When porn and alternative sexual lifestyles become addictive

Defining healthy sexuality and working out what is addictive behaviour

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Jun 06, 2017
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Individuals engaged in alternative sexual lifestyles may perceive therapists in sex addiction treatment as being sex-negative and moralistic about what could be defined as their lifestyle choices. The perception amongst some is that clinicians are essentially seeking to spoil their fun, whether that is watching porn, seeing escorts, engaging in swinging, dogging or having multiple partners. 

Alternative lifestyle choices do not necessarily mean there is evidence of problematical behaviour. Addiction, however, is when there is a slavish attachment to a pleasurable activity that becomes out of control. Addiction can be viewed as an incessant search for emotional satisfaction and for a feeling of connection and security. Problem behaviour could be defined by the apparent difficulty in stopping or cutting down a particular activity when negative consequences begin to occur.

Addictive activity can become so embedded in the feel-good centres of the brain whereby reliance on the pleasurable affects has become the means by which the user modulates their emotions. Stress is not processed in a healthy way but is managed by retreating into an addictive world. This can be referred to as the process of 'affect dysregulation'. 

How to know if you have a problem with sex? You may benefit from asking yourself questions such as these:

  • Do you feel jaded at the thought of 'real sex' and would rather watch porn?
  • Do you compromise your values when satisfying sexual desire?
  • Do you feel like you can't enjoy sex with your partner without watching or thinking about porn?
  • Does it trouble you that you fantasise about being with someone else whilst having sex with your partner?
  • Do you need to think of something disturbing in order to reach orgasm?
  • Have your sexual fantasies caused you to become fearful of your intentions?
  • Has your sexual behaviour caused you to lose jobs or relationships and damaged your professional reputation?
  • Do you always feel like you are missing out on exciting potential action with others when in a relationship?
  • Has your sexual behaviour led you to commit illegal activity?
  • Do you feel more self-conscious about your body image from watching porn?
  • Are you overly concentrated on performance when having sex rather than enjoying the moment?
  • Do you feel guilty or remorseful after acting out certain sexual behaviours?

If you find yourself answering yes to some of these questions then it could be that your relationship to your own definition of a healthy sexuality has become unbalanced. 

A useful exercise could be to devise your own definition of what a healthy sexuality is for you. You could start by setting honesty and transparency as a foundation and perhaps acknowledging that any sexual behaviour should involve mutually consenting adults. The rest of your definition will be dependent on particular individual choice. The following questions could form a basic template to help you devise your own definition: 

  • Does it involve monogamy or an open relationship?
  • Does it mean you should be open and honest with your partner about all aspects of your sexuality?
  • What is the role of masturbation for you?
  • How does erotica get shared with your partner?
  • Should you share your sexual fantasies with your partner or keep them private?
  • What is healthy for you in terms of acting out fantasies? 
  • What about the role of porn for you and when in a relationship?

Therapy can be a place where past decisions can be reflected upon and where you can reframe your definition of a healthy sexuality. It can be useful to look at your relational style and what has served you well in your adult relationships. Past abuse, trauma or heartbreaks can be healed within a supportive private environment. Therapy can be an opportunity to devise your list of troublesome bottom line behaviours and how you could define new parameters for your future behaviour. 

Go to the profile of Noel Bell

Noel Bell

I have spent the past 20 years exploring and studying personal growth, recovery from addictions and inner transformation. I am integrative in my approach and tune my work to the uniqueness of each individual I work with.
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