Today I attended a continuing education conference — one of the things I am required to do in order to fulfill my requirements for state licensure as a counselor. The topic was of special interest to me, unlike some of the seminars I attend, because it is one that is near and dear to my heart and ministry. In fact, it’s what I consider to be the #1 problem facing society today.
What’s the topic? It’s sexual addiction — and it’s a problem that we must begin to wage vigorous war against.
In recent years, with the proliferation of the internet, sexual addiction has become an increasingly prevalent issue — one that is impacting all kinds of people. The fact of the matter is that sexual compulsivity may be one of most indiscriminating problems in society today. It touches people of all ages, races, cultures, religions, occupations, education levels, and socioeconomic brackets.
This issue is one of great importance to me because, if left unchecked, it will destroy families. My life’s call is to help grow strong families and healthy churches — both daunting tasks in their own right. Because of the significance of this issue, I have chosen sexual addiction as the primary research topic for my doctoral project — which is currently in the writing phase. So today’s seminar served a two-fold purpose: (1) continuing education and (2) additional research.
I have counseled a number of full-fledged sex addicts during my practice as a therapist. I have also seen friends and colleagues lose nearly everything due to their own struggles with compulsivity and addiction. I use the two words pretty interchangeably, for all intents and purposes. After all, compulsive behavior is a building block of addiction, and addiction generally refers to the unmanageability level of life with the problem.
What used to be thought of as a primarily male problem is now finding its way into the live of an increasing number of women. As a matter of fact, recent research indicates that women now account for 40% of all consumption of online pornography. That is a significant increase over just three or four years ago. It seems that the pornographers have learned how to market their product to more relationally-oriented women through the use of sexually-related chatrooms and erotic stories.
The indicators of our sex-crazed culture are all around us. The thing about sexual addiction, though, is that it really isn’t about sex at all. It’s about power and control. Sex is merely the vehicle by which those things are achieved.
Sexual addiction most often grows out of some kind of traumatic experience. That experience can be overt or covert, but the end result is largely the same: an inability to experience true emotional intimacy and connection with another person — and an unhealthy understanding and application of human sexuality.
Sexual addiction is a process addiction, meaning that it is a distortion of something that is necessary and inescapable in life. Sexuality is something everyone has to deal with in some way or another. Other process problems center around food, in the case of eating disorders, and money, in the case of gambling or compulsive spending. Sex, food, and money are things we all must have some sort of relationship with in order to live productive lives.
Perhaps the saddest thing to me about sexual addiction — other than the fact that it can destroy so completely — is that of all the addictions, it is the one in which shame is most extreme. In fact, shame and isolation are both fuel and by-products of the addiction, leading strugglers into a vicious cycle marked by chaos, deep loneliness, and a profound sense of despair.
Perhaps you or someone you love is caught in the web of sexual addiction. Help is available to you. There are so many resources and tools to help in the battle. But the battle must be waged — and it must be a personal one.
If you are reading this and thinking, “Gosh, Garrick, the problem can’t be that bad,” then I urge you to get your head out of the sand and recognize the seriousness of it. Shame is fueled by silence. You can be part of the solution just by acknowledging the gravity of the problem.
There’s so much more I could say about this issue, but I’ll save that for another day. For now, if you need help or guidance in this area, please contact a counselor who can provide education, accountability, support, and most of all, a sense of healing and restoration.