Sex Addiction: an overview for spouses and friends of the addict

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Noryne Mascarella has written the best summary of sex addiction for spouses that I have read. She works with spouses, and her essay is written to help them understand sex addiction, and answer some of their questions. I think this is a great article for anyone to read, including addicts themselves. If nothing else, her discussion about how to rebuild trust should put addicts on notice about continuing the path of recovery. Here are the questions she addresses, which form the outline of the essay:

  • Why am I not to blame or responsible for his use of pornography or sexual addiction?
  • How could he do this if he says he loves me?
  • Will I ever be able to trust him again?
  • Is there any hope for us?
  • How will I be able to tell if he is getting help and getting better?
  • What do I need to know about his problem?
  • What is OK for me to ask? What do I need to know?
  • Is it OK for us to have sex with one another?
  • Should I stay with him?
  • Why or how does a person develop a problem with pornography or become sexually addicted?

Her essay is so good that I’m also going to include some excerpts. Here is what she has to say …

On the terrible feelings that accompany discovery of spouses’ addiction:
“At the moment in time the wife finds out about her husband’s use of pornography, sexually acting out or sexual addiction, her world is forever changed. Most women describe this as a time of numbness, shock, hurt, anger, despair and confusion. They feel inadequate, deceived, rejected, responsible, desperate, and very confused. The life they thought they had no longer exists. She may even wonder if she even knows this man she calls her husband.”

On the fact that it’s not the spouses’ fault:
“His problem with pornography or sexual addiction is not about sex, it’s not about attractiveness, and it’s not about your body parts. He is not comparing you to another human being; he is comparing you to some bizarre interpretation of a fantasy that does not exist. The fantasy is not real. There is no way you can compete with this fantasy. Even the fantasy itself cannot be satisfied because it does not exist and it is constantly changing into a different and often more bizarre fantasy. No person can compete with a fantasy on any level. You can’t measure up because you are a real person.”

On rebuilding trust by focusing on behavior, not words:
“Trust take time; sometimes a long time, to rebuild. Trust can never be regained until there is a change in his behavior. If you have to choose between what he says and what he does, always believe what the behavior is telling you. Addicts live in ‘verbal reality’. Whatever they say is true, is true, regardless of their behavior. They say ‘I love you’ but they act out sexually. They say one thing, but they do another. Always believe behavior. The behavior is telling you the truth.”

On the question of ‘is there any hope for us?’:
“Yes, IF he is willing to do the work that is required to recover. It has been my experience that he can become even more emotionally intimate with you than either of you have ever experienced. It is impossible to have close and healthy intimacy when one partner is living a secret life or living a fantasy life.

“There is hope if YOU do the work necessary to recover. You have been damaged, betrayed, lied to, and hurt over the years. You are going to need to heal too. This is your personal responsibility. You cannot blame him if you do not heal.”

On the conditioning that takes place through fantasy and masturbation:
“Studies show that a boy may have had hundreds of sexual experiences with himself before he has ever had any sexual contact with another person. The boy (or man) has conditioned his body to seek this chemical release, which produces “feel good brain candy”, except now this chemical release is connected to an inappropriate fantasy world.

“Many men start this conditioning at an early age and continue this conditioning throughout their entire life. They have never learned how to have an exciting sexual relationship within the context of any intimate relationship with someone else. So even when they are being sexual with someone they love, they still escape inside their head to their fantasy world to get excited enough to ejaculate. Which continues to condition and fuel their sexual addiction.

“Many wives have noticed their husbands “leaving” mentally while lovemaking complaining that it seems like their husband is not really with them. The wife no longer feels a connection with her husband. She is right. Most likely the husband has gone to his fantasy world in order to reach orgasm.

“To the man who struggles with pornography and/or a sexual addiction, sex does not equal connecting to a real person; it means escaping into his fantasy world. Within the fantasy, a sex addict feels loved, important, and significant. Of course everyone in his fantasy world are objects who are easily manipulated to do everything he wants without requiring any commitment or intimacy in return. He always wins in his fantasy. There is never a fear of rejection or inadequacy.”

