The 12 Steps To Recovery From Sex Addiction

Recovering from a sex addiction requires adhering to a 12 step program. Such programs have become synonymous with people’s efforts to change their lives and behaviors, and have been applied to everything including over-eating, sex, compulsive gambling, and drug addiction.

The original 12 step program was published by Alcoholics Anonymous in the late 1930s to treat addiction to alcohol. Since then, it has been adapted and directed towards other forms of addiction and compulsive behaviors and has been recognized by the American Psychological Foundation. Small details within each 12 step program change depending on what’s being treated, but all follow the same template. While there is debate on what defines addiction, many agree that the brain becomes dependent on chemicals either imbibed (alcohol) or produced naturally through a behavior, such as sex or gambling.

The 12 Steps:

Step one is the sex addict admitting they have no power over their sex addiction and that their lives have gotten out of control. This step essentially defines a sex addiction, a situation where a person no longer can control their sexual behavior despite it causing them problems. This may sound facetious, but if a sex addict could control their behavior, they would not be an addict. Admitting powerlessness also opens the door to getting outside help. A person with a broken leg does not try to mend it on their own, they call a doctor because they do not have the skills to heal themselves. It is no different with a sex addiction.

Step two is acknowledging there is a “higher power” that can help the addict with their addiction. This and the next step may be two of the least understood, as “higher power” generally refers to God. While many going through the 12 step program turn to the Christian faith, anything can serve as the higher power. A person can look to the sun, a favorite object, anything they can mentally equate with a power above themselves. Some neurologists have said the human brain is hardwired towards religion, and because of this it can be used as a powerful tool in influencing behavior.

A higher power plays the role of a neutral yet supportive third part in the sex addict’s life. It is not the addicts themselves, nor is it their therapist, nor is it a loved one the addict may have wronged or someone who will judge them.

The third step is giving themselves over to that higher power, as they understand it. Many sex addicts begin reading the Bible and attending religious services of their faith. Others will take up a different spiritual text as their understand of their higher power. The book or the faith or belief is not important here, what is important is that the reliance on self get turned over to a reliance on a higher power. Most religions have set guidelines on sexual conduct, as well as other aspects of life, and make for a ready made code of conduct a person can adhere to, at least until their lives are under their control once more.

Step four is where the sex addict gets to the “nitty gritty” of their problem and comes to see what it looks like from the outside by completing a “moral inventory” of themselves. This inventory documents their life and how and when their sexual habits, failings, and other common behaviors began in an effort to see the big picture and have an accurate understanding of what it is. Typically, a deadline is put on this step, as many addicts tend to get hung up on it, either because they find it difficult to examine themselves this way, or feel the need to be too thorough.

The fifth step involves taking that inventory and showing it to someone else, either a spouse, sponsor, clergy or trusted confidant, or even another sex addict further along in their treatment. This is done for a number of reasons. If a sex addict can share this, it means they are comfortable with it to a degree and will be able to open up further because seeing the behavior inventory may not be enough to let the sex addict truly see their problem or recognize patterns in their behavior. When it comes to the familiar, an addict sees what they intend rather than what really is. It’s the same as when an athlete needs a coach to check their stance or swing or attitude for their sport. So the sex addict needs another pair of eyes on their moral inventory to catch things and gain feedback from a different perspective.

Steps six and seven of the original Alcoholics Anonymous version are asking the higher power or God to remove the addict’s defects and to forgive them. Other, more secular minded versions describe these steps as similar transition periods. The sex addict goes from identifying the problem to recognizing that they, themselves, are now past that stage and can now expend energy enacting change. The addict is taught to see that the mistakes have been made cannot be unmade, and wishing to change the past is a waste of energy. While it’s not a “clear slate,” it is a shift of focus onto the present, which can be affected by the sex addict.

Step eight, while at first may seem like a look back, is actually for the addict to compile a list of people their sex addiction has harmed. This may be family they’ve neglected, spouses cheated on, and in extreme cases, victims of their sexual abuse. This step is sometimes broken down into smaller segments, identifying the types of relationships harmed by the sex addiction. In the case of deceased loved ones or people the addict cannot have contact with, this step serves as an emotional release by further letting the addict see the extent of the damage their behavior has caused.

The ninth step is an extension of the eighth, and involves making amends with the people identified in that step, when possible. It could be something as simple as a verbal apology, and may not be something that can be accomplished in a moment, a day, or even months. This step is distinctive to the individuals involved, and not completely possible in all cases.

