Sexual Addiction Is Real
I recently listened to a well known talk radio host discuss whether the internet could really lead to addiction. The topic was inspired by the fact rehab programs were forming to deal with this issue and the demand for treatment was beginning to outstrip the resources. A statistic thrown out on the call caught my attention and drew me into the show. The statistic was "60% of the visits to the internet at this time are of a sexual nature". As I listened to callers complain it was just another excuse for a weak human being to blame their failures on, I was inspired to bring my impressions to light. My experiences in dealing with the internet, losing myself to it and finding a path out of the jungle may help those facing similar issues. I found there are no easy answers and no magic wand to grant sobriety. Instead it begins with realization there is a problem and a sincere desire to find a path out of the electronic hell.
First, I'd define internet addiction as a subset of sexual addiction. For those who are prone to addiction, adding internet to a sexual addiction is like adding gasoline to an ember. The impact is profound and devastating and quickly escalates to unmanageable levels. For those who find themselves in the struggle of their life, the internet is a cement life preserver which appears harmless but can drown you in a heartbeat. Left untreated, the addiction only has three outcomes; insanity, prison or death.
Through my treatment and interaction with others who have been devastated by the impact of sexual addiction I've met men and women who have lost jobs, families, friends, economic stability and freedom and yet they still insist on continuing the behaviors leading them to harm. They live in a secret world in a self-imposed isolation. They fear letting someone get too close will result in disclosure of their horrible secret and the loss of whatever they hold dear. Their world is built on a house of lies as they steal time from their employer, trust from their family and energy from their life. They are miserable and are left with a feeling of shame and desperation. In the 12 step materials dealing with sexual addiction it talks about a quest for a "high" they will never really find again and even knowing this, they continue. They sincerely wish it was different and some come up with justifications, limits or other behaviors giving them some sense they are working on the problem. Unfortunately, they are busy chasing the symptoms and are not even aware of the underlying cause.
It is ironic many who suffer from internet and sexual addiction find the first glimmer of hope via internet resources. Unlike those who have chosen drugs, gambling or alcohol to medicate their addictions resources for the sexual and/or internet addicted are only a recent development. For men, society has modeled the behaviors leading to addiction in a positive light. An episode of "Two-And-A-Half Men" or "How I Met Your Mother" tells the youth of the world that bad boys are the lovable characters who find success at every turn. It is also clear those who live by a set of rules are boring losers who are unworthy of emulation. As I was growing up the quest for sex was paramount among peers and "getting lucky" meant just that, a payoff for scoring, a prize for conquest, and a badge of honor for those who bent the rules.
I joined the legion of addicts in my teens. I'd had a dicey childhood with an absentee father and a molestation by an uncle. This led me to a persistent feeling I was somehow inferior. I just never felt very good about who I was and didn't know how to deal with those feelings. Rather than find a real answer, I learned to medicate the pain by engaging in numerous and meaningless sexual liasons. Over time, I lost two marriages, a job and self respect and for 26 years did not spot the pattern I repeated. I'd constantly be grooming my next conquest, always thinking she was THE one. I would mistake intensity for intimacy and once we ended up in bed, I quickly found every flaw imaginable. I'd ultimately decide if she was willing to be with me, she wasn't good enough.
At first it seemed to be just a normal part of growing up but when I got into college it really took off. Over the years I continued to step further and further over the line but it wasn't until I found AOL that I took the biggest leap. I'd use the internet to download pornographic images. When that wasn't enough I tried chat rooms, then phone sex. Later, I just used it to line up sexual partners. This escalated to the point where I happened into a BDSM (master/slave relationship) and the obsession escalated beyond my control. Only when my wife discovered an email from a submissive woman I'd been controlling did I reach my bottom and seek help. I thank God it was there.
An industry has developed as a result of this attitude. More and more research and resources are leading to treatments providing hope to those who are impaired. Recognition of addiction being a generic condition only distinguished by the poison chosen has helped form new treatments. A greater understanding of the root causes gives reason for optimism. Internet and Sexual Addiction do not have to be death sentences. There is a path to a better life.
Some absolutely amazing experts have published ground breaking works. Until I'd read Patrick Carne's book "Out of the Shadows", I was clueless about the cause of my depression and unaware how my acting out with random women was a symptom of a bigger problem. I'd spent decades repeating the same destructive actions only to con myself into believing the next time would be better. By all measures I was living the definition of insanity. Pia Mellody's "Facing Codependence" brought an understanding of the real foundational cause of my addiction and when I went to the Meadows Treatment Center in Wickenburg, Arizona I found the light.
