Leandie Buys Realtionship Therapist & Clinical Sexologist

Sex addiction – Are you married to an addict?

When most people think about sex addicts, they think “those people are perverts”, “they’re paedophiles”, “total sleaze-balls” …

As a certified sex addiction therapist, I can tell you that sex addiction is a disease. It is real, and like other addictions, it can be managed if the addict is given the right tools and therapy.

My journey with sex addiction therapy

When I first opened my practice in 2007, I was a qualified relationship therapist and clinical sexologist. Although the majority of my clients came for relationship therapy, I did see a few that came to see me about porn addiction, compulsive masturbation, and multiple affairs.

Today, I would treat these clients as sex addicts, but eight years ago, sex addiction was a concept that had not yet been fully researched and explored, and was very unknown in South Africa. I counselled the clients as best as I could, but I realised that there was definitely more to their compulsive behaviour, and in order to help them, I needed further training.

I then enrolled at the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction in America (there are no courses on sex addiction in South Africa), and attended course modules in Amsterdam. The training took place over two years, during which I travelled to Amsterdam four times and completed 30 hours of supervision with a qualified sex addiction therapist in America.

Although the financial costs were extremely high (supervision costs $150 for 50 minutes!) I gained more and more knowledge. On Tuesday evening this week, 17 November 2015, I completed my final two hours of supervision. I am now one of only three internationally certified sex addiction therapists in South Africa.

All of the time and expense has been worth it, because I know that I am now fully equipped to help those struggling with sex addiction – a very misunderstood disease.

So what exactly is sex addiction?

So often I hear that ‘sex addiction is just a label to excuse or justify bad behaviour.’

However, this is not so. For sex addicts, the issue:

  • is not about sex
  • it is not about having a high sex drive
  • it is not about actually having lots of sex or
  • thinking that sex is ‘fun’

Sex addiction is about ‘medicating’ feelings of anger, loneliness, sadness, or boredom. Most sex addicts never learned to express and regulate their emotions as a child, and they turn to sex as a way to express themselves.

Patrick Carnes who is the ground breaker in the research of treating and diagnosing sex addiction refers to it as “a disease of emotions”.

These men (I’m going to refer to addicts as men, although there are a few female sex addicts) also find it difficult to emotionally attache themselves to someone. They find it hard to be intimate, and so they can easily ‘detach’ from relationships, and sexual encounters.

So how does one become a sex addict?

Remember, sex addiction is not about sex. It’s about the chase. When an addict becomes pre-occupied with thoughts about sex, the brain releases dopamine from the pre-frontal cortex (the pleasure centre). Dopamine is the ‘feel good’ hormone, which addicts become addicted to. The way that they access this ‘drug’ is through sex, and the ‘chase’.

So if sex addiction is not about sex, what is it about?

It is about trauma. It serves to soothe emotional wounds left from childhood. Patrick Carnes stated in his research that:

  • 87% of sex addicts describe their familial upbringing as “disengaged”
  • 97% of sex addicts report and early childhood trauma (usually childhood abuse)
  • 42% of sex addicts have a cross-addiction problem with chemical dependency
  • 38% of sex addicts also have an eating disorder

However, childhood trauma does not justify behaviours such as:

  • Compulsive watching of porn
  • Compulsive masturbating
  • Going to massage parlours with a ‘happy ending’
  • Going to strip clubs
  • Having multiple affairs
  • Going to prostitutes
  • Using social media to have virtual sex, sexting or going into chat rooms

These are just some of the compulsive behaviours associated with sex addiction. And with these behaviours come traumatic consequences.

Partners of sex addicts are devastated by their actions

Partners are hurt by the betrayal, they feel that their relationship is based on a lie, and that all the memories are fake. The person they thought they knew is now a stranger.

They are hurt by the fact that someone they thought loved them put their health in danger. Some even contract sexually transmitted infections from their sex addict partners.

There is hope through therapy

One of the men that I treated for sex addiction therapy has now been in recovery for three and a half years. Today he is a different person to the one that first came into my practice. At first, he blamed his wife, saying that if she gave him more sex, he wouldn’t have to find it elsewhere. However, he eventually admitted that his life had become unmanageable and out of control, and that he needed help.

He realised that he hadn’t been emotionally present in his marriage for many years, or emotionally available for his children. He can now be the husband that he wants to be, and the father that he never was. He can now ensure that his addiction and trauma is not carried over to the next generation – his children.

Sex addiction assessment

If you think that you might need help, or are in a relationship with someone that could be a sex addict, follow this link to www.sexhelp.com to take a quick assessment. If you are still hesitant to take the test you can look at the questionnaire below:

PATHOS Questionnaire

A positive response to just one would indicate a need for additional assessment. Two or more indicates the possibility of sexual addiction.

  1. Do you often find yourself preoccupied with sexual thoughts? [Preoccupied]
  2. Do you hide some of your sexual behavior from others? [Ashamed]
  3. Have you ever sought help for sexual behavior you did not like? [Treatment]
  4. Has anyone been hurt emotionally because of your sexual behavior? [Hurt others]
  5. Do you feel controlled by your sexual desire? [Out of control]
  6. When you have sex, do you feel depressed afterwards? [Sad]