Are you concerned that you may have problems with your sexual behaviour?
Worried that your sexual behaviour is out of control? It can be a difficult and confusing time when your sex instinct begins to run riot.
Life can sometimes feel chaotic as relationships become complicated and situations seem unmanageable. There may also be personal reputational damage as a consequence of your actions in addition to law and order accountability.
It may seem very difficult knowing which way to turn when faced with such confusion.
It can be even more confusing when considering to reach out for professional help. Some therapists don’t accept the term ‘sex addiction’. Indeed the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM), currently in its fifth iteration, is often considered the psychiatric bible for assessing addictive behaviours. DSM5 recognises gambling as the only non-substance addictive disorder (gaming disorder is acknowledged as an area for further investigation).
There can also be a lot of moralistic bias in the therapy world about sexual definitions and sex therapy can sometimes produce a polarised opinion about treatment options.
A rough rule of thumb when assessing whether your sexual behaviour is problematical or not is to ask yourself whether there are any adverse consequences on other parts of your life.
For instance, do you find yourself having to break commitments you have made to others as a result of your sexual behaviour?
Perhaps you have previously agreed to be faithful and monogamous but then find yourself breaking this commitment and feeling bad about the change.
Or, perhaps you experience guilt and remorse following some aspects of your sexual behaviour.
It might be that you are compromising your value system by engaging in certain activities that produce mixed feelings.
Or, it might be that there is a loss of control over certain behaviours.
Your Behaviour Is Your Behaviour
Your behaviour should not be anyone else’s business. What constitutes problem behaviour for one person might be deemed alternative lifestyle choices for someone else.
Provided no one else is getting hurt and everyone is consenting then perhaps there is no problem. However, when you start to feel compelled to engage in certain behaviours it could be that your sexual behaviour is beginning to cause problems.
There may have been developmental ruptures growing up which have impacted your choices in adulthood. These could have been perceived rejection from primary caregivers at crucial stages of the attachment process, for instance.
This could potentially set up an attachment style that perpetually seeks inappropriate partners.
It is important to work out what is underlying any problem behaviour and re-evaluate current behaviours with a new lens.
There might be some historical toxicity from your past that is causing problems.
It could be, for instance, that you received negative messages in your family, schooling or from a religious upbringing that sex was bad and not to be enjoyed.
There might also be confusion about sexual identity and what it means to have same-sex relations. Sexual fantasies that find expression in the cyber world can also produce some confusion.
It should not be the role of a therapist to tell you what to do in any area of your life, especially how you should live your life sexually. Therapy can help when you start to experience low mood, depression or anxiety in your interpersonal relations or from your sexual activities.
Dealing with toxic messaging from the past can be transformative as you devise a new healthy and more positive way of being in the world.
Getting Help For Sex Addiction
There are many support groups for people suffering from problematical sexual behaviours. Some, such as Sex Anonymous (SA) and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), broadly adopt the substance abuse model of recovery that advocates an abstinence-based approach using the 12 Steps of Recovery.
You can find meeting details in your area by searching online. Attending such meetings with a room full of strangers might seem daunting but it could be useful to remember that everyone is there for the same reason. Such networks potentially offer a social support system that can help you to identify your problem areas and to begin a recovery path.
Sex is an area where it might be more realistic to adopt a harm reduction strategy by identifying what might be termed ‘low bottom behaviours’.
Think of what it would mean for certain behaviours to feel ‘rock bottom’.
This is when you seek to identify and uncover those behaviours that cause the most trouble in your life and which produce the most amount of guilt and remorse. For example, you might decide to stop having secretive affairs especially with married people rather than completely refraining from all sexual activity. Or you might decide to refrain from going to brothels or procuring erotic massages from sex workers.
Seeking an abstinence-based approach to ‘low bottom behaviours’ might be a useful way of remaining within your own moral compass.
It is for you to devise such a list not somebody else on your behalf. You should feel free to devise your own list rather than believe that you need to conform to what might be expected from you.
Sex should be something that enhances your sense of esteem and enjoyment. It is for you to decide which activities will boost your well-being.
Activities such as swinging, for example, need not be considered problematical so long as you are engaging in legal activity and getting involved with consenting adults.
It might become a problem area, however, when you are really pleasing a partner to go to sex parties or when you begin to consistently experience low mood after such occasions. The word consistently should be noted.
We all experience low mood doing certain behaviours. The key is to acknowledge when you are doing something repeatedly in spite of adverse consequences.