On sex addiction being the strategy to deal with past pain:
“The psychological factors are important to understand because a lot of time, energy, and resources are used to try to medicate emotional pain instead of dealing with it. Several [I think she means to say “Many”] people who have sought treatment for their sexual addiction have also reported coming from abusive childhoods including emotional, physical, sexual, and spiritual abuse and neglect.

“Think about it. If you are a young boy living in an emotionally and psychologically abusive environment, how do you deal with the pain? The boy may not chose to drink or do drugs to medicate, but he might find being sexual with himself works to feel better.

“THE PROBLEM: You begin to develop a psychological dependency on sex to medicate your pain, it then becomes a major coping mechanism for pain. Many people develop a problem with pornography or become a sexual addict because they are medicating their pain. They are coping the best they think they can. ”

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14 thoughts on “Sex Addiction: an overview for spouses and friends of the addict”

  1. I am only four months removed from my fiance who suffers from sex addiction. The pain, the seeming rejection, the lack of intimacy, the using me to “get a fix”, the anger when gently approached with questions such as, “Why don’t you want to kiss me? Do I have bad breath? Why don’t you want to touch meexcept for…..?” It drove me into a deep depression. His words also contradicted his behavior. After I left him, I tried to talk with him about his addiction but he is in denial or acts as if the behavior is perfectly normal (justification). Several other issues accompanied his addiction and I am glad to be free of the situation and pray for him when not overcome with anger and other negative feelings. I cannot change anyone else and need to work on recovering from the stain left on me. I have read a book and some articles that address how they are feeling and what may have caused it, etc. And, although they are very helpful, I need to address what I am going through. I don’t see men in the same light as I once did/I don’t respect them as a whole now and I know that’s not right. I overreact, according to my friends, to porn, to strip clubs, to men who make unwelcome advances toward me. Even at church when a man glances at my chest, I feel the anger build up inside me. It’s as if I’ve been violated over and over again. I find myself wondering who people REAALLY are/what is their true motive. That’s the effect the lies and deceipt have had on me. I’ve had thoughts of hurting my ex in ways I would not have considered before….in praying that he becomes incapable of performing, that he pay for the pain he has heaped upon me and the several other women he has hurt by his addition. May God heal me.

  2. Thanks so much for writing, and sharing your story with us Bette. It really is true that if someone denies they have a problem – as your fiance did – there’s nothing you can do, other than be clear about your own boundaries and take the steps you need to take to be healthy and whole. As I’ve been doing this work with addicts in recovery, I’ve come to see that many, many people are struggling with varying levels of sex addiction. But … there are also people who are not, and hopefully you can find someone who is healthier and whole in this area. On the other hand, there are also growing numbers of people who may be addicted, but are working on their recovery, and finding ever deeper levels of honesty and intimacy in their relationships. That’s also something to hope for, and what I’m working for in my own life, and with the clients I’m involved with. Blessings to you Bette.

  3. I know first hand what these addicitons can do to a spouse for I have done them. When I did them it was not out of a desire to hurt her but I was certainly not fully aware of the pain I was causing. When I decided to work really hard to be better I woke up and realized what I had done. It was too late by then but I am happy I have learned this for the future. I’ve even started a blog to help people stop hurting themselves and others. These addictions make people turn inward and not care very much if at all about those around them. As far as not trusting guys I can certainly understand that. How do you know which ones are not struggling with the same weaknesses? It’s easy to become sinical and think everyone is out of fear of getting hurt again. Fear can keep you from meeting good people though and having good experiences. I see you’re religious, that’s great. God will help you to discern the true character of men you meet in every day life and especially those you consider a relationship with. Lean unto him, he will not mislead you. We as individuals can only wait and watch for actions of people to judge their character.

    Great Post!