My five weeks spent at the Meadows were amazing. Discovering I was not unique and did not have to follow a path leading to dire consequence was liberating. Finding resources were available to help me climb out of my hell lead me to a path of long term sobriety. By disclosing who I really was and finding I could be accepted despite my flaws, I found my true self. I began working on the bucket of shame and emotional poison I carried with me and this has helped set me free.
I was surrounded by others who were in the grips of addiction but expressed this addiction in other ways. Some choose alcohol, some drugs, some gambling, some sex, some love and for most, various combinations of these. The common link between us was we suffered some form of abuse or trauma when we were young. Between the ages of 0 and 19 most of the damage was done. The behaviors leading to addiction started as a means to medicate this trauma. By working on these issues instead of medicating them it made my life much happier. For me, my new understanding of the cause of my problem helped me return to the time of my trauma and begin to deal with it in a healthy way. I found the kid inside of me and was able to nurture this little guy back to health.
A number of behavior based tests are available online to help discover whether you may have a sexual or internet addiction. One of the best is the Sexual Addiction Screening Test found on the cybersexualaddiction.com webpage follows. I'd encourage anyone who feels there may be an issue to take the test and reference the resources found on that page. I've enclosed the questions asked in the survey in the following information. All content is from the cybersexualaddiction.com web resources.
"The Sexual Addiction Screening Test (G-SAST) is designed to assist the assessment of sexually compulsive or "addictive" behavior. The G-SAST provides a profile of responses which help to identify men with sexually addictive disorders.
Top of Form
Were you sexually abused as a child or adolescent?
Have you subscribed or regularly purchased/rented sexually explicit magazines or videos?
Did your parents have trouble with their sexual or romantic behaviors?
Do you often find yourself preoccupied with sexual thoughts?
Has your use of phone sex lines, computer sex lines etc. exceeded your ability to pay for these services?
Does your significant other(s), friends, or family ever worry or complain about your sexual behavior? (not related to sexual orientation)
Do you have trouble stopping your sexual behavior when you know it is inappropriate and/or dangerous to your health?
Has your involvement with pornography, phone sex, computer board sex, etc. become greater than your intimate contacts with romantic partners?
Do you keep the extent or nature of your sexual activities hidden from your friends and/or partners? (not related to sexual orientation)
Do you look forward to events with friends or family being over so that you can go out to have sex?
Do you visit sexual bath houses, sex clubs and/or video bookstores as a regular part of your sexual activity?
Do you believe that anonymous or casual sex has kept you from having more long term intimate relationships or from reaching other personal goals?
Do you have trouble maintaining intimate relationships once the "sexual newness" of the person has worn off?
Do your sexual encounters place you in danger of arrest for lewd conduct or public indecency?
Are you HIV positive, yet continue to engage in risky or unsafe sexual behavior?
Has anyone ever been hurt emotionally by events related to your sexual behavior, e.g. lying to partner or friends, not showing up for event/appointment due to sexual liaisons, etc., (not related to sexual orientation)?
Have you ever been approached, charged, arrested by the police, security, etc. due to sexual activity in a public place?
Have you ever been sexual with a minor?
When you have sex, do you feel depressed afterwards?
Have you made repeated promises to yourself to change some form of your sexual activity only to break them later? (not related to sexual orientation)
Have your sexual activities interfered with some aspect of your professional or personal life, e.g. unable to perform at work, loss of relationship? (not related to sexual orientation)
Have you engaged in unsafe or "risky" sexual practices even though you knew it could cause you harm?
Have you ever paid for sex?
Have you ever had sex with someone just because you were feeling aroused and later felt ashamed or regretted it?
Have you ever cruised public restrooms, rest areas and/or parks looking for sexual encounters with strangers?
The face of addiction:
It's not just about online porn anymore. Online activity (Cybersex) may involve downloading and viewing pornography along with masturbation. It is just as likely to include reading and writing sexually explicit letters and stories, e-mailing to set up personal meetings with someone, placing or answering ads for sexual partners (i.e. Casual Encounters portion of Craigslist.com), visiting sexually oriented chat rooms (America Online), and engaging in interactive online affairs supported with web-cam viewing of each other. It has also become far too common for people to engage in behavior online they would never resort to absent the internet. Such deviant behavior as S&M, cybersex with adolescents or children, presenting themselves as persons of the opposite gender, sharing porno, posting pictures which could be illegal and using the internet to attract minors are becoming everyday news. Despite the consequences of prison time, great personal loss and economic loss the addicted are compelled to escalate their behaviors until it is too late. The addiction is typically broken down into two categories. Those who spend far too many hours on the internet and those who are more content based.
