Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., an early pioneer of sexual addiction in the secular community, defines addiction as having a pathological relationship with a mood-altering chemical or behavior. This relationship soon becomes a priority; and it will begin to surpass other important relationships like family, friends, or work. As any addiction progresses, there comes a point where the mood-altering chemical or behavior becomes necessary to function.
Sexual addiction is no different. Simply stated, sexual addiction is the lack of control of any sexual behavior or relationship. Perhaps the most helpful definition is a practical one: any sexual behavior that has a negative effect on one’s life. We break down sexual addiction into four parts: compulsivity, continuation, obsession, and tolerance.
Compulsivity: A compulsion is defined as repetitive behaviors or mental acts that a person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession. In most cases, the behavior temporarily relieves the stress tied to this obsession causing the person to be more likely to do that same behavior in the future. In simple terms, it is the loss of control over a behavior. It’s the need or drive to “act out”.
Continuation: As the repetitive behavior becomes compulsive, continuation is the further repetition despite negative consequences. This can look like “acting out” despite repeated attempts to stop.
Preoccupation/Obsession: Obsessions are recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that cause distressing emotions such as anxiety, fear, or disgust. It is common to try to ease the stress of obsessional thinking by using compulsions. It is also common to try to ignore, suppress, or distract from the obsession using other activities.
Tolerance: Tolerance is defined as a condition resulting from persistent use of a drug, characterized by a markedly diminished effect with regular use of the same dose of the drug or by a need to increase the dose markedly over time to achieve the same desired effect. While sex is not a drug, sexual behaviors release chemicals in the brain that have a very similar effect. Tolerance leads to the need to “act out” more often or more intensely to get the same “high”. For a sexual addiction, this could mean progression to more dangerous or damaging activities.
What is Sexual Addiction?
In recent years, largely through the pioneering work of Dr. Patrick Carnes within the secular community, and Dr. Mark Laaser within the Christian community, more attention has been drawn to the problem of sexual addiction. Dr. Carnes wrote the first book about sexual addiction in 1981, which is now called Out of the Shadows. Dr. Laaser wrote the first Christian book about sexual addiction in 1992, now titled Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction.
The reality of sexual addiction as a diagnosable issue is still gaining acceptance. The DSM-5, the standard classification of mental disorders used by health professionals in the United States, does not identify sexual addiction as a disorder. Much like the slow process to recognize alcoholism as an addiction over 40 years ago, sexual addiction is still a grey area for most of the psychological and medical community. The term “addict” is still misunderstood to this day and brings with it the heavy burden of shame and guilt.
In the mid-to-late 1970’s programs of recovery based on the Twelve Steps originally used by Alcoholics Anonymous rapidly expanded across the country. The main programs of these groups are Sexaholics Anonymous (SA), Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA). However, there have been few programs that combine sound clinical treatment with Christian principles. This gap leaves men alone to struggle with the spiritual aspects of their sexual shame and along with their partners. Dr. Laaser’s vision was to address this need. His books, workbooks, seminars and workshops are all based on sound clinical principles combined with Christian truth. Even after his passing, Dr. Mark Laaser’s wisdom and expertise is at the heart of all we do here at Faithful & True. We are proud to continue Dr. Mark Laaser’s legacy of raising awareness for sexual addiction and unwanted sexual behavior. We continue to dedicate ourselves to helping those in need on their journey towards fidelity and healing.
The History of Sexual Addiction
Are you struggling with un-wanted sexual behaviors? Do some of the behaviors mentioned sound similar to your experience? Take Dr. Mark Laaser’s Sexual Integrity Inventory a self-assessment tool to help you identify the severity of your sexual behavior history. If you answered yes to half or more of these questions, we encourage you to speak to someone such as a trusted friend, a religious leader, or a professional counselor. For more information about our services and how we can help, please give us a call.