Step 10 is continuing the list from step five, and admitting when a mistake has been made. This can expand beyond sexual behavior and include any kind of non-desirable actions or emotions. Negative feelings are what led the sex addict to compulsively seek the numbing behavior to start with. And being able to identify those trouble spots and handle them in a way that doesn’t feed a new addiction cycle is key. Sex addiction often comes with other forms of addiction, or can spin off into those other forms if the root cause is not being monitored.

Prayer and meditation are Step 11 in the program. Many call prayer and meditation one and the same, but whichever route the sex addict chooses, they should set aside time each day for quiet reflection. A daily pause is used as an anchor to keep the complexities of the addict’s outside world from becoming overwhelming. This step lets the sex addict remind themselves of their progress and the tools they have to fight their compulsions.

The final step is working with other sex addicts, or passing on some of the knowledge the addict has gained. The selfless side of this is ensures a pool of experienced teachers well versed in the subject matter who can perpetuate the program. The benefit to the addict doing the teaching is the same as to teacher; the one imparting the wisdom in turn learns more about what they’ve come to know. Having to articulate to another person what one has learned makes a person think about benefits in ways they hadn’t before, and leads to greater understanding.

Those are the basic 12 steps found in addiction recovery programs. Many are closely related, but together they show a progression. It should be noted this programs not a “do these 12 things and you’re cured” prescription, but at the higher levels are a lifelong set of behaviors. They may play a less active role in the recovering sex addict’s life as time goes on, but the inventory, meditation, and teaching tend to be in the background for a long time.

10 Common Questions Men Have About Sex Addiction

1. Question: Am I a sex addict?

Answer: There are a number of red flags that can signal an addiction to sex. A person who uses sexual activity be it intercourse, viewing pornography, phone sex, chat rooms, prostitution or masturbation as a numbing agent, something to prevent them from feeling bad, may have a sex addiction. Other indicators the sexual behavior is causing the addict problems include their spouse becoming upset over their behavior or they’ve gone into debt over payment for phone sex lines or Internet pornography sites. Spending an excessive amount of time viewing pornography Over 10 hours a week is another red flag, since this sexual behavior is interfering with time spent with friends, family or at work.

Another key factor is the addict has tried to stop engaging in sexual behavior but failed. When all these things come together, it’s time to ask a professional about getting help.

2. Question: Can I be cured?

Answer: Many sex addicts have reported being able to bring their sexual behavior under control, through any one of a variety of treatment methods. Some attend intensive rehabilitation facilities; others go to therapy sessions, attend 12 step meetings or use medication and a host of other techniques to control their sexual behavior. This can include finding a trusted person to act as an “accountability partner.” Or for pornography addicts, it can mean the use of pornography blocking computer programs.

3. Question: Does being cured mean I give up sex?

Answer: No. Unlike chemical dependencies related to alcohol or drugs, sex is recognized as a healthy aspect of life. Treatment for sex addiction, while it does involve a period of abstinence, seeks to bring harmful and unwanted troublesome sexual activity under control to where it is no longer causing harm. It may lead to stopping viewing pornography, discontinuing solicitation of prostitutes and other “bottom line” behaviors or even illegal activities. The goal is stopping harmful behavior, but certainly not giving up sex.

4. Question: Is sex addiction even real, or just something people use to excuse their behavior?

Answer: Truth be told, there are some experts who don’t feel sex addiction is real and say it’s more a product of conflicting social norms and mores. Other say sex addiction exists but do not feel it meets the definition of an addiction in the same way addiction to alcohol or drugs does. For a sex addict seeking treatment, it may be a moot point. To get treatment, first one has to recognize they have a problem and stop trying to use their own willpower alone to control it. Many people have sought treatment for sex addiction and reported results. Much of the criticism about its validity has been aimed at celebrities embroiled in public sex scandals and is hardly analogous to the average person not living in the public eye. Sex addiction is real and one struggling with unwanted sexual behaviors certainly can attest to that fact.

5. Question: What caused this? How did I get to be this way?

Answer: There is no definitive cause for sex addiction, and for each person it will be different. Many sex addicts report being sexually abused at a young age and growing up with a distorted view of sex and what a healthy sex life should be. For others, it is simply the rush of chemicals in their brain after discovering a parent’s pornography stash or coming across it in some other fashion. Still others indicate the accessibility of Internet pornography had them fall into a cycle, while there are those who turned to using sex as a numbing agent during a difficult period in their lives and began relying on it as a coping mechanism. For some growing up with abuse, neglect, abandonment and enmeshment have cause the to seek out other ways to feel good about life and themselves.

