"When Dan's therapist told him that he was sexually addicted, he was outraged! He thought his therapist was exaggerating. Dan was certain his real problem was depression. He was simply down all the time, and he wanted to be happier. True, his life had left a trail of broken relationships and he had some sexual problems, but that was because he was so down all the time" (Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, page 177).
Denial is an all-too-common human defense mechanism. Patrick Carnes, an acknowledged expert on sexual addictions and author of about a dozen books on this topic, lists denial as symptomatic of the initial stage of progressive sexual addiction. The addicted person refuses to admit, even to himself, that he needs help. He thinks he can handle his own problems.
What is sexual addiction?
Obviously, not every person who has some difficulty or problem involving sex and sexual relationships is sexually addicted. However, since sexual addiction is progressive, it's possible for difficulties or problems to become exacerbated and to ultimately develop into addictions.
In his book Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, Dr. Carnes provides some important insight into identifying some of the common symptoms indicative of sexual addiction. "A way to understand sexual addicts...is to compare them with other types of addicts. A common definition of alcoholism or drug dependency is that a person has a pathological relationship with a mood-altering chemical. The alcoholic's relationship with alcohol becomes more important than family, friends, and work. The relationship progresses to the point where alcohol is necessary to feel normal. To feel ‘normal' for the alcoholic is also to feel isolated and lonely, since the primary relationship he depends upon to feel adequate is with a chemical, not other people.
"Sexual addiction is parallel. The addict substitutes a sick relationship to an event or a process for a healthy relationship with others. The addict's relationship with a mood-altering experience becomes central to his life…
"Addicts progressively go through stages in which they retreat further from the reality of friends, family, and work. Their secret lives become more real than their public lives. What other people know is a false identity. Only the individual addict knows the shame of living a double life—the real world and the addict's world" (pages 14-15).
The anatomy of addiction
How does addiction actually begin? Perhaps not surprisingly, it starts with the acceptance of delusional thought processes about oneself, allowing them to become rooted in one's personal belief system. As a consequence, addiction stems from faulty core beliefs about oneself that affect how we perceive reality.
Each person develops a belief system that is the sum of the assumptions, judgments and ideas that he or she holds to be true. This belief system contains potent family messages about such things as one's value or worth, relationships, needs and sexuality. When these core beliefs become inaccurate or faulty, they have the potential to provide fundamental momentum necessary for the development of sexual addictions.
What are some of these irrational beliefs? Perhaps the most common is the perception of not being a worthwhile person. Addicts believe that other people would not value them as a person if everything about themselves was known, including their addiction. They also believe that sex is their most important need. Sex is viewed as the only thing that makes their isolation bearable. Consequently, faulty personal core beliefs become the anchor points for sexual addiction.
Interacting faulty beliefs produce distorted views of reality. Denial leads the list. Ignoring the problem, blaming others and minimizing the behaviors become part of a defensive repertoire. Arguments, excuses, justifications and circular reasoning abound amidst impaired thinking patterns. Even consequences such as venereal disease, unwanted pregnancy, lost jobs, arrests and broken relationships are either overlooked or attributed to factors other than the addiction.
Slicing through this mental fog to both recognize and deal with denial and self-deception is essential to recovery and overcoming. "But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren" (James 1:14-16).
The addiction cycle
Addictive experiences tend to progress through a four-step cycle, intensifying with each repetition:
1. Preoccupation is the mood or trance in which the mind becomes completely engrossed with thoughts of sex. This mental state creates an obsessive search for sexual stimulation.
2. Ritualization is the formation of special routines leading up to sexual behavior. The ritual intensifies the preoccupation, adding arousal and excitement.
3. Compulsive sexual behavior is doing the actual sexual act, the end goal of the preoccupation and ritualization.
4. Despair is the feeling of utter hopelessness and sense of powerlessness that results from once again having engaged in sexually addictive behavior.
A self-perpetuating cycle
Since the end result is very disappointing and very painful, why would anyone repeat this addiction cycle? The reason is that the cycle becomes self-perpetuating. Ironically, much of the pain felt at the end of the cycle can be numbed or obscured through sexual preoccupation. This reengages the addiction cycle all over again. Hence, sexual addicts become hostages and slaves to their own preoccupations. Jesus Christ gave this concise warning about the enslaving potential of all sin: "Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin" (John 8:34).
God's revealed purpose for sex
We live in a society that presents "the joy of sex" as the rightful pursuit of everyone. It seems, in fact, suspicion may likely be attached to anyone who refrains from engaging in sexual activity. The so-called sexual revolution insists that we discard any "inhibitions" and "sexual hang-ups." This preoccupation with sex pervades many facets of life.
The great Creator God has designed human sexuality to be a wonderful blessing. God revealed His intent and purpose for sex when human civilization began. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). This is a reference to the union of the sexual organs of husband and wife and implies that marriage is intended to be an intimate relationship.
