Sexual addiction, recognized by many therapists and psychologists as a diagnosable and treatable condition, may follow similar patterns of relapse as alcohol and drug addictions. Triggers that can bring a person back into relapse can include both emotional and physical factors.
For people with sexual addiction, sometimes called hypersexuality, it is believed that sex becomes a way of coping with negative emotions or is related to an inability to form close intimate relationships. Sexual addiction can be manifested through behaviors like sex with multiple partners, obsessive sexual thoughts, compulsive masturbation or excessive pornography use. As the addiction progresses, the person will neglect their responsibilities and family to spend more time engaging in sexual behavior – even though they are aware of the negative consequences, and may experience little or no sexual pleasure during the act. They experience a devastating loss of control over their sexual behaviors.
When a person is working through recovery to sexual addiction, several types of triggers may spark a relapse, similar to the process of recovery for people working through substance abuse addictions. Triggers for sexual addiction can include feelings of anger, sadness or high levels of stress and anxiety. Because sexual acts become a way to escape these feelings, experts suggest people with sexual addiction seek professional assistance and the support of a group-based resource, such as Sex Addicts Anonymous.
Additional triggers of sexually addictive behaviors that can prompt a relapse include the availability of Internet-based sexual encounters that remain anonymous or untracked. This can include viewing pornography at public places, engaging in sexual chats or other online opportunities that may occur outside the person’s home. To counteract this source of relapse, experts encourage people seeking sexual addiction recovery to put Web site filtering tools in place.
In some cases, a trigger for a relapse can occur if the person is reminded of prior events related to sexual abuse, or if they recall prior experiences related to personal rejection or harm. When negative feelings resurface related to these experiences, treatment specialists advise patients not to work through the moment alone, but rather to share it in a group setting or with a professional counselor.
Some people working through sexual addiction recovery may see increased cravings for the behavior as a result of biological factors, or a combination of biological and emotional factors. Similar to other addiction recovery programs, people working to abstain from sexually addictive behaviors may benefit from taking a few moments to do a physical and emotional inventory of their feelings in order to identify if a sensation of loneliness or fatigue could be triggering the relapse.
As with substance abuse addictions, the recovery process toward sexual addiction can show several ups and downs and include periods of abstinence and periods of relapse. Experts suggest that people working toward recovery from sexual addiction form an accountability partner and avoid becoming isolated as they work through the addiction. Having a plan for how a person will work through a difficult situation can also prolong periods of recovery.
Experts in the field of sexual addiction also say patients must be willing to acknowledge and experience the negative emotions related to conquering the addiction, and to realize that the process – though very difficult at times – can lead a patient step by step to a life based on freedom from the life-consuming power of sexual addiction.