is dead serious about kicking him out/ ending the relationship, this is often the consequence the addict needs to 'hit bottom'.
If he suspects you are just making empty threats, his allegiance will still be to his drug, over you. That's the fierce nature of addiction. Therefore, don't threaten to end the relationship unless you mean it, and if you mean it, enforce it.
A Posarc coach can help you find the courage and strength to hold that line with the sex addict/ compulsive (SAC) , knowing how difficult that action is for you.
Then, if and when the addict decides to enter recovery, you'll actually know you have someone who values you/ the coupleship enough to face considerable pain and fear in giving up their drug.
If they do not, you can know it wasn't time yet for him to have hit bottom, and you will know you have certainly done all you could do.
In plain English, you don't have much if your addict isn't willing to quit his drug and participate in active recovery. What you'll have is an active addict and you yourself will likely be miserable, resentful and angry.

Posarc sidenote: Eventually, you might hit bottom yourself in tolerating behavior that is intolerable and that itself may galvanize you to issue an ultimatum.
First, though, before issuing ultimatums, we urge you to do your own healing work on yourself and root out any of your own possibly deep-seated traumas and patterns so that you don't end up replicating another relationship marred by addiction in the future. And even more importantly, do your own healing work so you don't carry bitterness forward whether you get into another relationship or not. Being with an active addict who chooses their drug over you can be devastating and create long-lasting trauma in the partner, so we really stress doing the healing work on yourself. We stand ready to assist you with that.

Why don't addicts ask us partners questions to better understand what we have been through and what we now currently need from them? They seem to have no interest in anything but themselves.

This seems to be a sad and unfortunate aspect of sex addiction, those addicted tend to have an absence of empathy. And this lack of empathy is essentially one of the main qualities that Recovery helps develop in a recovering addict.

What appears to be a common, initial feeling of a sex addict/compulsive (SAC) is a deep, incapacitating shame, which is different than guilt. Having to feel shame tends to be avoided at all costs. It's as if we can't process it (yet, anyway) so shame isn't sincerely experienced.

I symbolized the feeling of shame as a automotive airbag. Whenever I detected a dangerous event ( i.e. something shameful is mentioned by someone, especially my partner whom I hurt) the airbag instantly inflates itself, taking up all available space in the room and all around me, making it impossible for me to move forward, or to move at all. It was actually a self-defensive maneuver, even though it was a dire hindrance to my recovery. I needed to process my guilt and responsibility in order to deflate the paralyzing effects of shame before I could move ahead in my recovery. I am only now, after a year, able to begin feeling empathy and to actually be able to work towards healing those that I've hurt.

Please describe a genuine apology/amends-making. His apologies seem feeble and he does not seem in the least bit sorry that he hurt me, he seems sorry that he got caught.

The amends matter is a complex scenario, since, for one thing, it is often tied to forgiveness. First off, there can be no forgiveness until you are ready to offer that, if ever. Most sex addicts/compulsives (SACs) are expecting immediate forgiveness of their actions to alleviate the shame they feel. And that is not as easy as a "Sorry, but I broke your favorite vase" sort of thing. It is my belief that a true apology, not forgiveness, is a long process that is a by-product of the SAC becoming really honest in Recovery. What is initially important for the SAC, as part of their Recovery process, is to take responsibility for what they've done (not to defend or deny it). This initial act cracks open the defenses that a SAC may harbor and opens them to becoming humble. True empathy emerging in a SAC is a result of their understanding of the painful wounds that their actions have brought to you and the relationship.

Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., who is notably the godfather of sex addiction recovery/ treatment, has a great series of workbooks designed to facilitate the addicts' Recovery from start to finish. In one of the books is a lengthy chapter called "Emotional Restitution" which has many exercises that piece together the components of being responsible for and acknowledging our actions and deeds. This set of workbooks comprise an elaborate program for healing from this addiction and carries a very high success rate when worked through honestly and thoroughly. These books can be supplied by a CSAT trained therapist, who should also be supervising the addict's ongoing treatment program.

