Recovery from sex addiction can take a long time. Although every person is different, for some people it can take up to years to recover completely. Not only do people with sex addiction need to go through a period of abstinence until they can reliably stay away from addictive sexual behaviors, they also need to go through the process of learning how to have healthy relationships and healthy sex.
Recovery from any addiction puts significant stress on the person in recovery, and this stress can lead people to pursue replacement behaviors in order to ease their feelings of withdrawal. The length of time that can be involved in complete recovery from sex addiction may put these individuals at particular risk for developing replacement addictions or disorders.
The replacement behaviors that can arise during addiction recovery replace the type of experience that used to be achieved through sex. These behaviors tend to involve risk-taking, self-soothing, co-dependence or self-affirmation. Sometimes, these replacement behaviors can themselves become compulsive and develop into a serious problem.
People in Recovery May Engage in Mini-Versions of Their Addiction
Risk-taking often goes hand-in-hand with sex addiction, whether it be the risk of getting caught cheating or the risk of being arrested for various illegal activities, including solicitation or exhibitionism. People in recovery are often eager to replace the thrill that accompanied these risky behaviors. They may take up extreme sports, begin ambitious or dangerous projects or engage in day-trading or gambling.
People with sex addiction also use sex to calm and eventually numb themselves. Without sex or pornography as a means of self-soothing, individuals in recovery need to find alternate ways to manage their stress. Some begin to eat or drink to excess or spend the hours that they used to spend looking at porn looking for expensive items to purchase online.
Co-dependence also plays a huge role in sex addiction. The need for reassurance leads people with sex addiction to seek emotional intimacy and support from as many sexual partners as they can find. In the absence of sexual partners, people in recovery may still seek reassurance from outside sources, often using dating sites or other kinds of social media to reach out to large numbers of people. This type of relationship-seeking can become compulsive, and so much time spent online can also tempt people into viewing sexual or pornographic materials.
People with sex addiction also tend to struggle with low self-worth and do not know how to makes themselves feel worthy except through sexual encounters. Without sex, people in recovery may still try to establish their sexual attractiveness through obsessive flirting and scanning for possible sexual targets.
Taking Self-Deprivation to Extremes
Not all people who get into difficulties during their recoveries will engage in replacement behaviors. In fact, some people will become obsessively restrictive in their behaviors, to the extent that this self-deprivation can become a problem. People recovering from an addiction want to reestablish control over their lives, but it is possible to take this too far and refuse to engage in any activities that offer enjoyment. Excessive self-deprivation prevents people from establishing a happy, healthy life post-addiction and increases the odds of relapse.
It is important to take unhealthy new behaviors seriously and to confront them during the recovery process. The best solution is often to focus on finding healthy activities and practices to replace the positive feelings that sex used to offer. In addition, it is important to address the negative emotions and self-opinions that force people to seek consolation, affirmation and oblivion through unhealthy sexual behaviors.