People affected by sex addiction frequently engage in sex-related thoughts, fantasies and/or actions that can significantly degrade the quality of their relationships, including the relationships they maintain with their spouses and intimate partners. In turn, the spouses and intimate partners of sex-addicted individuals may feel a pressing need to seek help in dealing with their situation. In a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, a team of American researchers looked at some of the most common sources of help sought by the partners of sex addicts.
Sex addiction is a form of behavioral addiction. People dealing with this type of addiction undergo significant changes in brain function and behavior that stem from excessive involvement in a normally harmless pleasurable activity rather than from excessive consumption of alcohol or a drug or medication. As is true in cases of substance addiction, these changes reduce a person’s ability to gain or maintain a sense of well-being, in addition to reducing the ability to follow a stable, self-supporting daily routine. The American Psychiatric Association has established guidelines that doctors can use to diagnose one form of behavioral addiction called gambling disorder. However, current evidence indicates that several other types of behavioral addiction—including sex addiction, food addiction, shopping addiction and Internet addiction—exist in small but substantial portions of the general public.
Some people with sex addiction (also known variously as compulsive sexual behavior, hypersexual disorder and hypersexuality) engage in sexual practices normally considered acceptable among consenting adults. However, others engage in practices that are generally considered deviant and, in some cases, violate laws regulating sexual conduct. Doctors must work to differentiate sex-addicted individuals from highly sexual people who experience no harmful effects from their activities, thoughts or fantasies.
Partners of Sex Addicts
The mental and physical stresses of living with a person affected by sex addiction can place a serious burden on that person’s spouse or intimate partner. Generally speaking, there is no single way to determine whether an intimate partner or spouse has a sex addiction. However, a range of potential indicators exist. Examples of these indicators include experiencing social relationship-related damage as a consequence of a partner’s sexual thoughts or conduct, experiencing money-related damage as a consequence of a partner’s sexual thoughts or conduct, feeling afraid to discuss a partner’s sex-related thoughts or actions, repeatedly throwing away pornography accumulated by a partner, feeling abandoned by a partner’s sexual thoughts or conduct, resorting to substance use in order to cope with a partner’s sexual thoughts or conduct, and neglecting one’s own physical or mental health in order to comply with a partner’s sex-related actions, thoughts or fantasies.
Where Do Partners Turn for Help?
In the study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, researchers from the University of North Texas, Arizona Community Physicians and the Santé Center for Healing used survey information gathered from 92 adults to determine the most likely effective sources of help for the partners of people dealing with sex addiction. All of these adults had spouses or intimate partners who self-identified as being affected by this condition. Potential options for help included the sex-addicted partner, close friends, children, adult family members, counselors and therapists specializing in sex-related issues, spiritual or religious resources, and mutual help or 12-step programs geared toward the partners and spouses of sex addicts. In addition to asking about the usefulness of these resources, the researchers gathered information on each participant’s demographic background (age, gender, racial/ethnic ancestry, etc.).
After analyzing the results of the survey, the researchers concluded that the partners of people affected by sex addiction typically derive the greatest benefits from assistance provided by counselors or therapists, mutual help groups and other types of support groups, friends and spiritual or religious resources. Conversely, they typically derive the smallest benefit from assistance provided by a sex-addicted partner, an adult family member or a child. Interestingly, self-organized spiritual or religious resources like prayer appear to provide more effective assistance than spiritual or religious resources that depend on interactions with other people.
The study’s authors note that when the person affected by sex addiction provides effective help, his or her partner has the highest chances of experiencing a significant relationship improvement. For this reason, they believe that people with sexually addicted spouses and partners should include them among their resources for help whenever possible.