Posarc sidenote: I, Lili, have found that the healing experienced by the partner of the sex addict (PoSA) when the addict makes his Emotional Restitution to her can often be significant. This can help the PoSA move more easily and quickly into being able to visualize the relationship's repair and eventual restoration, as well as lead to the beginnings of rebuilding trust once again.

It's almost as if the relationship can get “stuck” until the PoSA feels some measure of acknowledgement of all that's occurred in the damage department.

That said, it is extremely important to note that if the SAC is not willing to enter recovery, the PoSA can still go a long way towards releasing herself from whatever he is or isn't willing to do, and get on with healing herself without his restitution.

My fiancée is "supposedly" in his sixth month of recovery from pornography addiction and asks me to trust him and to stop being so suspicious. I would like to, but it feels too early. How can I know that he's really doing the work of recovery and not just 'warming a seat' at his 12-Step meetings?

I believe that a sure sign of someone who is "doing the work" would be obvious in their basic behavior and how much they are changing emotionally, socially, and maybe even spiritually. Sex related addictions are a result of relational and intimacy disorders, so how the addict related to people and situations in the past should start to show signs of change in a positive direction, within the new recovery paradigm.

This transition is often very dynamic, observable not only to you and others who associate with him, but to himself as well.

My world turned inside out and very little seems the same. I simply do not act and react the same as a year ago, especially 2 years ago. And I hope these changes will continue as I work through the breakthroughs that Recovery brings.

I believe that a therapist who is trained in sex addiction treatment is required for a solid recovery. Please understand that 12-Step is not the same as therapy, 12-Step groups are a valuable support system but in my opinion do not provide as deep or intense a level of self-examination work that is needed to break through the many emotional blocks, trauma responses and avoidance behaviors that generally mark this addiction.

If your fiancée is currently not in therapy and only going to 12-Step, I would suggest that you proceed with caution. I suggest reading the "What to Expect" page under PoSA's Recovery tab.

I keep reading about the shame and self-loathing of the addict. I am not seeing NONE of that! He seems proud of himself. In fact, he accuses me of being ridiculously sexually limited because I do not want to act out like he does. I am out of here, this one has no shame. What gives?

These definitely are not common characteristics of someone in recovery, I am sorry to say. The fundamental first steps of recovery are directly avoided here, which are; knowing that you have a problem and need help with it. That takes a lot of humility.

What your partner seems to be attempting to do is to control you and your behavior, rather than admit his own may be damaging to you. You seem to have healthy instincts and emotions of anger and distance. I encourage you to maintain your own safety first and foremost.

If you decide for whatever reason to stay with him, insist that he work with a certified sex addiction therapist weekly, as they can help motivate him to take recovery at a much deeper level, one that actually will get at the shame core inside this addiction.

I’m trying to get my husband to see that he has a problem with pornography; he denies that. I can’t tell him that I’ve checked his computer and see that he’s on porn sites 4-5 times a week. By ‘spying’ on him I’ve painted myself in a corner. How would you suggest that I get through to him, without him just turning it around and calling me a ‘Snoop’?

There are two different and very important issues here: The first is knowing that your husband is pursuing activities that are damaging the relationship, and is lying about it. This obviously doesn't portend well for what is meant to be a life-long relationship! This is clearly a very important issue that must be addressed and how it is approached may affect the outcome. I would suggest some supportive counsel from the Posarc staff on how to frame this issue productively, so as to minimize damaging approaches that might impair his really hearing you.

The second issue which you bring up is the aspect of protecting your image from being a snoop; My opinion is that this issue has far less importance, weighed against your husband's deceitful behaviors, although I see the vague similarities of deceit.

The mind of an addict will use whatever leverage it can find to pry the pressure of guilt off of themselves and shift it onto their partners. I would first take care in ensuring your own security, both emotional and physical. Making him see his hurtful actions isn't usually productive. Best to arrange the encounter so it allows him to be able to see the damages of his actions. The first is perceived as an attack to someone with an addiction which will likely turn the encounter ugly; and the second approach is helping bring them towards a realization. Obviously the second approach would be more desirable but your anger and confusion must first be dealt with before you approach him. This may work for disciplining a child but not work well with the wily mind of an addict. I would again suggest supportive counsel from the Posarc staff who are more knowledgeable in these proactive steps you can take to affect the best possible outcome.

