References “Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction” by Patrick Carnes, Ph. D.
Sex addiction is not having unusual sexual tastes or being enthusiastic about sex. For it to be an addiction there has to be an element of compulsivity–your thoughts relentlessly drive you to sexual action.
In his book “Out of the Shadows,” Patrick Carnes, Ph. D., describes addiction as a four-step cycle (19):
- Preoccupation The state when addicts can think of nothing but sex. The mental obsession drives them to secure sexual stimulation.
- Ritualization An addict goes through their particular routine before initiating sexual behavior. Like a ritual before a sporting event, it helps get them even more focused and aroused.
- Compulsive sexual behavior Engaging in the sexual act. “Sexual addicts are unable to control or stop this behavior.”
- Despair Although sex takes the edge off the “itch” of their addiction, afterward addicts feel overwhelmed with self-loathing over their inability to manage or alter their compulsion.
Scripture detailed this cycle long before Carnes did. “But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15 NIV) Because of the emotional fall-out, addicts must continue seeking sex to assuage the accompanying despair.
Unhealthy Sexual Boundaries
Sexual compulsivity invites an unhealthy understanding of what constitutes appropriate sex because addicts “consider any sexual contact as a victory.” (103) Take the familiar example of a high school boy who “scores” with his female teacher. It may seem like a dispersal of manly, wild oats, but really he’s been the prey of a sexual crime.
As sexual addiction worsens, it begins to involve unaware or unwilling participants. Carnes breaks up addictive activity into three levels:
- Level One Actions that are typically tolerated by society such as frequent masturbation and prostitution.
- Level Two Minor sex crimes such peeping and flashing. They carry more social stigma, but are often joked about.
- Level Three Violent attacks of unwilling participants such as rape and pedophilia. The public is often outraged when this happens.
Sex addiction progresses through these levels because of the way the emotional cycle functions. Engaging in sex temporarily relieves the obsession, but it opens the floodgates for self-loathing and despair. And, after a while what used to suffice is no longer enough. Addicts have to intensifying their stimulation to get the same rush. This is why people progress from self-stimulating to exposing themselves in public and worse.
Denying the Addiction
No one thinks their addiction will get so bad they could sexually attack someone else. But it can. This escalation is aided by “defensive rationalizations.” A defensive rationalization is the excuse or explanation an addict creates to normalize or diminish their behavior.
No addict wants to acknowledge how bad their situation is. So, they make excuses for it. If they catch an STD, they comfort themselves with statistics that one-in-four adults has herpes. They tell themselves cybersex isn’t real sex, and it’s not like there is an emotional attachment. They ignore issues of consent by assuring themselves she wanted sex; women just like to pretend they don’t. (17)
Another method of defensive rationalization involves how addicts present themselves to the world. They often make a big show of being sexually prudish. They broadcast their high moral standards regarding sex in order to throw people off the scent of their true sexual lifestyle. This leads loved ones to reject suspicions of sexual impropriety until the evidence becomes too significant to ignore. (111)
Christian Counseling for Sex Addiction
Sexual addiction will only get worse. The nature of the disorder is that your behavior will become more public and involve more people. It is impossible you will not eventually find yourself under a giant spotlight, possibly facing arrest.
Addiction is like the story in John 5 of the man lying near the pool at Bethesda. Because of his ailment, it was impossible for him to heal himself. He needed help. Addicts need help. You will never beat this on your own. But the right helpers can empower you to take up your mat and walk away from addiction.
They will use therapeutic techniques to get at the cause of your addiction. They will also use the hope of the Gospel to help you regain your sense of self and pursue intimacy the way God intended.
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