The Disease of Sex Addiction II

Many people resist the notion that sex addiction is a disease. But in The Minnesota Model, a seminal book on addiction recovery, Spicer points out the similarities between chemical dependence and the disease concept. Borrowing from George Vaillant’s The Natural History of Alcoholism, Spicer shows how chemical dependence, like a disease, cuts across cultural and socioeconomic lines, is progressive, has specific signs and symptoms, and has a recommended course of treatment. In our view, sex addiction is no different. Here’s why:

Does Not Discriminate

First, like other diseases, sex addiction is an equal opportunity disease. It could care less about your race or culture. It doesn’t care about the fact that you’re young, middle-aged, or elderly. And it doesn’t care if you’re broke or wealthy. It’s a debilitating disease that affects people from all walks of life without discrimination or prejudice.

Progressive

Second, like other diseases, sex addiction is progressive. The frequency, intensity, and measure of risk increases with time. Masturbation may progress from once-a-week to three times a day. What began as a once-a-year trip to get an erotic massage turns into a twice-a-week event. The need for greater intensity leads to greater risk-taking. In the process, sex addicts contract sexually transmitted diseases, get caught in sting operations, and even commit suicide. Spicer writes that “people with a disease find their responses are less flexible.” The sex addict’s response to the normal ups and downs of life become progressively confined to a single, destructive response: the search for sexual satisfaction.

Has Recognizable Signs and Symptoms

Third, like other diseases, sex addiction shows certain signs and symptoms. Addicts often display some of the following symptoms: a deep feeling of shame and guilt following acting out behavior, constant obsession with acting out, and general malaise if unable to engage in the behavior. They also show the following signs: an inordinate amount of time spent in the pursuit of and recuperating from sex, unsuccessful attempts at stopping their behavior on their own, and decreased engagement in social, professional, or recreational activities. Once people acknowledge that they need help, they complain of having most, if not all of these signs and symptoms.

Has a Recommended Treatment

Finally, like other diseases, the diagnosis comes with a set of specific interventions that promote recovery. In its simplest form the prescription is this: individual therapy, group therapy, and 12-step meetings. In the process of participating in these relational activities, one needs learn about their disease and the tools needed to recover from it, how to manage their emotions without acting out, and maybe most importantly, how to be honest with themselves and others. When sex addicts follow the suggested course of treatment, it’s our experience that they recover to live happy and meaningful lives.

Sex and Drugs: Effects of Addiction on Sexuality

Sex and drugs always seems like a hot topic in the media and in nearly all social circles, but the reality of the situation is that sex and drugs can pose serious, lifelong consequences to those who engage in such behaviors simultaneously. There are always inherent risks associated with drug abuse, and unfortunately there are also serious risks involved with sex. This is true of each behavior independently, and it is a significantly exacerbated truth when the two are combined.

Some people might claim that sex and drugs “feel good” together, and for some this might be temporarily true. However, the fact of the matter is that this suggestion involves using drugs – a significant moral, health and legal dilemma in the United States. Additionally, most drugs of abuse are highly addictive, posing a serious problem for the short term and long term sexual health of the addict.

Ultimately, when drug abuse leads to addiction and sex is involved, the already inherent risks of both actions are greatly amplified, and could have lifelong consequences for those who engage in these behaviors. This can include unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, rape and sexual assault, prostitution and other violent crimes. If you’re having sex and you have a drug problem, then you’re at serious risk and should take immediate action to get help now. Sexuality is far too important of a human function to risk damaging permanently.

Libido – the Primary Impact of Sex and Drugs

Think using drugs will boost your libido? Think again.

One of the most common misconceptions about sex and drugs is that a person’s libido can be increased by abusing various substances. While this might be true of certain supplements and pharmaceutical drugs, it is not at all true of street drugs – including ecstasy. (Ecstasy deserves special mention because many people see it as a sex-enhancing drug, but these effects generally wear off quite quickly and leave the user uninterested in sex or incapable of performing or achieving orgasm.) There are three primary reasons that drugs negatively affect a person’s libido:

1.) Emotional Distress and other Substance Abuse Related Stress

When occasional drug use or drinking leads to addiction, sex is almost always affected. People with drug or drinking problems often struggle with emotional disorders such as depression or bipolar. While drug use appears to allow a way to self-medicate, it actually only worsens pre-existing conditions. Additionally, because drug abuse has moral, professional and legal taboos associated with it, there is a great deal of stress attached with using drugs.