  4. Pingback: Jessie
  5. As a recovering sex addict with a wife who has had her own journey we have found after 9 years that we are really at a point where we can help others. Call it step 12 if you want but I say it is God taking what was meant for evil and making it good.

  6. Thanks DJ for the note … it’s great to hear from people who’ve had some history in the journey. I agree with you that with the time of recovery it sounds like you’ve had, there is a lot you can offer other people – especially couples early in the process who are struggling with hope. Thanks again!

    – Mark

  7. Pornography, which is especially the problem of men, is the second main factor in the life of a sex addict. This can mean porn magazines, films or material on the Internet that is used to seek for satisfaction. For example on the Internet general headwords concerning this issue are … By them people seek for satisfaction.

    One problem with pornography is that it does not bring long-lasting satisfaction to us. These magazines or films kind of promise that you will find the erotic picture you have always been looking and longing for, but the satisfaction does not last for long. As time goes by, many may experience the same as alcoholics and drug addicts: they need more and more powerful stimulus to experience the same stimulation as before, because the amount of pleasure diminishes.

    More info: http://koti.phnet.fi/elohim/sexaddiction

  8. Hi. I’m in the early stages of recovery (not yet a month!). I’ve struggled with sexual sin for a long time. I knew it was wrong and wanted to stop but couldn’t. I have always been an active member at my church, but I would fall to pornography weekly since teen-age years.

    It was not something I pursued. I even tried to look at women with pure eyes and fought to have a pure thought life. I prayed, attended church, read books about getting free from pornography, installed filter software on my computer, etc., but nothing helped. No matter what I tried, about once a week I would fall.

    About 3 months ago, I told my fiancee and we’ve been really struggling since then. She helped me understand how to get help and I’ve attended a workshop at faithful and true where Mark Brouwer works. Now I’m sober almost a month and have hope for the future.

    For me, I think the change has been to be able to share my story with people who understand what I’m going through, and to begin to understand and face the fact that there are deep wounds from my childhood that pushed me down this path to addiction and have kept me here despite my best efforts to the contrary.

    I share all this because I want people to see that sex-addiction can be like a disease that people develop even while not wanting it and fighting against it. I thank God for those who understand and care for addicts like me.

    Also, I want to share that I disagree with part of what Ms. Mascarella says above: “He is not comparing you to another human being; he is comparing you to some bizarre interpretation of a fantasy that does not exist…” Maybe this is true for most of us, but I don’t believe it was true for me. I don’t compare my fiancee to the images I looked at in pornography. I love her for who she is and am attracted to her because of her own unique beauty AND because I love her. Pornography is like a disease in my life that I don’t want, but couldn’t get rid of until now. I think it was something I kept separate from most of my life.

    Mark, can you respond to that?

  9. Thanks for your thoughtful comments SP. Sorry for the delay in responding. I am trying to figure out a way of sorting out spam comments without it having to go through my regular email system for personally vetting the comments in here. You guys would NOT believe how much spam comes in the comments of this site! And, because the subject matter of lots of the articles includes words like “pornography” and “sex” you can probably guess that a lot of the spam comes from porn sites. Nice.

    Anyway, to your question SP. I do agree with you that there is a possibility for people — at least in the early stages of their pornography addiction/dependency — to keep the pornographic images and fantasies in their minds from intruding when they are being sexual or having sexual thoughts about their partner. But I do think that there is a natural progression with sexual addiction that it takes over more and more of our consciousness, and so people find that even though they may be able to compartmentalize it away at first, it will start to spill over more and more as time goes on.

    I would also point out that you’re talking about your fiancee here. I don’t presume to know what’s happening in terms of a sexual relationship, but even if you were (for the sake of argument) having sex together at this point in your relationship, it’s still early, and a different experience. What happens for couples as time goes on in marriage is that the novelty of early sexual experiences gives way to a deeper connection … it moves towards intimacy. But if someone has been trained to expect and long for the powerful erotic experiences that are part and parcel of pornography (and romance novels), they will inevitably find that their “real” intimate relationships aren’t like that … and then they will start drifting into fantasy more and more.

