A Few Sexual Addiction Terms and Topics

People can become easily confused by the terminology used to explain sexual addiction. Since terms like sex addict, sexaholic, Internet sex addict, porn addict, sexual compulsive, sex and love addict are all so similar, they can easily confuse someone wishing to better understand these disorders and work toward healing.  For the wife who wants to learn how to tell if her husband is a sex addict or the parent concerned about a teenager’s involvement with Internet porn, the terminology itself may be less important than how the sexual behavior problem affects the individual’s life priorities.

In general, sex addicts tend to have compulsive and repetitive sexual patterns whereas love addicts tend to use relationships and sexual affairs to achieve similar levels of emotional intensity and distraction. Sexaholic, sex addict, and sexually compulsive are interchangeable terms that only serve to indicate which 12-step program the person attends, more than the specific problem they experience. Taking the sex addict quiz (SAST) will further clarify whether or not the individual’s problem is of real concern.

Slips, Relapse, Abstinence, and Sobriety

What’s the difference between a “slip” and “relapse” and what is the difference between “abstinence” and “sobriety.”  These terms and concepts are important to sex addiction recovery.

In the early stages of sexual addiction recovery, there are many adjustments sex addicts must make and it is not uncommon that slips and relapse happen.  As sex addicts move deeper into their recovery, however, slips and relapse are less common.  So what is a slip and a relapse?  A slip is a brief, mostly unintended, return to acting out.  Slips are managed and contained by immediate and honest disclosure to a therapist, sponsor, support group, or other supportive person.  The disclosure is followed up by a revised plan to shore up their recovery program.  Sex addicts in committed relationships, such as marriage, must planfully and thoughtfully tell their spouse or partner.  This avoids creating new secrets.  Relapse is when a sex addict is unwilling to be honest about a slip and conceals and justifies the behavior.  This sets the stage for secret-keeping and more frequent slips and a return to their secretive life and isolation from all support.  This is considered relapse.

Abstinence and sobriety are two important sex addiction recovery terms as well.  Sobriety refers to the totality of how sex addiction recovery is benefiting a sex addict’s life, whereas abstinence refers to not engaging in specifically defined sexual behaviors.  Abstinence from specifically defined sexual and other-related behaviors is an important tool to help establish sex addiction sobriety.  Sobriety is often measured by resilience, which may be thought of as the remaining in a specific set of parameters during all the inevitable stressors in life.  Thus, sobriety is the outcome of a life designed to retain alignment of the sex addict’s lifestyle to their values, and in all circumstances experience life as thriving.

Rationale for a 90-day Abstinence Period

In the sex addiction treatment field, a common practice is to ask patients to include a 90-day abstinence period to their program.  Though, to my knowledge, there are no studies supporting the idea of a 90-day abstinence period, there are a few rationales for this practice that I’ve found supports sustained sex addiction recovery over time.  Firstly, it gives the opportunity for the addict in recovery to design their sobriety by using this period to thoughtfully plan out their sexual recovery plan.  Furthermore, the wisdom behind this brief clinically-observed abstinence is that it allows the addict a period where they are not medicating any feelings with sex. This, as well, opens up the opportunity to use new healthy coping tools and strategies that include the experience of dismantling their common cycles of acting out and self-medicating.  Additionally and very importantly, there is the neuro-biology; where the brain’s reward system stops being flooded with dopamine and gives it a chance to re-calibrate itself.  Finally, there is the relational opportunity.  Such an abstinence period can be very helpful for some partners (depending on the situation).  To have a “sex vacation”, for some, helps reestablish a renewed sexual relationship within their relationship.  For more information, please feel free to ask.

12-step Support for Sex Addicts

To clarify, but hopefully not confuse the reader further, people attending Sexaholics Anonymous and Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings consider themselves sex addicts, people attending Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meetings consider themselves sex and love addicts, and those attending Sexual Compulsives Anonymous meetings refer to themselves as sexual compulsives. Women sex addicts can be found at all of these support groups, but in general women do best in meetings where men are not in attendance.

Someone with an Internet sex problem is best served by attending whatever group best reflects the nature of his or her particular behavior. None of this is particularly meaningful, however, unless people attend consistently and fully involve themselves in the process offered there. This means attending meetings three or more times weekly at the beginning, getting a sponsor, and taking the typical 12-step service commitments.

For the sex addict, help is available.  One just needs a bit of willingness to reach out for it.  For local  meeting information, CLICK HERE.

Support for the Spouse or Significant Other

Different types of support are suggested to help the spouses and partners of sexual addicts. These recommendations range from seeing a therapist or clergy, to reaching out to non-judgmental loved-ones for help and/or attending12-step groups like COSA, CODA, and Alanon. These groups exist specifically to help guide the sex addict’s spouse or significant other whose life has been affected by the addict’s problem behavior.

While the problem of sexual addiction in a family member or loved one can feel shameful and humiliating, the support groups available to partners are extremely welcoming and offer a great deal of hope to those courageous enough to show up.

The Male Sexual Screening Addiction Test (G-SAST-R) is a preliminary sexual addiction assessment tool. The G-SAST-R provides a profile of responses that help to identify men with sexual impulse disorders. To complete the test, answer each question by placing a check in the appropriate Yes/No box. When you submit the test, you will be given a score that will indicate the level of urgency in seeking help from a professional such as Ed Dudding at Coeur d’Alene Counseling.  Our phone number is 208-755-7114.

Gender Terms 

An often asked question is what is gender identity? The term gender became necessary to help make female or male distinctions with persons having conflicting or ambiguous biological physical indicators (i.e., “intersex”). Thus, gender denotes the public identification of a person being male or female. The following are common variants of gender.

  • Gender assignment refers to the initial sex designation as male or female at birth.
  • Gender reassignment refers to an official change of gender.
  • Gender identity is a socially determined designation referring to the person’s desire to be identified as male or female.
  • Transgender is a person who persistently identifies with a gender different from their natal gender, assigned-at-birth gender.
  • Transsexual is a person who has undergone a transition from male to female or female to male.

A gender identity issue is not sexual addiction.  Sex addiction is a chronic disease of the brain’s reward and related circuitry systems that results in unmanageable life circumstances leading to severe life consequences such as premature loss of primary relationships, inability to sustain adequate work, and other chronic mental health problems such as depression.  Yes, a person with gender identity issue may have a sexual addiction, but the person’s gender identity issue does not constitute a sexual addiction.