Because stress decreases the average person’s libido, it’s perfectly logical to argue that drug and alcohol abuse will ultimately have a negative effect on human sexuality.

2.) Drug Seeking and Using is Exhausting, Time Consuming Behavior

Most people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol spend a significant portion of their time – perhaps all their time – finding drugs, actively using, hiding their drug use, and generating income (often illegally) in order to support their habit. All of this is extremely time consuming, and unless the drug user’s partner is also using drugs, most of these behaviors will necessarily need to occur away from any non-using partner. And because drug use itself is so exhausting and often leads to “passing out,” the opportunity and desire for sex may be significantly decreased.

3.) Physical Effects of Drugs can Cause Sexual Problems

Some drugs cause physical problems that may make it difficult or impossible to have sex. This can be something as benign as being unable to achieve erection as a result of alcohol consumption, to a complete lack of physical sensation, to other serious problems like pulmonary distress associated with use of opiates, or paranoia/fear associated with marijuana use. Severe issues like these can make it impossible to function normally from a sexual standpoint.

Sex and Drugs Lead to High Risk Sexual Behavior

Addiction and alcoholism are often breeding grounds for dangerous sexual behaviors

Just attend any AA or NA meeting, and you’ll hear countless horror stories related to sex and drugs. Because the drive for sex is nearly as powerful in a non-addicted person as the drive for drugs in some drug abusers, the two behaviors can often mix with damaging consequences including:

*Unwanted Pregnancies

Lowered inhibitions as a result of drug or alcohol abuse often coincide with reckless sexual decision making, such as the choice to not use a condom or other contraceptive. And when women who are addicted to drugs get pregnant, the person who suffers the most is often the unborn child. This is evidenced by recent reports that babies born addicted to drugs have skyrocketed in the United States in the last several years. This is because many women who are addicts do not seek out prenatal care and instead continue using drugs throughout their medically-unassisted pregnancy. Ultimately, women in this situation who successfully carry their babies to term (they often don’t) put their child at risk of being born addicted.

In many cases, babies born addicted to drugs are taken from their mother and placed in state care. Mothers can face criminal charges that may result in years behind bars.

*Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Sexually transmitted diseases spread rapidly through addict and drug abuser communities. Lowered inhibitions, desperation, unsanitary conditions and more can lead to an environment where drug users are significantly more prone to contract an STD than people who do not use drugs and have sex. And because many STDs are incurable, even one occasion of mixing sex and drugs or sex and alcohol can lead to a lifetime of medical complications.

*Prostitution

Drug addiction is expensive. Many addicts spiral down into a hole created when they exhaust their savings, sell their belongings and then begin stealing from others in order to support their habit. But for some people, these actions either aren’t an option, or there’s nobody left in their lives to steal from. This makes it all too easy to turn to prostitution in order to continue to purchase and use drugs.

Prostitution also comes with a naturally increased rate of transmission of STD, unwanted pregnancies and sexual and drug related crimes.

Sex, Drugs and Violence

It happens. A lot.

When people mix sex and drugs or sex and alcohol, things often go terribly wrong. While this could be any of the things discussed earlier, it could also be any number of violent sexual acts or behaviors. This is especially true for addicts who engage in promiscuity or prostitution in order to feed their drug addictions.

People who use drugs are much more susceptible to rape and sexual assault. Because drugs are involved, it’s easy to become incapacitated and taken advantage of. And as a result of the illegal nature of drugs, many victims are too scared to report the crime because they fear repercussions themselves. Additionally, there is an unfortunate tendency by law enforcement and others to discount or dismiss reports of sexual crimes against drug addicts or alcoholics.

In a large number of cases the sexual damage from a rape or other sexually-related assault can present complications for years – or even permanently. This is important for current drug abusers to consider, because these problems are likely to still be present long after they’ve stopped using drugs and achieved sobriety.