What would you most want to say to spouses or partners that they might need to know?

This would probably be answered differently by every recovering addict but I can only speak for myself. I would first say that what was very difficult for my own recovery process was processing shame.

The field of sex addiction treatment is rather new, and I didn't find much official help and understanding of shame and how this affects recovery. Shame is different than guilt. My shame fueled the spiral of my compulsions and, despite however beautiful and magnificent my partner was, the acting out behavior had nothing to do with her. I was acting out separately from all her positive influences in my life.

The next issue that I want to mention is that, depending on the severity of the compulsion/addiction of your partner, that you write out an evaluation of your relationship. Only you can decide if he is worth hanging in there for.

Before you buckle yourself into what often turns into a rollercoaster ride through hell for many couples, that you actually write out on a sheet of paper a detailed list of the many ways that you feel love for and from your lover. Basically anything that is good and worthwhile.

This is valuable to see because, assuming that this is a long, healthy list, it may be good to revisit down the road when the challenges may become difficult and you begin to question your reasoning and choices.

It's not a list to be used to “bypass” the hurts he caused you. It's to help you get a clearer view of everything in the relationship, not just the 'bad stuff'. Of course, if you end up with a very short list, then that's something to look at, as well. You might then want to reconsider why you'd want to stay.

Even though most of the construction guys that my boyfriend works with are married, they still go to strip clubs once in a while. My boyfriend has gone before but it really upset me! I know that it would anger him if I were doing that. He feels embarrassed to tell them that he "can't go" because of me, so we argue about that. His co-workers also send him porn links that I've seen on his phone. I don't know if he's looking at those but I sure hope not! Are there any guys out there who don't do this? I'm really starting to lose hope when I look around. My single girlfriends do not have very good news to report on this front, either. I don't want to leave him only to find 'more of same' with someone else.

The burst of internet porn has brought a lot of harm to many relationships. Strip clubs have been around for quite a while, in fact, now they're called 'Gentlemen's Clubs'. That doesn't make them any less threatening than porn, in fact it's likely more so, because those are real nude women touching and flirting with them, compared to the two-dimensional images and videos on a screen. Either way, it can be detrimental for many relationships.

One aspect of this disease of compulsive lusting is that it does not only affect the uneducated, manual-labor types. In fact, many upper income professions are plagued with rampant sex addiction, according to studies. One difference may be that the more educated men (and women) may be more adept at concealing their behaviors than the basic construction guy, but either way, sex addiction is usually hidden from partners.

If I were trying to determine which men (or women) may be more prone to lust addiction I would begin with becoming aware of how whether (and how well) they communicate their feelings with others. Someone removed from their emotions tends to have a very compartmentalized brain, and heart, even though this may be a well worn character trait, like the "stiff upper lip" syndrome, but it still does not bode well for emotional bonding. These men most likely arrive with a sizable piece of emotional baggage that is full of unprocessed emotions. These tend to create many psychological issues, not only related to sexuality, but of course, sexuality is very linked to intimacy. Take into account that cultural differences also need to be considered when noticing another's expressiveness. For example, in some countries, it's common to express oneself passionately, or forthrightly, whereas in others, that might be considered rude.

Someone who is more emotionally expressive, not necessarily effeminate but simply able to acknowledge feelings, may be less prone to shut down important parts of themselves, and more able to process important experiences and stresses which can otherwise become locked up and unmanageable. And be aware, some SACs are masterful at appearing emotionally connected to themselves and others, and can be rather good chameleons, often saying just the right thing to appeal to a prospective date. As you can see, you have to educate yourself about discerning who's who out there. Posarc's section called “Dating Again” contains excellent signposts and advice for your selection process.

The books I’ve read for partners (or wives) of sex addicts claim that he did not act out because he was unhappy, with either our sex life (which I always thought was good) and/or my appearance. Therefore, they suggest that I keep the focus on my own healing and not those other things. As a sex addict yourself, do you agree with this?

