Erik Bohlin, M.A.

New Hope Counseling

430 91st AVE NE, STE 8

Lake Stevens, WA 98258


How do I know if I have a sexual addiction?

The easy answer to this question is when sex, lust, porn, or masturbation isn't working for the person anymore.  Typically, there are consequences that lead a person to even ask this question.  Our spouse is upset.  We do behaviors that are against our morals.  There may be some legal trouble.  Maybe we are tired of using the addiction temporarily.  Usually, there is a lot of denial about how much of a problem it is.  We might get to a place of honesty and ask ourselves the following questions:

  1.. Have I ever thought I needed help for my sexual thinking or behavior?
  2.. Have I ever thought that I'd be better off if I didn't sexually act out?
  3.. Is sex or sexual stimuli are controlling me?
  4.. Have I ever tried to stop or limit my sexual behavior because I felt it was wrong?
  5.. Do I resort to sex to escape, relieve anxiety, or because I feel I can't cope?
  6.. Do I feel guilt, remorse or depression afterwards?
  7.. Has my pursuit of sex become more compulsive over time?
  8.. Does it interfere with my relationship with my spouse?
  9.. Do I have to resort to images or memories during sex?
  10.. Does an irresistible impulse arise in me when the other party makes overtures for sex? 
  11.. Do I keep going from one "relationship" to another?
  12.. Do I feel the "right relationship" would help me stop lusting, masturbating, or being so promiscuous?
  13.. Do I have a destructive need -- a desperate sexual or emotional need for someone?
  14.. Does the pursuit of sex make me careless for myself or the welfare of my family or others?
  15.. Has my effectiveness or concentration in my daily life decreased as focus on sex become more compulsive?
  16.. Do I lose time from work because of acting out or fantasizing about sex?
  17.. Do I turn to a lower environment when pursuing sex? Has it taken me to places in a city I thought I would never go?
  18.. Do I want to get away from my spouse as soon as we are done having sex?
  19.. Although my spouse and I have sexual relations, is it never enough?
  20.. Have I ever been arrested for a sex-related offense?
  21.. Have I used alcohol and drugs in the past?
  22.. Have I ever been in a situation I might have considered sexually abusive?

  23.. Have I kept this a secret?

  24.. Was my family expressive of emotion or were they rather distant?

  25.. Was it difficult for me to answer these questions, or did I try to minimize and rational some of the answers?

Answering yes to any of these questions could cause us to look more closely at the possibility of an addiction.  Sex addiction is really about a coping mechanism that involves living in extremes, minimizing, denying, numbing whatever is going on that is to stressful or painful.  Sex addicts could have grown up in a dysfunctional or alcoholic family.  Many addicts avoid conflict and cope by using their "drug" to avoid the distress that naturally occurs in life.  Getting into a fight with a spouse and then going and masturbating is just like the alcoholic who fights with a spouse to give them the excuse to go a run to the bar. 

When one turns to a counselor for help, they may ask:   

Did they use masturbation to cope as a youth?  How affectionate and good at expressing love was their family growing up?  It's as if in some families, the family's expression of the "affection" thermostat was set to 55 degrees and the family called this "warm."  Growing up in the this cool environment causes a person to seek anything that is warmer.  They feel like something is missing.  They don't know how to talk about their feelings and what is bothering them.  What happens?  One day they discover masturbation and for them it is the best thing since 'sliced bread.'  They need it too much, because of the lack of love they had expressed to them.  In a family where love is expressed openly and the thermostat is set to 72 degrees, when they discover masturbation--yeah it feels good, but not so good that they develop a pattern of using it as a coping mechanism.  There are other ways to feel loved. 

When a person uses porn and masturbation like a drug, that is, to fix disturbances in their life, when they are sad, mad, scared, bored, lonely or any other unpleasant feeling, it can become addictive.   When a person lies about their sexual behavior, it is likely to be a sex addiction.  Why do they lie.  Shame is probably the best explanation.   A person who struggles with sex addiction feels like such a "bad person for doing this."  They hide it from others.  They cannot talk about it.  it becomes more addictive.  The sex addict usually experiences 4 core beliefs as described in the work of Patrick Carnes, Ph.D. 