This understanding is confirmed by Paul in 1 Corinthians, where he calls sexual intercourse becoming "one flesh" (1 Corinthians 6:16). In the same context, Paul wrote, "Flee sexual immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:18), explaining that sex outside of marriage is sin and that it brings penalties on the sinner. In contrast, in Hebrews 13:4, Paul affirms that the sexual union between a husband and wife is the lawful function of human sexuality. The marriage bed is undefiled, he explained. Paul then immediately warned that other sexual acts outside of marriage do defile a person spiritually.
Christ's statements in Matthew 5:27-30 explain how it is possible to commit sexual sin in our mind alone—apart from any action whatsoever. We are commanded to guard and control our thoughts as well as our actions. Jesus Christ later also inspired Paul to write about our thoughts as the battlefield on which we win or lose the struggle: "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
Levels of addiction
Sexual addiction is generally categorized into three levels. The presence of one or more of these sexual behaviors does not always involve addiction. Various sexual crimes, for example, may or may not be addictive behaviors. The behaviors designated as level one have in common general cultural acceptance. Some are regarded as illegal, but the reality is that widespread practice conveys a public tolerance. Though often considered by society to be less destructive, each of these can be devastating when done compulsively. Level one addictions generally include masturbation, compulsive relationships, pornography, prostitution and anonymous sex.
Level two addictions include exhibitionism, voyeurism, indecent phone calls and indecent liberties. These behaviors are deemed sufficiently intrusive to warrant stiff legal sanctions. They are all punished when actively prosecuted. Both prosecutors and the general public, however, often view these acts as nuisance offenses. The commonality of all of these addictive behaviors is the fact that someone is victimized.
Level three sexual addictions share in common the violation of some of our most significant boundaries. Rape, incest and child molestation entail basic transgressions of laws designed to protect the vulnerable. A number of additional detestable behaviors and addictions are intentionally not being mentioned in this listing.
Breaking the hold of sexual addiction is very difficult to do. All forms of addiction are vicious because they further the inability to trust others. However, without help from others, the addict often fails to regain control because the addiction feeds itself. Also, few forms of fixation or excitement are as supercharged with social judgment, ridicule or fear. This makes seeking help especially difficult for the sexual addict.
One of the best proven paths to recovery is the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, but adapted to a particular sexual addiction. The 12-step program helps members restore their network of human relationships, especially in their family. Members are taught how to live the program, leaving behind their double life and its delusion and pain.
Battling a pornography addiction
Sex sells! Pornography, one of the greatest sexual scourges afflicting human society today, is a $57 billion industry. Porn revenue is larger than the combined revenues of all professional football, baseball and basketball franchises! It also exceeds the combined revenues of ABC, CBS and NBC television networks.
Overcoming an addiction to Internet pornography may necessitate the use of some special computer safeguards. For example, various software programs filter Internet content but still allow normal Web surfing. They can be used to block out offensive websites.
If you install this type of program yourself, you will easily know how to get around it. Therefore, it would be better to have your spouse or some other trustworthy adult set up the software on your computer.
Three good ones are CyberPatrol, CyberSitter and NetNanny. They cost less than $40. All have free trials, so you can take each for a test drive before you buy. You'll find them at, respectively:
Both America Online and MSN offer ways to limit access to the Internet's darker side. Like the filtering software, you might want to have your spouse or other trustworthy adult set up the account. This way, you do not have any of the passwords. While these controls are meant primarily for children, they can help adults avoid problem websites.
You could also use an Internet service provider that does filtering. Below are links to two such companies:
If you need something more adult, check out accountability software. One such program is X3watch, which is offered by XXXchurch.com, a ministry that battles online pornography. With this program, you designate an accountability partner. X3watch makes a record of any questionable sites you visit and e-mails the list to your accountability partner. It also makes a note if you close the program. X3watch is free. You can get it at www.x3watch.com.
Here are some additional websites that may prove to be helpful in recovery from an addiction to pornography:
• Sex Addicts Anonymous: www.sexaa.org.
• Dr. Patrick Carnes, author and expert on this topic: www.sexhelp.com.
Overcoming sexual addictions
The process of overcoming sexual addictions is neither simple nor easy. Spiritual freedom, however, is made available to us through Jesus Christ. "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). The first step in the process of attaining this freedom is to recognize and acknowledge our sins. Remember King David's example of repentance. "For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me" (Psalm 51:3).
The next step involves changing direction in our life, turning away from sin and toward obedience to God. Deep, heartfelt repentance before God can provide a marvelous cleansing process, a spiritual catharsis that releases the guilt and shame induced by sin. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
The struggle against sin is a long and difficult process. It's not only essential that we continue to "put to death" (Colossians 3:5) the old sinful carnal nature within us, but that we also allow Christ to transform us through the power of the Holy Spirit, the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2). Sinful habits must be rooted out and replaced with habits of obedience to God. As Paul expressed it, "And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness" (Romans 6:18).
It is possible to break the bonds of sexual addiction. If you need help in this area, ask God to give you the courage to honestly face the problem. Be willing to seek counsel from the ministry and, if recommended, to obtain specialized professional help as well.
Most importantly, beseech Almighty God to accomplish His will in your life.
"But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life" (Romans 6:22).