What distinguishes addictive sex from normal sex?
It is easy to confuse normal sexual desire and conduct with addictive compulsion and gratification. A person can have a stronger-than-normal sexual appetite and not be an addict. Here are some characteristics of addictive sex that help set the two apart:
Addictive sex is done in isolation. This does not always necessarily mean that it is done while physically alone. Rather it means that mentally and emotionally the addict is detached, or isolated, from human relationship and contact. The most intimately personal of human behaviors becomes utterly impersonal.
Addictive sex is secretive. In effect, the addict develops a double life, practicing masturbation, going to porn shops and massage parlors, paying for prostitutes, all the while hiding what he is doing from others-and, in a sense, even from himself. Because this secret life is so full of shame, the biggest fear of the sex addict is to be found out.
Addictive sex is devoid of intimacy. The sex addict is utterly self-focused. He cannot achieve genuine intimacy because his self-obsession leaves no room for giving to others. As a child, there were most likely no intimate relationships outside of sex. To be truly intimate is an experience most sex addicts have never had.
Addictive sex is devoid of relationship. Addictive sex is mere sex, sex for its own sake, sex divorced from authentic interaction of persons. This is most clear with regard to fantasy, pornography and masturbation. but even with regard to sex involving a partner, the partner is not really a “person” but a cipher, an interchangeable part in an impersonal-almost mechanical-process.
Addictive sex is victimizing. The overwhelming obsession with self-gratification blinds the addict to the harmful effect his behavior is having on others. If achieving gratification means that a 6-year-old child will be victimized, the addict will proceed unaware until the shame comes crashing in, once the gratifying act has been achieved. Sex addicts need to be helped so that victimization is stopped.
Addictive sex ends in despair. When married couples make love, they are more fulfilled for having had the experience. Addictive sex leaves the participants feeling guilty regretting the experience. Rather than fulfilling, it is empty, and they despair over who they had sex with or how low they stooped to have it. In these dark moments of despair the addict most likely feels abandoned by God. Often they think to themselves of how badly they want to stop and want help, but they do not know how to stop or where to turn.
Adapted from Addicted to Love by Stephen Arterburn, M.Ed. Published by Servant Publications. Copyright (c) 1991 by Servant Publications. All rights reserved. Used by permission.