by Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S
(The following post is the first of three taken from Robert Weiss’s article, What the Heck Is Sex and Relationship Rehab?)
It seems like every time I turn on my television, open a newspaper, or go online, I’m hit with yet another story about a secret, problematic pattern of sexual misbehavior and/or multiple infidelities acted out by a major politician, sports star, actor, religious leader, teacher, coach or whomever. Sometimes these men and women might well qualify as sex addicts; other times not. When their behavior does meet the definition of sexual addiction, they sometimes, either on their own or at their lawyer’s behest, enter a sexual addiction treatment facility. The general public is usually unimpressed with this, seeing it as a cop-out, primarily because most people understand neither sex addiction nor the addiction treatment process.
Yes, most people know about drug and alcohol rehab. If they haven’t been to one themselves, they’re familiar with someone who has had to face those demons in a residential setting. At worst, most people understand that you “go to rehab” because you need a time out from drugs and alcohol. At least that’s what it looks like if you watch ABC’s Nashville any episode, any week. But sex rehab? That’s a joke, right? Nope. No joke. Sexual addiction (also known as hypersexuality) is a very real thing with consequences that are every bit as devastating as those of heroin, cocaine or alcohol addiction. And sex addiction treatment is equally as real and as serious.
In many respects, sex rehab mirrors drug and alcohol rehab, relying on the same basic structure and techniques. The main differences between sex addiction recovery and substance abuse recovery are the level of intimacy in the work being done, the subject itself, the fact that the majority of clients have had significant early life trauma, and the way in which “sobriety” is defined. Whereas lasting abstinence from mood-altering chemicals is the goal in nearly all forms of chemical dependency treatment, sexual sobriety involves an ongoing commitment to behavior change but not long-term abstinence. In sexual addiction recovery, the goal is learning to engage in and be satisfied with non-compulsive, non-compartmentalized, relationship-focused sexuality — not to abstain from sex. This is much like an eating disorder, where the person with an eating problem still needs to eat. Essentially, recovering sex addicts and their treatment team must determine what sexual behaviors are healthy and acceptable, and which are destroying their relationships, career, family and life. Addicts then commit to engaging in only the identified healthy sexual behaviors, eschewing the problematic ones and calling it a “slip” or “relapse” if one of those problem behaviors is repeated.
Of course, the definition of “problematic sexual behavior” varies from person to person based on the individual’s life circumstances (married/single, gay/straight, religious background, community standards, etc.) Thus, the definition of sexual sobriety also varies from person to person. But in all cases, sexual sobriety is defined as the elimination of sexual behaviors and patterns that diminish the addict’s life functioning, sense of self and relationships. It is important to note that the patterns of sexual behavior to be eliminated never involve trying to change one’s sexual identity, sexual orientation, or fetish/kink arousal patterns — none of which are considered sexual addiction, per se.