Before we can deal with a partner with a sex addiction, we first have to get clear on what a sex addiction is. Although many people think so, people who look at porn, fantasize about varied sexual experiences, have high sexual libidos, masturbate a lot, have been unfaithful, or have had many sexual partners are not necessarily sex addicts.
An addiction is when someone uses an activity (e.g. drinking, gambling, sex) inappropriately in the place of an otherwise appropriate coping skill. So for example you hate your job and you hate your boss so you get drunk every night to forget about it. Or, you feel powerless in your life so you go to massage parlors where the people there cater to your every whim making you feel powerful.
Sex addiction is not different from any other addiction, so to determine if someone has an addiction there are some questions that need answering: Does the person engage in this activity to the detriment of other life responsibilities? Is the person able to stop the activity without experiencing excessive anxiety or withdrawal? Has the person experienced negative consequences due to engaging in the activity, legal or otherwise?
In the case of a sex addiction the answers to these questions may look like this: The person watches porn to the extent that it interferes with the sexual activity in their current relationship. The person says he or she will stop engaging in the activity or tries to stop resulting in excessive anxiety, anger or obsessive thinking about the activity. The person was caught masturbating at work.
If you have asked these questions about your partner and you still feel that your partner may be a sex addict than the next step is to seek professional help from a certified therapist. Although sex addiction is like most other addictions, a sex therapist is trained in areas involving sexual activity and is better equipped to do a proper evaluation.
As with any addiction, your partner is not the enemy and the addiction is not happening because of you or your relationship. You cannot personalize it and make it about you. If you discover your partner has racked up thousands of dollars of debt seeing prostitutes twice a week, you may need to grieve the fact your partner has not been faithful but this is not a declaration about you or your relationship. Still, if there was outside sexual activity, both you and your partner should be tested for STD’s.
Once evaluated, your partner will more than likely need to continue in therapy and/or attend a group dealing with out of control sexual behavior or a 12 step sexual recovery group. To the best of your ability, you will need to support your partner’s recovery with patience, compassion, and forgiveness. In addition, it is a good idea to seek out your own therapeutic support to better understand the dynamics of sex addiction recovery.