Sex addicts tend to be perfectionists. And this is especially true in their attitude toward sex. They are known for their all-or-nothing thinking, the tendency to view the world in terms of extremes. In their sex life with a partner, sex addicts in recovery tend to carry with them an extreme and basically intolerant set of expectations. Just as an aside, there have been a slew of blogs and research survey findings that suggest that we are all having our sexual expectations distorted by the increasing pornification of our culture. Some in the “feminist porn” movement and elsewhere have attempted to fight the idealized images and expectations shown in mainstream porn and in the “ambient porn” of movies, games, magazines and TV. See also my journal article the findings of the APA task force on the sexualization of girls in our society.
The over importance of sex and orgasm
Sex addicts have as a core belief that sex is their most important need. Thus sex addicts place an undue emphasis on sexual arousal and gratification. Even before the advent of internet porn, sex addicts have always tended to be in a hurry to get to the sex act and to achieve the perfect orgasm. If this didn’t happen all was lost. Having permission to have “bad sex”, i.e. sex that doesn’t match some perfect ideal, is a way to counteract the desperate need that sex addicts feel. It can help relieve the pressure and can allow for times when the partners feel less energetic, more sensual etc. It takes the focus off of “getting my needs met” and places it more on just having a sexual, physical experience with someone you are close to.
Fantasy standards of desirability
Because sex addicts are used to engaging in sex that is excessively loaded with fantasy content, (sex with strangers, cybersex, escorts, strip clubs, and of course pornography) they usually have perfectionistic (fantasy ridden) ideas about how women’s and men’s bodies should look. This then results in the feeling that any sex with someone who doesn’t measure up to a fantasy standard of beauty or prowess is no good. Hence the saying that to an addict “sex with a real woman is just bad porn.”
Unrealistic expectations about sexual behavior
Sex in the context of a relationship may seem boring to a sex addict. In a real situation the addict has to deal with all kinds of awkward, messy and most importantly unpredictable elements. These will almost certainly burst the addict’s fantasy bubble. In addition, sex addicts are used to fantasy scenarios that may involve all kinds of erotic behavior that their partner may not wish to engage in. We are asking the recovering sex or porn addict to adjust to what they may see as “plain vanilla” sex.
Paradoxically, sex in real life may also be more unpredictable and less boring. Sex addicts are used to controlling the sexual experience from beginning to end. In sex addiction, the addict has a preferred scenario or arousal template. This can evolve and escalate into more extreme behaviors, but the addict knows what he or she is going to get. Real, relational sex is not so predictable. This means things may end up unusually exciting and passionate or they may end up less so.
Expectations of hyper-arousal and porn induced ED
In addictive sexual acting out, the addict seeks a very extreme form of arousal and often seeks to prolong it. This level of extreme or hyper-arousal is unlikely to exist in any everyday situation. Furthermore there is beginning to be evidence that porn addiction in particular can lead men to experience erectile dysfunction when they attempt to have sex with a real person. This porn induced ED, as it is called, is reversible when the addict abstains from porn use for a period of time.
The use of ED drugs like Viagra is becoming increasingly prevalent, even among younger men and men who don’t need it. Addicts in particular may have exaggerated ideas about what they need to be able to do to “perform” sexually and may be very anxious in trying to have healthy sex with a partner. It is normal for men to have a physical response to what is going on around them and sexual “performance” can vary for any number of reasons. It is unfair, inaccurate and inhumane to see these fluctuations as a sign of something wrong or bad. In recovery there is often a period of insecurity about sex but this is not a signal to panic and reach for ED drugs.
Sex can be a good thing no matter how it turns out
Sex addicts are so zeroed in on sex as central to life that they don’t realize that it is only one aspect, not the be-all and end-all. Sex addicts find it hard to fathom the idea that, for many people, sex is great but has its proper place among many other great things in life. In relationships sex is no doubt very important but it is a source of bonding as well as excitement and gratification. The behavior of the partners and the level of arousal will exist in a broader spectrum or array of experience.