Discovery of Sex Addiction in a Partner: What to Do First

When you first discover sexually compulsive behavior in a partner, it may be hard to think straight.  Nevertheless, you are in a position of being a “first responder” in a crisis situation that seems to require action of some sort.

You are the “interventionist” for the moment

Very often a spouse or partner of a sex addict is alone in confronting the situation.  An alcoholic or drug addict may have half a dozen friends or family members who are fed up enough that they will band together for a professionally led group intervention to try to get the person to accept help.  Sex addiction is a less public problem and the partner who discovers the secret life of the addict might not have anyone to open up to.

But as a partner of a sex addict, you may be a crucial person in determining whether the addict gets treatment.  What you do or don’t do will have significant effects.  How and in what way should you try to have an impact?  What will you need to know to act effectively? Here are some of the major things to consider.

1.     Confront the sexual behaviors.

It is important for partners and spouses to ask the hard questions.  If you don’t take the issue seriously the sex addict may try to placate you with promises or minimize the problem.  What has the addict been doing? How often?  For how long?  It is not necessary to know all the gory details about specific behaviors.  What matters is to begin to be honest.

2.     Choices to make and choices not to make

You do not have to make a choice about whether to leave the relationship in the middle of the discovery crisis.  But assuming you might stick it out, you do have to make a decision to take the necessary next steps.  Don’t get caught up in definitions of addiction.  The label is not what matters.  What matters is taking action to get help.

3.     Expect some distorted thinking and a mix of strong emotions

The addict at first will be prone to some amount of denial and may not be thinking too clearly.  He or she may react to overwhelming guilt with strong emotions and even anger and accusations.  Don’t be derailed.

4.    You have more power than you think: use it

The partner of a sex addict has a great deal of leverage in the crisis-discovery period.  Most addicts will agree to get help if their partner insists on it, even if they don’t quite understand that they have an addiction.  It is important to know that you may have more influence than the therapist in getting the addict to make the initial commitment to treatment.

5.     Find a sex addiction specialist

Initiate contact with a sex addiction therapist and go in together for an assessment if possible.  Don’t plan on continuing in couple therapy at this point.  Sex addiction is not about issues between you as a couple.  There will be time to deal with that later.  The goal is to get the addict into the proper level of individual treatment for his or her sexually compulsive behavior.

6.     Get help for yourself

It is important that you find a sex addiction therapist who also works with partners and spouses and get individual counseling.  You will also begin to educate yourself about sex addiction and recovery.  This is a time to rely on trusted friends and family for help and support. Your addict partner cannot be your major support system and you must rely on other people as difficult as that may be.

It will only be after both partners have had the appropriate treatment and support over a period of six months to a year that they can then begin to re-evaluate and work on their relationship together.  The initial period is one in which each partner will separately work on their problems.  If you as a spouse or partner have taken a stand and helped make this happen then you will have done the best that you could do.

Are We Responsible For Our Sexuality?

The two recent articles, “Head case puzzle” (7/15/2012) by Robert M.  Sapolsky (a professor of neuroscience at Stanford University) and “Do pedophiles deserve sympathy?” (6/21/2012) by James Cantor ( of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto) point the way toward what will undoubtedly become an increasingly well understood science of the way in which brain wiring, injuries to the nervous system both before and after birth, childhood factors affecting brain development and genetics are all interwoven in such a way as to produce a human being who is predisposed to particular sexual acts.

But for those who want to see sex addicts and/or sex offenders as responsible for making the right choices no matter how they are wired, Sapolsky’s Op-Ed piece in the L.A. Times is a shot across the bow.

As Sapolsky points out, “Self-discipline, impulse control, gratification postponement and emotional regulation are all just as much products of biology as anything else that emanates from the brain.  The same types of evidence that allowed us to understand the role for biology in such things as abnormal sexual urges have also demonstrated a role for biology in giving in to those urges.”

Where are we with understanding sexual compulsion?

Some sex offenders and sex addicts seem to have wiring that is so messed up that they are incapable of ever gaining any connection with or empathy for another human being.  And yet we used to claim that people with “character disorders” such as borderline personality disorder were incurable too. But we now know that these “disorders of the self” as they are sometimes called are most often related to neurophysiological  issues that may be a result of early trauma and attachment issues and that they can be treated with a great deal of success.

So is sexual compulsion a disability permanently etched in the brain?

At present I believe we operate on the basis of a kind of implicitly understood continuum of biological permanence, which goes something like this:

sexual orientation  –  paraphilia  –  arousal template  – trauma reaction

In this continuum sexual orientation (gay, straight etc.) is accepted by most if not all people as hard wired in the brain if not the genome.   At the most fluid end of the scale, a trauma reaction or behavior that is in reaction to (or a repetition of) specific traumatic experiences which are often quite amenable to change through treatment.

The middle two categories are where the sex offenders and sex addicts are usually located.  Pedophilia, attraction to children, is a paraphilia like other types of sexual fixations.   It is the object of sexual attraction that is the most or only really sexually arousing person or thing.  These are seen as learned rather than innate for the most part but have been viewed as resistant to treatment.