1.  I am unlovable.  The sex addict, like any addict at the core, feels really different from others.  They experience toxic shame.  Yeah, they may feel and work hard just like the other guy and work at looking normal.  But deep down they don't feel the same.  They don't feel loved.  In a marriage, their complaint is that their wives don't love them enough.  They may not express this--but this is how they feel.  Let's say, they they are popular, have a lot of friends, and are "loved" by others.  They feel that they are just fooling people and that given time, they will be rejected.  In the book, Sexaholics Anonymous, it says "that first we were 'love cripples,' then sex addicts. We were taking from others what was lacking in our lives."  This leads us to the next core belief.

2.  If I share everything with you, you will reject me.  So the addict begins to hide and not share honestly what is going on.  Not just the sexual indiscretions, but just about anything they think will present themselves in a poor light.  In some ways, sex addicts look great and actually better than more people on the outside.  But what you won't see is the pain, guilt, shame and death they are experiencing in the inside.  This double life isn't just about sex.  It can be about finances, their marriage, their body, their health, or their spiritual life.   The sex addict may lie so much they don't really think about how their lying is destroying the relationship around them.  Relationships are abbreviated.  It looks like a marriage, but there are a lot of "letters" left out.  They are in denial, which is not so much lying, but really an about unawareness.  They minimize.  They admit to some behaviors but normalize them and justify them.  They normalize.  They defend and explain.  They say, "well, it is not like we were are having a good sexual relationship anyway."  Could it be that sexual acting out is what is causing the marital problems.  The addict usually doesn't think so.  They typically think about it backwards.  If I had a better relationship with my wife, I wouldn't  have this trouble.  Chances are they came to the marriage with the addiction.  They perhaps have married someone who was codependent and grew up with addiction.  They think, "I am just like all the other guys."  They develop an "accounting system" as to why they are not an addict.  This is the list of sexual behaviors they haven't done to convince themselves they are not addicts.  "I haven't gone to a strip club or visited a prostitute"  "It is not like a masturbate everyday."  "It is not like I do it any more than every three months."  "I am not really out of control, I just need to work harder at this."  Eventually, if it is a sex addiction which is a progressive disease, it will be getting worse and not better.  Perhaps a person then begins to slip downward and do one of the behaviors that is on their list of why they are not really that bad of an addict.  The standard is lowered.  The more the behavior is done, the more 'acceptable' is is which helps the person stay in denial.   

3.  If I depend on people or God, they will let me down.  Sex addicts are very independent, self-directed people.  They don't want to rely on anyone because they feel that they could be let down.  They have a hard time trusting people.  This usually comes from growing up with dysfunctional family members they were afraid and/or couldn't count on.  This bold statement is not about blaming parents, but about taking responsibility for having a belief that blocks one from trusting others.  The "addiction" in a strange way becomes the "trusted source of comfort."  One doesn't really know how to ask for help.  .

4.  Sex becomes my more important need.  It may not seem like it, but the sex addict is living from one sexual experience to another.  It begins to dictate one's life.  It begins to become central and too important.  The root of the word addiction in Latin is "ad dictum," meaning, "to the dictator." 


One should note that these core belief are present in almost any addiction: drugs, pot, alcohol, sex, food, working, gambling,  and spending.  One may have more or two more stronger than another.  In counseling we help address these 4 core beliefs.  Helping client begin to break the rules so they can begin to feel again and to talk and trust is paramount.  Counseling is a conversation in a safe and confidential place.  In addition, support groups such as, Sexaholics Anonymous can be helpful.  One doesn't encourage lying to spouses, but many counselors don't think it is wise to share everything at first in an overwhelming way to one's spouse.  The spouse is wounded by all this as well.  The "sharing" addict doesn't realize he may be burdening his spouse to relieve his own guilt, not realizing that he is destroying the marriage.  The recovering addict can practice sharing with a sponsor or 12 step group.  Their spouse is typically coming from the place [and it is an understandable and healthy place] that their spouse has committed adultery at the very least at a mental level if not at a physical level.  An addict needs to learn to how to get sober and stay sober first before they can promise anything.  That is they stop using porn, masturbation, etc. and they start to develop new ways of coping.  They start to feel emotion again or possibly for the first time a deeper level.  They learn how to ask for help that doesn't involve taking.  They learn to give without expecting anything in return.  They develop a better relationship with God.  They learn to live life on life's terms with out controlling the outcome.  By God's grace they are honest, caring and giving individuals and can believe Him for about anything after recovering from lust. 

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