Symptoms of Sex Addiction – avoidance
Disclaimer: As a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist I am fully aware that sex addiction afflicts both men and women but for ease and flow I have chosen the pronoun ‘he’ for the sex addict and ‘she’ or ‘wife’ for the partner.
One of the more common questions I get from wives is ‘Is my husband a sex addict?” . The best way to assess for an addiction is with a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist, however, there are signs that sex addiction may be present. In order to lay out clear symptoms of sex addiction it is important to expose it’s root.
Sexual addiction is an intimacy disorder. What that means is that a sex addict is unable to meet his intimacy needs in a healthy way and so these unmet needs ‘go underground’, ie, are met in ways that the spouse does not know about, thus creating isolation and secrecy. This is where porn and acting out sexually come into play.
So when a man is meeting his intimacy needs in an ‘underground’ way, what tell tale signs does that leave on the surface? In other words, how does sex addiction manifest from the perspective of the spouse.
- A sex addict may have many ‘friends’ but rarely any actual intimate relationships.
- A wife may have an instinct that says, ‘something is wrong’ but nothing specific to which to point.
- The husband may fill his time with work or sports or tv, anything that keeps interaction with his wife to a minimum. He does not want to ‘connect’ with his wife because he knows he is carrying a secret and connection makes discovery more likely. He may come up with many excuses as to why he is able to spend quality time with his wife; work is overwhelming him, he needs to watch sports to relax, etc.
- As a result, she may experience a sense of loneliness in the marriage or a disconnection from her husband. The wife may attempt to close this gap by seeing a counselor.This may work for awhile, but marriage counseling which focuses on empathy and communication will be of little effect as long as the intimacy disorder, ie, sexual addiction is left unaddressed.
Why is this? Because addictions are fed by isolation and secrecy and so in order to keep the sexual addiction alive the sex addict must hide his behaviors.
As long as there are secrets, there is no hope for true intimacy. The partner will feel this ‘hiding’ through a general lack of connection, so no matter how often they sit down to communicate, the distance will remain because the secret elephant is still standing between them.
- So the wife may be left after several months with a feeling of hopelessness or worse, a sense that the ‘something’ that is wrong, may actually reside in her, that she is the problem. Her mind may begin to dwell on the possibility that her loneliness is entirely her fault but without a clear indication of what the actual problem is, this self assessment will lead only to despair.
- The wife of a sex addict may experience her husband as ‘not being present’. Although he may spend time with the family, those nearest to him feel that he is ‘just not there’.This makes sense because when a sex addicts is keeping secrets from a partner, they will avoid being transparent which makes true intimacy impossible. A spouse will feel emotionally alone, empty, neglected because the addict is not able to truly connect.
- This avoidance can also find its way into the bedroom, 50% of spouses of sex addicts report feeling sexually neglected by their partner.
Although this may seem counter intuitive because people assume that sex addicts want sex, it makes sense when viewed through the lens of an intimacy disorder. Sex addicts do not want vulnerable transparent connected sex, they prefer the fantasy of porn sex or the actual experience of disconnected anonymous sex. The sex addict is trying to get their real intimacy needs through unreal connections, which will never meet the underlying need but instead will increase the hunger. The more a sex addict tries to meet his intimacy need through porn or illicit sex, the more he has to hide and the more he hides the more lonely and disconnected he feels and ultimately the more he will disconnect from the ‘real’ person in his life, his wife.
The other 50% of sex addicts pursue their wife sexually but the wife reports that the sexual encounters feels empty, that she feels used
Openness, transparency, trust, genuine playfulness, these are all natural by products of a truly intimate relationship and the wife of a sex addict will acutely feel their absence.