While knowing the cause of sex addiction is important, those on the path to recovery should not seek to dwell on the unchangeable past; instead, they need to focus on their present actions.

6. Question: Does viewing pornography and sexual interaction over the Internet count as cheating on my spouse?

Answer: Not to be glib, but it can depend on the spouse. Certainly many women do feel that their spouses having cybersex or phone sex with another woman qualifies as infidelity. They may not react in the exact same way as if it had been physical sex with another woman, but the impact on a relationship can be dire. First, the wife will feel betrayed. She won’t trust her husband if he’s been hiding his behavior. She may can feel bad about herself, perhaps thinking some failing on her part led the husband to seek these sexual outlets.

Even pornography viewing can be a sore spot for women. Society places a lot of pressure on women to be physically attractive and sexually desirable and they may feel they are in competition with actresses in pornographic videos. This can affect their self-esteem, even if they do not confront their husband about the behavior.

7. Question: Can medication lower my sex drive so I don’t have this problem.

Answer: Yes and no. There are medications out there that can lower a person’s sex drive, and they are often used to treat sex addiction. However, they are limited in their power to erase the problem completely. Some form of therapy, be it a 12 step program or other process, is required.

8. Question: Will I ever be cured or is this a lifelong problem?

Answer: Many people report being able to bring their sexual behaviors under control, sometimes after a period of months or years, and are living lives relatively free of problems related to sex addiction. These people have addressed the factors in their life they had once sought to control by using sex; they have now embedded into their lives multiple tools to avoid falling back into destructive addiction cycles. For some, there is always the fear they will relapse, and some do struggle with sex addiction for long periods of time. There is no quick fix for the problem.

9. Question: I’m also addicted to alcohol. Is my sex addiction just a sign that I’m susceptible to addictive behaviors in general?

Answer: In some ways, yes. Many sex addicts report being addicted to alcohol, drugs, or behaviors such as gambling. They also claim family members with various addictions. It’s certainly been theorized that a person can have a genetic predisposition to addictive behaviors. As to treating multiple addictions, it should be noted that many sex addiction treatment programs are modeled after alcohol treatment techniques developed by Alcoholics Anonymous. 12 step programs such as Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous model their programs after and borrow their literature from that organization.

10. Question: Am I really a sex addict or is my sex drive just naturally high?

Answer: The difference between a sex addict and a person who enjoys a lot of sex has to do with why the behavior is being sought and the inability to stop an unwanted behavior as well as the obsession and compulsion. A person with a high sex drive is aroused and in most cases can control acting on that arousal. A sex addict is engaging in sex as a coping mechanism, isolating themselves from others even if they have a real life partner for the sex, and engaging in the sex act compulsively. They may feel shame after they complete the act, or some general feelings of depression. Actual arousal is not the primary motivator.

Do You Know Someone With A Sex Addiction?

Sex is not a comfortable topic for many people, even though talk about it has become more open and relaxed. People may speak freely of their sexual experiences and particular taste, but what remains taboo are the sexual problems of individuals. Men find talking to their doctors about erectile dysfunction problematic, so it’s not surprising that confronting another person about their possible sex addiction would be even more challenging and awkward.

Many addicts choose to seek help from a licensed professional, an expert in the field. However, sex addiction is probably a subject most comfortably discussed among family, closes friends and spouses. For the moment let’s address the issue from the friend and family point of view.

Here are some signs a person you know might have a sex addiction:

1. Is their sexual behavior leading to problems?

Are pregnancy scares a common thing for them? Have they caught or transmitted an STD? Being careless about safe sex, having random sex, or having multiple partners are signs of sex addiction. These behaviors show the person has placed fulfillment of sexual needs above all other priorities. Are they putting themselves at risk for problems as a result of their sexual behavior? Sex in the workplace creates a risk of being fired, as does masturbation and viewing pornography while on the job. Even if this is done off site during a lunch hour, these activities show a lack of control and the inability to separate appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.

Some other problems not as tangible, and not as easy to see, are ones involving how much time an individual spends on sex. Oftentimes, the addict will cancel plans to go out or visit, preferring to stay in to watch porn, and/or masturbate. People with an addiction to porn will spend inordinate amounts of time watching videos and films, excluding family and friends. Have they given up hobbies they once enjoyed? Stopped going out on weekends? Maybe you used to talk to them often and they haven’t been as available recently?