  10. I’m freshly into the recovery process of full-on sexual addiction. One month ago I confessed to my wife of 12 years that I have a serious problem. Pornography was never really much of an issue to me past a ,certain age, I wanted the real thing, so that’s what I went after. Easy women, prostitutes and then moved into sex with men. This went on for almost 10 years before I put an end to it. Then when the urge began to come on again I began to truly cry out to God to save me from this lifestyle. One thing He told me was that I had to confess my sins to my wife. So I confessed a lifetime of lying, deceit, manipulation, and several years of sex addiction. Being so fresh into this, I can’t see any hope. We have four children who are not even teenagers yet, but are old enough to understand that what is going on is bad. She has asked me to move out, which is very difficult for me. However, I understand her need for space to heal, so I will comply. Another factor is that I gave her chlamydia, which, thank God, is curable, and has been cured now. On the other hand, I ended up with HSV-2, which is non-life threatening and dormant, but is also incurable and comes with a risk of transmission. As you can see, there will need to be many miracles for this marriage to heal. I can’t see reconciliation as a possibility, but I long and pray for it daily. I’m going through a Radical Change program for recovery and seeing a therapist. Several childhood issues have been uncovered which helped shape me to be this way. I do accept responsibility and realize that I am the only one to blame for these actions, but I’m bitter for the things that happened to me at a young age which made it a lot easier to make those decisions. I just need help because I have no hope for my marriage, but I want nothing more than for it to recover. She’s not sure about divorce, but says it is an option.

    1. Samuel,

      Thanks for the update … I’m very sorry to hear about what’s happened in your life and marriage. Unfortunately, for many of us, we don’t get rolling on the recovery journey until it’s too late in our relationship. But the good news – and important perspective – is that it’s NEVER too late to get into recovery for ourselves. Whatever happens from here on out, I hope you’re able to stick with it. It can be an unsettling journey at first, especially when painful things from our past emerge. But it’s worth it! Let me know if there’s any way I can help.

      – Mark

  11. My best guy friend recently told me he’s a sex addict and feels like there is no way out and doesn’t know what to do. I was shocked because this is coming from a sweet kind person who would never hurt a fly. He’s hitting rock bottom and I want to help him… but as a friend can I help him? He said he’s never told anyone before not girlfriends or anything and I am just his friend how can I help this behaviour?? Most website do not talk about what to do once someone has admited this to you and needs help if he refuses professional help how can I still help him before something bad happens to him or his family. He told me he gets urges and acts out… then last year started to use porn as an escape, but the urges are still there.

    1. Gina,

      Thanks for your comment, and your question. It’s a great one! I know you asked a couple questions in your comment, but it really boils down to the question of how to help someone if they refuse professional help. I have two answers to that question:

      (1) First, it might help if you have a couple of options to recommend. When you say that he refuses “professional help,” I wonder what he’s thinking about professional help, and what it is he’s rejecting. There are a variety of things he can pursue. He could see a counselor (I STRONGLY suggest that if he goes this route, he see someone who has expertise in sex addiction.) He could also go to a weekend workshop, like the one held by Mark Laaser at Faithful and True … I sometimes teach at this workshop, and it’s a great place for guys to get help. He could also go to a 12 step kind of group like Sexaholics Anonymous, or Sex Addicts Anonymous (you can Google them and get the info about local meetings). You could also encourage him to do just a bit of reading about the subject, like reading the ebook I give away to people who sign up for our mailing list. He could do an e-course like the Recovery Journey (recovery journey.com).

      (2) Second, you might have to deal with the fact that he’s not willing to get help. In other words, sometimes people face a problem in their lives and maybe even feel bad about it, but aren’t willing to do anything about it. If you present some options, like I suggested above, and he still doesn’t want to do anything — some of those options don’t even cost money — then that gives you important information about his willingness to change.

      I hope that helps. He’s lucky to have a friend like you who cares about him and wants to help!

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