Answer: Yes, this is generally true. The basic nature of this addiction is that it is an intimacy disorder, or, how we attach to others, starting in early life. In the beginning of my relationship with my girlfriend, I would see my partner as a source of feelings of joy, wonder, erotic and sensual delights, perceiving her almost as an Aphrodite or Venus figure. After her discovery of my addiction and the resulting arguments and turmoil, she would then be perceived by my psyche as someone who brings me deep despair and trauma, almost like a Medusa. This obviously does not bode well for romance.

Then, the addict who isn't in recovery would potentially be lured to where the “positive” projections (joy, wonder, sensual delight, etc.) are still alive for him, like internet porn, strip clubs, etc.

It is the addict’s responsibility alone to undergo their own transformation of their relational disorder, which is very difficult and should be worked under the direction of a trained professional. For ease of explanation, we could say his healing has to happen in two parts: stopping the acting out, and then rebuilding a healthy sense of self and intimacy which his relationship with you will be an extension of.

Until that happens, it's best not to try and read meaning into his actions. Interpreting his seeking out others as a statement on your own unattractiveness not only damages you terribly, but it also signals a lack of understanding about sex addiction. It truly is not about you! I like to say, you could be the most beautiful and sexiest woman in the world, but if you're with a sex addict, it's only a matter of time before he compulsively seeks his high elsewhere because of what I've described about projections above. Try to feed yourself positive self-talk and take some time to familiarize yourself with “Healing Path for Partners” under PoSA Recovery.

"How does obsessive pornography behavior get started?"

I'm sure that question is answered differently from everyone. There seems to be some childhood anxiety involved. Often abuse and trauma too.

If I look at how this obsession appears to me, I can imagine a teenager who's starting puberty and feeling those overwhelming, hormonal impulses we know as crushes.

Suppose that this is a guy who has a crush on a beautiful cheerleader at school but she does not choose to notice him. He is now confronted with taking on personal growth challenges to develop his social skills and appearance in the world. Maybe he wants to become athletic and intelligent. These efforts may be very challenging, ultimately rewarding and could eventually lead a young man through many years of healthy growth through an archetypal "Hero's Journey".

Now take that same kid, full of those overwhelming hormones, etc. who is sitting at a computer and falling head-first into online porn. His mind doesn't differentiate between what it's seeing, feeling and the stark reality of his undeveloped nature. What the mind can see and feel is as real as anything.

Once online, this boy may feel like he just achieved ultimate intimacy and acceptance from the cheerleader of his dreams, and many other (seemingly endless) sexual triumphs. So what happens to his naturally driven desire to develop?

Odds are that he may just dismiss the whole challenge (to grow up). If guys get truly hooked on pornography they would likely soon tire of whomever they had a real-life crush on to opt-out for the almost infinite opportunity available from the 'girls online' who are always there; who are without any personal needs; who are always open and accepting of him; and without any effort on his part whatsoever! He may not develop himself emotionally in a natural way, if ever at all.

I fear that humanity may have a generation or two of these underdeveloped people, some may even eventually assume leadership positions in society. That's a frightening thought.

"How do you explain how you become so cold and disconnected to your wife?"

Well I'm not married but I do have a girlfriend that I drove insane. What she could never understand was that my behavior of looking at porn never had anything to do with her. It was never (knowingly) used as a way to avoid her or to distract myself from her. This may be different for other guys, I don't know.

Before recovery I couldn't get away from feeling like my girlfriend was attacking me and was always angry! The arguing and negativity from our fighting actually made me feel like I needed the good feeling of the porn buzz to make me feel better! That was so twisted!

Now I'm starting to see everything from a different perspective. It's more like the self-identifying part of me has changed, or is changing. I actually feel different about life now that the giant shadows of my fears and failures have changed into much smaller and more manageable issues. Dealing with real life isn't really that difficult anymore.

Now I can see my girlfriend differently too! At least I'm starting to. I can feel her pain and feel her love. I haven't felt love for a real long time, not because she wasn't loving me and caring about me, but because I couldn't feel myself! I was not facing my challenges in life and my replacement was a drug that covered-up those hard aspects. The porn buzz made them just go-away! But of course they didn't go away, they just got bigger and much worse. So I covered them up again and again until I couldn't feel anything. It was like being drunk or drugged without the staggering, masking the pain…and the love.

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