Sexual assault and sexual violence against drug users isn’t gender specific – both men and women become promiscuous, practice prostitution and possibly become the victims of sexual attacks. If drugs are involved, the dangers are always much more significant.

Long Term Consequences of Sex and Drugs

If you engage in these behaviors, you could affect your sexual health for life

When it comes to sex and drugs, the risks simply do not justify what vague benefits are sold to people in order to continue this type of lifestyle. In effect, a person could ruin their sexual health permanently – even if they only used drugs for a short time. The following are the four most prominent long term consequences of sex and drug abuse:

1.) Disease

Sexually transmitted diseases like Herpes, Hepatitis and AIDS cannot be cured. Addicts who contract these diseases will be forced to cope with them for the rest of their lives. This is a serious consideration for people who are addicted now and keep saying that “one day” they’ll quit. That one day could be one day too late.

2.) Injury

Sexual assault and other sexual violence can result in permanent injuries that can impact a person’s sexuality.

3.) Sexual Disconnection

Years of drug abuse and sex may desensitize a person to the point that sex while sober isn’t appealing anymore. Additionally, sexual trauma or other bad experiences during active drug use periods may cause severe emotional damage that may make it hard for a person to become close to another person in a healthy sexual manner.

4.) Loss of an Important Relationship

Promiscuity, prostitution and infidelity during active drug use can lead to the loss of an important romantic and sexual relationship that you might not be able to repair once you’ve become sober. Additionally, drug use alone is often enough to end a relationship, so if you have someone that you care about now and you’re still using drugs, perhaps it’s time to stop, before you lose them…

Why Many Women Don’t Think About Sex

Laverne wrote the following to me:

“I have never had thoughts that picture me making love with my husband – or anyone else for that matter. I imagine connection, fun and feelings of love but never making love. If it was left up to me sex would never be on the agenda, just because it would never occur to me to make love. I know when my husband would like to make love, and I enjoy it when I do make love, but it would never cross my mind if he didn’t initiate. I feel I am missing being aware and connected to a part of me. Surely a reasonably balanced and mostly connected human being should have some sort of sex drive. Your thoughts and insights would be really appreciated. Thank you.”

Laverne is not alone in her experience. I hear this same thing from many of my women clients.

However, many women do think about romance, which can lead to sex. Women tend to think more about the process of intimacy – of fun, connection, and sharing feelings of love – rather than about the result. In fact, for many women focusing on the result is a turnoff.

The fact that Laverne can enjoy sex when her husband initiates it indicates that there is nothing wrong with her sexuality. It’s just that it’s not separate from her feelings of love and connection. It doesn’t occur to her to make love because her sexuality mostly emerges from her emotional connection with her husband. Some women, but not all, do experience a biological push toward sex during their ovulation. But even then, for most women, it needs to be in the context of emotional intimacy.

And herein lies the major difference between men and women – testosterone. While some women have higher than normal testosterone levels, most don’t, which means that most women are not biologically driven regarding having sex. Not so for most men. Testosterone creates the biological sex drive in men, while love, intimacy and romance often lead to women feeling sexual.

It would be helpful for our relationships if we all could accept that women who don’t think about having sex are generally not imbalanced or disconnected from their bodies.

What would happen in relationships if both men and women accepted that men are often more biologically driven and women are often more emotionally driven? Perhaps this could lead to deep appreciation for each other. There is truly nothing wrong with men for generally being more biologically driven than women, and there is nothing wrong with women for generally being more emotionally driven then many men. (Of course, none of this is always true, as some women are more biologically driven than their man, and some men are more emotionally driven then their woman. And these differences can just as easily show up in same-sex relationships).

If Laverne stops judging herself for not thinking about sex, and values what she contributes to their relationship, then perhaps she can also value her husband for his biology and for being the one to initiate sex. If her husband completely embraces his biology, perhaps he can fully appreciate what Laverne brings to the relationship regarding fun, love and connection. And he might be more wiling to tap into his ability to be romantic once he accepts this as a vital part of their relationship. By valuing themselves and each other for what they each bring to their sexual relationship, their differences can be a blessing for them rather than creating conflict.