Those who suffer from the addiction based on too many hours on the internet get lost in time. While online, they lose all concept of it. They compromise sleep, lose contact with family and move further and further into isolation and it doesn't always stop there. The behavior may cross over to work and time is "stolen" from employers. Any friendships are lost as the addict becomes more removed from human interaction. The spouse or significant other loses any emotional support provided within the relationship and generally move into their own isolation. Often angry, resentful and in pain, they find their partner is MIA and with no hope of coming back to real life. Divorce is common. Children feel abandoned, lose guidance and are often seen picking up behavior issues that may lead to their own addiction in the future. The addict cannot find the "high" in real life and despite justifying the behavior by it being victimless, it is just another lie. Lots of bodies are left in the wake of the behaviors.
For those who suffer from "content-based" addiction there is even more intense danger. Frequently the behavior goes beyond cyber land and involves meeting others and subjecting themselves to heath or legal consequences. If they choose to download porn to work computers they risk losing their jobs. If the behavior results in child pornography sharing or actual contact with minors the addict stands a good chance of spending hard time in prison. Discovery by a spouse or significant other can be emotionally devastating and the cost to trust as well as the cost of divorce is amazingly high. The addict's sexual relationship at home suffers dramatically as it never matches up to what is experienced online and the time away from the bedroom removes opportunity even if so inclined. Frequently the spouse will choose to engage in extramarital affairs or seek consolation in the arms of others. Kids are exposed to extreme dysfunction and suffer a variety of perils as a result. The lack of nurturing in their environment will very likely result in a future addict.
There is help and there is a way to start the road to recovery. A search for resources related to addiction at the local Barnes and Noble bookstore will result in the discovery of excellent reading material. From the website Sexhelp.com a recommended reading list includes some of the best guides available to those who are suffering. I've included this list of resources as part of this blog. Personally, any material written by Dr. Patrick Carnes receives my whole-hearted endorsement. He is a person I've never met but he has saved my life. Pia Mellody's books related to codependence are equally powerful and although it is hard to visualize how it can be important to the person who suffers the addiction, in time it will be clear that codependence is at the core of the problem. Material related to childhood development and family of origin can help you see how the symptoms you deal with today may have been formed when you were a mere child.
Recommended Reading for Recovery
A Gentle Path Through the 12 Steps, Patrick Carnes
Cybersex Unhooked, David Delmonico & Elizabeth Griffin
Cruise Control, Rob Weiss
Disclosing Secrets, Deborah Corley & Jennifer Schneider
Don't Call it Love, Patrick Carnes
Facing the Shadow, Patrick Carnes
In the Shadows of the Net, Patrick Carnes, David Delmonico & Elizabeth Griffin
Mending a Shattered Heart - A Guide for Partners of Sex Addicts, Stephanie Carnes NEW!
Open Hearts - Renewing Relationships with Recovery, Romance & Reality, Patrick Carnes
Out of the Shadows, Patrick Carnes
Ready to Heal - Women Facing Love, Sex & Relationship Issues, Kelly McDaniel NEW!
Sex Addicts Anonymous
Sexual Anorexia, Patrick Carnes
The Betrayal Bond, Patrick Carnes
The Clinical Management of Sex Addiction, Patrick Carnes & Kenneth Adams
Untangling the Web: Sex, Porn and Fantasy Obsession, Robert Weiss, Jennifer Schneider
When He's Married to Mom, Kenneth Adams
Women, Sex and Addiction, Charlotte Kasl
6 Principles for Achieving Personal Balance, James B Lewis
Addiction Interaction Disorder, Patrick Carnes - CD
Eroticized Rage, Patrick Carnes - CD
Facing the Shadow: A Workshop in Sexual Addiction Recovery, Patrick Carnes - CD
Multiple Addictions: A Workshop in Multiple Addictions Recovery, Patrick Carnes - CD
Towards a New Freedom, Patrick Carnes - CD
Addiction Interaction Disorder, Patrick Carnes
Trauma Bonds, Patrick Carnes
Contrary to Love Series ( 12 part PBS Series), Patrick Carnes
Some of the best web sites related to sexual and internet addiction and recovery include:
I'd also encourage anyone who needs help finding their path to recovery to attend a meeting of Sexaholic's Anonymous or any of the 12 step programs designed to help those who suffer. I'll probably see you there.