“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 is 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. Amazingly, 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 the overcoming of this juggernaut. “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 James 1:14-16 14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
15 Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death.
16 Do not err, my beloved brothers.
American King James Version×).
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 John 8:34Jesus answered them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Whoever commits sin is the servant of sin.
American King James Version×).
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 Genesis 2:24Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall join to his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
American King James Version×). 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 1 Corinthians 6:16What? know you not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, said he, shall be one flesh.
American King James Version×). In the same context, Paul wrote, “Flee sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18 1 Corinthians 6:18Flee fornication. Every sin that a man does is without the body; but he that commits fornication sins against his own body.
American King James Version×), explaining that sex outside of marriage is sin and that it brings penalties on the sinner. In contrast, in Hebrews 13:4 Hebrews 13:4Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.
American King James Version×, 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 Matthew 5:27-30 27 You have heard that it was said by them of old time, You shall not commit adultery:
28 But I say to you, That whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.
29 And if your right eye offend you, pluck it out, and cast it from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into hell.
30 And if your right hand offend you, cut it off, and cast it from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into hell.
American King James Version×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 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) 5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
American King James Version×).
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 Twelve 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 Web sites.
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 Web sites.
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 Web sites 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 John 8:36If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.
American King James Version×). 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” (Psalms 51:3 Psalms 51:3For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
American King James Version×).
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 1 John 1:9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
American King James Version×).
The struggle against sin is a long and difficult process. It is not only essential that we continue to “put to death” (Colossians 3:5 Colossians 3:5 Mortify therefore your members which are on the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
American King James Version×) 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 Romans 12:2And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
American King James Version×). 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 Romans 6:18Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness.
American King James Version×).
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 Romans 6:22But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end everlasting life.
American King James Version×). UN
— John W. Cafourek is pastor of the Salem, Oregon, congregation and has a master’s degree in psychological counseling.
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1. We admitted we were powerless over our sexual addiction—that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
—From Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction , page 170.
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A. Michael Johnson, Ph.D., lists the following tools and more on his Web site www.sexual-addict.com/tools_of_recovery.htm:
• Accountability Partners and Agreements: Being accountable to someone is an important anchor for sobriety. Make an agreement with someone to check in daily if at all possible. That person should have a list of questions—very specific questions—to ask you and that you have agreed to answer honestly. Your partner may be a member of your group, a friend in recovery, your therapist or a good friend. An accountability partner must be someone you trust and with whom you feel safe. It is not recommended that you ask your life partner to be your accountability partner. Related tools include sponsors and a support network.
• Avoid Triggering Situations: You don’t have to go to business meetings at nude bars. You can tell the others that going to such places interferes with your spiritual growth. If you can’t avoid some triggers such as working on a computer, make it safe for yourself. Install blocking software (so that you don’t know the password), keep your door open, turn the screen toward the door, put the computer at home in a public area and never go online when you are alone.
• Balance Your Life and Service.
• Carry Recovery With You at All Times: That may be reminders, cues, instructions or anything else that will help. Those things might include:
Phone numbers of recovery friends.
Photographs of loved ones.
Cost Card (add up the costs of your addiction).
• Combat Physical Inactivity: Spend time doing fun activities and getting involved in sports, exercise and other physical activities. This is useful for all addicts and particularly important for those who became sedentary with their addictions such as cybersex addicts.
• Combat Isolation: Spend time with people. Isolation is a part of your disease. Find ways to be in contact with people.
• Interrupt Your Acting Out: Develop and memorize a set of strategies to help you avoid acting out. Use these daily.
• Meetings: In these meetings you learn valuable information about your disease and how the 12-step program works. Members give and receive support, work the steps and share experience, strength and hope in a safe environment. At first, attend as many meetings as you can. If possible, attend meetings daily for the first 90 days and practice abstinence to the best of your ability.
• One Day at a Time.
• Prayer and Meditation.
• Professional Help: Your addiction may have been a subconscious way of self-medicating yourself for wounds you carry from your earlier life. It is important to work with a professional who understands sexual addiction or is willing to learn. This is another way to keep yourself on the path of recovery. Remember that recovery is much more than abstinence from sexually addictive behaviors. You may want to seek out group therapy, individual therapy or both. If possible, including your spouse in therapy, both individually and as a couple, can be a great benefit to the recovery of both and to your relationship.
• Set Boundaries.
• Telephone: The telephone is your lifeline between meetings. Get phone numbers from other members in your program. Get used to calling someone daily. It is an important way to break out of the isolation that is so strongly a part of the disease. You may be shy and hesitant at first, but by training yourself to call someone, it will be easy to place that call when that moment of crisis arises. And it will!
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