Re-Imagining Sex in Recovery: A Paradigm Shift is Possible

Re-Imagining Sex in recovery

Today I am thrilled to share with you two excellent resources related to sexual addiction recovery and sexual health. First, I want to share with you a chapter from Life After Lust called Connected Sex: A Paradigm Shift for the Sexually Addicted. This is the first time I have publicly shared this chapter in its entirely. I hope you find it mind-expanding and life-altering.

Second, skilled and knowledgeable specialist in sexual addiction treatment, Valerie Hamaker, has created a valuable online course series on healthy sexuality and  sexual addiction recovery. I highly recommend this series! It is a great resource for recovering individuals and couples, as well as professionals. I recently added her first two lessons on Healthy Sexuality to my Introduction to Sexual Addiction Treatment class in the SATP program. It is high-quality content that is well worth the investment. Will you help me spread the word about this excellent resource? (Click here to learn more).

May these resources help you experience deeper healing and increased sexual health.

Chapter 22

Connected Sex:
A Paradigm Shift for the Sexually Addicted

From Life After Lust, Copyright © 2017 by Forest Benedict

Skill to Master #21: Learning to emotionally connect with my partner

Skill to Master #22: Practicing a healthy, connected sexuality

It may go without saying but sex is a significant topic for recovering sex addicts. As a sex addiction therapist, I tell my clients that successful recovery necessitates a new view of sexuality. Rather than seeing sex as a numbing agent, instead, sex in recovery is a connecting agent. This transition in thinking and practice is difficult, since sex addicts inherently have a dysfunctional relationship with sex, rooted in an intimacy disorder.

A Sex Addict’s Sex Life

There are many ways in which a sex addict’s perception of sex is distorted and unhealthy. In her TEDx Talk on Sex and Intimacy, Dr. Sue Johnson superbly explained the dynamics of connected and disconnected sex. Her explanation of sealed off sex is characteristic of the sex addict’s experience because it lacks emotional intimacy, is solely sensation and performance focused, and leaves individuals feeling lonely. Sex addicts may also seek out solace sex, where the focus is on reassurance rather than sexual passion. The significance of both of these sex styles is that they are rooted in insecure attachment patterns, which are common among sex addicts. Dr. Linda Hatch similarly describes the sex life of sex addicts, writing:

Even when the sex addict is having sex with a partner or spouse, it is often the case that the addict is not “all there.” He or she may be lost in fantasy or just going through the motions. Many addicts feel they are having satisfying sex with their partners when in fact they are not really able to be present.

I often describe this dynamic to my clients as “using your partner to masturbate.” Sex for the sex addict is an experience of emotional disconnection. The sex addict sees sex as a drug and distraction, not a profound point of connection. The sex addict hijacks sexuality to get their self-focused high. This distorts the very purpose of the sexual experience.

Sex for the sex addict is lust-driven, not love-driven. Regardless of whether a sex addict objectifies a stranger or their partner, connection never results.

Another pattern that some sex addicts experience is called sexual anorexia, which occurs when a person avoids sex and emotional connection completely. Alexandra Katehakis explains that “where sex addicts ‘act out’ or ‘binge’ through promiscuity or high-risk behavior, sexual anorexics starve themselves by ‘acting in,’ denying themselves the pleasure of relationships, dating, loving touch, and genuine connection with others.” Sometimes, both acting out and acting in dynamics are at play, creating a sexual bulimic like cycle of sexual binging and purging.

As you can see, there are many potential scenarios that explain the sex addict’s misguided use of sex. Difficulties ensue when sex is used solely for coping, not connecting.

All About Intimacy

In their book The Couple’s Guide to Intimacy, Drs. Bill and Ginger Bercaw explain that “one of the greatest challenges facing couples in recovery is learning how to be emotionally and sexually intimate after the relationship has absorbed a direct hit.” A couple reeling from this type of relational trauma has a lot of hard work ahead.

As recovery progresses, sex addicts have the opportunity to see sex with new eyes. They can learn to appreciate a depth to sex they never knew before, experiencing what Katehakis describes as the “sensuality of connected closeness.” Connected sex, or synchrony sex, is a bonding experience that includes openness, play, and sexual passion. As connected sex becomes a new ideal, the addict will find that this transformation requires something quite unexpected: a foundation of emotional connection. This is the key to a quality sexual relationship.

The core of good sex is safety and connection, but these are two areas in which sex addicts experience extreme deficiencies. Most couples working toward fostering emotional intimacy will need extensive work with an attachment-based sex addiction therapist. Learning to deeply connect with their partner is an essential skill for sexual addicts in recovery.

This type of learning requires guidance, work, and a plethora of patience, but with the right help there is hope. Active recovery is necessary for any couple working toward increased connection. If the addict is engaging in their acting-out behaviors, the addiction becomes a competing attachment, hindering the couple’s closeness. Thus, sobriety is a starting line for the couple’s successful connection journey.