What might be more visible are their romantic relationships. Do they bounce from one person to another in rapid succession? Are they having a series of “one-night stands? While there is no definitive amount of time one should devote to sex, or a way to measure how much sex is “normal,” if someone you know seems like he or she is only in a relationship for the sex, and have been frustrated in forming a real bond, that could be a sign of addiction.

Keep in mind one can be “addicted to love.” The act of seduction and the rush of brain chemicals produced when a relationship is in its early stages can form a sex addiction. While men and women can suffer this, female sex addicts are more likely to exhibit this behavior. It may not involve actual sex, but a person who is constantly starting new relationships (sometimes before the previous one ends) or flirts excessively may be showing signs of sex addiction.

2. Do they often talk about sex?

People tend to discuss subjects of interest to them, daily occurrences or events they have experienced. Is your friend bringing up pornography often in idle conversation? Such talk between friends is normal, but note how often the individual talks about it. Does it seem like that is the only thing he or she has to discuss? Are sex and pornography the only topics that seem to peak this person’s interest or gets the individual animated? It is possible that’s all he or she talks about because it’s all that person has to talk about. A porn addict can spend the bulk of his or her free time viewing pornography, leaving them with little else to speak of in conversation.

This can be tricky; each person is different, as is each friendship. A person addicted to sex may not talk about it, feeling shame and guilt, or they may bring it up at inappropriate times.

Note things other than speech, too. Having a poster of an attractive model in one’s room is common. Having one’s screen saver set to show hardcore pornography might be cause for concern. Do they have pornographic backgrounds on their mobile phones? Inappropriate ring tones? While these may be signs of mere tastelessness, they can also be signs of this addiction.

3. Have they brought up sex addiction in conversation?

Many sex addicts suffer from this addiction for a long time before suspecting they have it, and then a longer time before they stop denying it. If they’ve broached the subject of sex addiction, they may be testing the waters, so to speak, to see how you will react. Many sex addicts feel ashamed of themselves and keep their addiction a secret for fear they will lose friends. It’s not likely they will admit to having a sex addiction, but they may ask you your opinion on it, or talk more in depth about a high profile celebrity claiming to suffer from the issue. They may even mock the notion of sex addiction, feeling you suspect them of it and wanting to alleviate your suspicions.

How you feel about sex addiction is up to you, but most people taking this approach are scared and looking for support and your reaction could affect their choice in receiving professional help.

For spouses and romantic partners, you have a more intimate knowledge of the suspected sex addict than anyone else. Some things you should look for if you suspect your significant other may be suffering from this addiction are:

· Are they becoming more demanding about sex with you?

If is fairly normal for two people in a couple to have differing libidos. It’s also pretty common for sex to put a strain on a relationship. How your partner reacts to being told “no” and how insistent is he/she on the subject of sex is an example of where red flags may appear. An addict in need of a substance can become highly agitated when they don’t get it. Spousal rape is a real thing, and just because they didn’t coerce you into sex with force doesn’t mean there wasn’t a transgression. A sex addict can exploit the power dynamic in a relationship, threaten to do something negative, or withhold something from their spouse to get sex. If they’ve resorted to these harmful behaviors, oblivious to the emotional damage being caused, that’s a sign of addiction.

· Are they going somewhere else for sex?

Being unfaithful doesn’t necessarily mean your partner is a sex addict, but it is certainly one indication, especially if this isn’t the first time. While this may be a sign of a troubled marriage, if the bond between you is otherwise strong, the infidelity may be sue to the addiction. An addict craves the physical act of sex, or the intoxicating feeling of a new relationship, they are not necessarily in love with the other person or not in love with you. Often, addicts aren’t even interested in the act of sex, but in the repetitive behavior that leads up to the act, creating the dopamine levels the addict craves.

Remember, pornography and masturbation are sex acts. Is your spouse on the computer in the early morning hours before work? Do they hide large amounts of pornography on the computer? Are they less interested in sex with you? How you feel about some masturbation and pornography use is up to you. Some levels of self-gratification and porn are not detrimental, but if the use of these sex acts is at a point of contention, and your partner hasn’t given it up, that’s a sign they’re dealing with an unhealthy compulsion.

It is important to realize that only the addict himself/herself can really know the depths of their addiction and it is the individual that must realize he or she is suffering before treatment and recovery can be sought.