“Arousal template” is the word used in most sex addiction therapy to refer to the sexual preferences such as dominance and submission, voyeurism and so on, which are the result of childhood experiences, early trauma and conditioning.  They are closer to trauma reactions in that with proper treatment they can be worked through and in many cases the person’s sexual behavior can come to be more “normal.”

If there is a neurophysiologically identifiable cause of the problem, we tend to see the person as less responsible for their behavior regardless of how effectively it can be treated.  Actually, the question should be not how much or little people have control over a given behavior, but how far we have come in being able to treat it.  The question of responsibility is one that the legal and philosophical systems rely on but ultimately it has little to do with the scientific reality of the prospects for treatment and recovery.

How Can a Sex Addict Regain Trust?

Even after a sex addict has admitted the problem and has gone into treatment for sexually addictive behaviors like serial affairs, excessive porn use, or compulsive cybersex (to name just a few), it is normal for spouses and partners to feel hurt, angry and suspicious.  Even after the addict has been sexually “sober” for a period of months, the spouse will usually be justifiably mistrustful.

They see the sex addict going to therapy and support groups; they hear the addict saying all the right things and yet they feel that there is not enough evidence of real change; they are afraid it’s all a sham.

After working with many recovering sex addicts and their partners, I feel that there are four key elements to regaining trust:

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Porn And Sexism: Men Are Speaking Out

Men are tackling some tough sexual issues.  Issues like  male sexuality and sex addiction.  For decades there have been men who were for gender equality, against violence and against sex role injustice.  But now men’s liberation seems to be showing strength in the sexualarena.  There are currently a number of male-run websites exploring the myths around “male supremacist sexuality,” and taking a hard look at porn addiction as well.

In what follows I’ll give a few examples of what I’ve recently come across where male-run websites are challenging what they see as an outdated idea of male sexuality based on objectification and domination.

  •   From the website – title: “Men, Masculinities and Gender Politics”

“Porn makes sexism sexy: it makes domination, hierarchy, violence and hate feel like sex.  Sexism is eroticized.  Pornography is also one of the main enforcers of homophobia.”

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Dating a Sex Addict: Do’s and Don’ts

Let’s assume you are a very intuitive person.  Let’s say you are a woman who has just found out her boyfriend is frequently watching internet porn, having online sexual encounters, or engaging in other sexual activities in a secretive or compulsive way.

You have already got a pretty good idea that there’s something not OK about it.  Maybe he wants you to act out a particular fantasy scenario or engage in a 3-way or some other act that may not be in your comfort zone.  You say “no” and he keeps pushing you; maybe he even gets irritated.

The following are common sense ideas based on my own experience in working with sex addicts and their partners.


  • Don’t ignore your intuition.  Your intuition is that little faint voice inside you that tells you something doesn’t feel right.  It is way too easy to ignore that little voice especially in new dating situation when you don’t have all the “information.”  Your intuition has a lot of information, so trust it.
  • Don’t let yourself be talked out of what you are feeling.  If you say that you think there’s a problem and your boyfriend denies it and tries to brush it off you should continue to notice the signs of addiction.  And, if you are dealing with a sex addict, promises to change are worth next to nothing.
  • Don’t blame yourself for someone else’s compulsive sexual behavior.  Even if the person tries to blame you and say you are lacking sexually or some other way,  you cannot and should not accept a guilt trip
  • Don’t “manage” his illness.  Many sex addicts will disclose their behavior but not take responsibility for it.  They may let you be their coach, therapist or policeman.  This never works for either of you and is at bottom a way of dodging the issue.


  • Do set boundaries that work for you.  This means deciding what you are really comfortable with.  It also means being clear about what you want and don’t want, expressing it and continuing to stick to it over time.
  • Do continue to observe and put the pieces together.  Ask a lot of questions, particularly about his relationship history and what he is looking for in a relationship.  You are not being paranoid, just prudent.
  • Do take a critical look at his behavior.  Hold onto the idea that no matter how sexually exciting you find the relationship, there are other very important ways to evaluate a potential boyfriend besides sexual magnetism.
  • Do demand that the person get help.  This is something he must do based on his own motivation but you may be important enough to him to provide that initial thrust. This means that if you take a stand you have to be ready to walk.  “Get help or I’m out of here,” is often what an addict needs to give him the impetus to get some help.

Obviously these are just a few observations and not the whole story.  There are many important aspects to how to conduct a dating relationship in present day society.  And there are many different viewpoints out there as to what is “normal” and what is sexually addictive or problematic so that it is easy to feel confused in an actual dating situation.

Please leave a comment and share your experience and wisdom on this topic!

Is Porn Addiction the “New Normal?

Judging by the statistics, internet pornography addiction is at least becoming the norm if not the normal.  One question that arises is how we as a society should respond to this phenomenon and why.

23 million porn addicts in the U.S., and that’s just the adults

The article “Pornography: ‘Everybody’s Watching it, Statistics Say” states that 30 percent of all web traffic is porn and that porn sites attract the greatest volume of web traffic.

According to the article “Internet Pornography Statistics”

“A total of 40 million U.S. adults regularly visit pornography websites.  Ten percent of adults admit to an internet sexual addiction (my italics) and 20 percent of men say they access pornography at work.”

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