Often recovering sex addicts, whether in a relationship or single, abstain from masturbation as part of their sobriety. This makes more sense when sex is seen as a connecting experience rather than a solo act. When masturbation is lust-driven, compulsive, or sought out for emotional comfort, this behavior plays a key role in the addictive cycle. Still, there are varying views on the topic of masturbation in recovery, which is another reason why seeking guidance from a sex addiction therapist is recommended.

In early recovery, it is common for sex addiction therapists to prescribe a period of sexual celibacy from all expressions of sexuality, including with their partner. This orchestrated season of abstinence can have many benefits for the addict, partner, and couple, including taking the “sexual pressure off of the relationship so the couple can work on play and communication.” This period can offer a detox from unhealthy and unhelpful beliefs about sex, clearing the way for other forms of connection.

On the pathway to connected sexuality, there may be many detours. Sexual abuse, sexual dysfunction, medical issues, distrust, trauma, and other factors may complicate the couple’s sexual experience, requiring additional help from a sex therapist, doctor, or other professional. Patterns of sexual avoidance grounded in a partner’s lack of emotional safety or using sex as an attempt to control the addict’s behavior should be addressed with a sex addiction therapist.

The Powerful Potential of Connected Sex

When a sex addict learns to experience sex as the “potent bonding activity” it can be, this is a massive mental shift for them. Instead of using sex as a drug: to escape, numb, or avoid, sex can become a source of satisfaction. Healing from a shame-based sexuality will be part of the process. Learning how to leave lust and objectification out of the bedroom are additional aims of recovery.

The truth is, all connection work in recovery, whether emotional or sexual, will require the help of those who know the way. The Bercaws’ book is an excellent resource for couples impacted by sex addiction. I love the vision they cast of what a recovered sex life can look like:

You can know for perhaps the first time in your entire life what it feels like to embrace a passionate and fully satisfying sex life while retaining your integrity and while being more fully present.

Katehakis casts a similar vision of healthy sexuality, calling it “a profoundly new experience. It has the ring of innocence and simplicity, devoid of addictive adrenalized and dopaminergic intensity. For the first time, the psyche and body do not melt in disarray afterward. Healthy sex can make amends to the self and to the partner. When partners join in an open-hearted and present way, sex becomes a genuine act of love in the moment and leaves both parties feeling good afterward.”

Imagine that: A shame-free sexuality. A satisfying experience of secret-free sex based on love. This is what lust always promised but never delivered.

Dr. Mark Laaser tells a story of one recovering couple who experienced non-addictive sex for the first time. Their time together ended in a loving embrace and joyful tears. This is the prospect of connected sexuality.

As we grow in our willingness to challenge and change our distorted views of sex, we can learn to experience a more fulfilling, connected, and healthy sexuality. A paradigm shift is possible.

 

References:

Benedict, F. (2016, October 20). Connected Sex: A Paradigm Shift for the Sexually Addicted.

Bercaw, B., & Bercaw, G. (2010). The Couple’s Guide to Intimacy: How Sexual Reintegration Therapy Can Help Your Relationship Heal. California Center for Healing. 7, 11.

Hatch, L. (2012, February 15). Why is Sex Addiction Called an Intimacy Disorder? Retrieved from http://www.sexaddictionscounseling.com/why-is-sex-addiction-called- an-intimacy-disorder/

Johnson, S. (2015, July 28). The New Frontier of Sex & Intimacy. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiVijMLH2-k

Johnson, S. (2017). Three Kinds of Sex. Retrieved from http://www.drsuejohnson.com/attachment-sex/three-kinds-sex/#more-185

Katehakis, A. (2014, August 12). The Devastating Pain of ‘Sexual Anorexics’ Retrieved from https://www.psychologytodahttps://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sex- lies-trauma/201408/the-devastating-pain-sexual-anorexics

Katehakis, A., & Schore, A. N. (2016). Sex addiction as affect dysregulation: a neurobiologically informed holistic treatment. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Laaser, M. R. (2004). Healing the wounds of sexual addiction. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 182.

Reid, R. C., & Woolley, S. R. (2006). Using Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples to Resolve Attachment Ruptures Created by Hypersexual Behavior. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 13(2-3), 219-239.

Sexaholics Anonymous. (1989-2002). Sexaholics Anonymous. SA Literature. 40-42. Elements Behavioral Health. (2013, November 15). Sexual Anorexia Within Sexual Addiction. Retrieved from http://www.hypersexualdisorders.com/sex-addiction/sexual- anorexia-within-sexual-addiction/

Weiss, R. (n.d.). Sex Addicts and “Sexual Sobriety”. Retrieved February 13, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2012/08/sexual-sobriety/

Zapf, J. L., Greiner, J., & Carroll, J. (2008). Attachment Styles and Male Sex Addiction. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 15(2), 158-175.

Forest Benedict, LMFT, SATP, author of Life After Lust: Stories & Strategies for Sex & Pornography Addiction Recovery. Please follow Forest on the following platforms: NewsletterYoutubeBlogTwitterFacebookInstagram, and Pinterest, and SHARE this valuable content with others. Thank you!

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