Not so long ago, most romantic and sexual relationships began with flirting, perhaps some wining and dining, and a lot of getting to know each other, maybe even a date.
But the rapid integration of technology has transformed the natural progression of relationships, with Craigslist, pro-adultery websites like Ashley Madison, and dating apps all redefining and confounding the “relations” in “relationship.”
According to Author Robert Weiss, senior vice president of clinical development with Elements Behavioral Health, “our rapidly evolving sex-tech landscape has both contributed to and exacerbated the problem of sex, love and relationship addiction. We are particularly concerned about those individuals who are emotionally vulnerable, as well as those men and women with previous histories of emotional challenges, trauma or addiction.”
Signs of sex addiction
To understand the way sex, love, and relationship addiction has evolved over time, we must first understand the nature of the problem. Some of the behaviors indicative of sex addiction include:
- Excessive pornography use
- Compulsive masturbation or cybersex
- Obsessive dating and pursuit of sex
- Multiple anonymous sex partners
- Multiple extramarital affairs
- Patronizing prostitutes
- Sexual harassment
Sex addiction then and now
“Once porn websites, online chats, web cams, Craigslist, and now smartphones became available anyone could get online and gain immediate access to explicit sexual content and experiences. Those same romantic and sexual adventures which had previously taken some work to obtain – i.e.; to find porn, a prostitute, a sexual hook-up or a date – became something you could just click on,” Weiss explained.
“Those who previously had to push themselves to get out there to meet people for sex and dating now no longer have to leave their home to meet someone,” he said. “In other words, the previously motivating factors that would have pushed the individual to go out to meet people have pretty much gone away.”
Now that we have social networking, smartphones with GPS locators and “friend finder” apps, people can find sex partners within three blocks without ever saying a word. Dating can be accomplished with a clever line and Photoshopped image. Thanks to technology, the ease of access to sexual content and romantic pursuit—for both sexes—has increased exponentially, which for some has brought a new wave of interpersonal and relationship problems.
“We are evolving a generation of individuals who don’t even have to leave the house to find someone for sex; therefore they don’t necessarily develop the social skills—like managing rejection or negotiating a date—required toward evolving intimacy and relationships,” Weiss said.
By the mid-2000s, the rapidly evolving problem was obvious to healthcare professionals. Weiss then became a regular on such talk shows as The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, Larry King, and Good Morning America to help educate the public. He wrote multiple books on the potential problems of cybersex and online porn, as well as sex addiction among gay men. Weiss also began speaking to professionals about sexual-addiction assessment and treatment.
The biggest behavioral health issue of the decade
With the steady march of continued technological advancement, a greater number of sex addicts are seeking help. Given the current trajectory, this disease will continue to escalate and plague many millions of men and women.
“Sexual addiction is poised to be the one of the biggest behavioral health problems of the next ten years,” Weiss said. “There’s a whole generation of very young people who have been exposed to explicit sexual content that their brains are simply not ready for, and this portends an increase in both fetishism and addictive sexuality.”
Cutting-edge treatment for an evolving problem
The problem of sex addiction has changed, with treatment methods evolving in kind.
“In the early 1990s, I trained in one of the only residential sexual addiction treatment centers in the country,” Weiss said. “At that time there were few therapists treating this disorder and there were no structured outpatient programs.”
Recognizing the need for outpatient sex addiction treatment, he set out to create a center of excellence based in his home, Los Angeles. In 1995 he opened the Sexual Recovery Institute, a structured, two-week intensive outpatient program. Patients there stay at a local monitored residence, while receiving individual and group treatment 6-8 hours daily. Within two years, the Institute had employed six full-time therapists and was treating as many as 150 clients per week.
Residential treatment for sex and love addiction
“What is needed at reputable addiction and mental health centers around the country is a simple awareness that sexual problems can encourage disease and relapse in many individuals, yet we don’t talk enough about it,” Weiss said. “We don’t ask enough questions. If you don’t at least address sex while someone is in treatment, these issues can be later acted out in ways that continue to inhibit personal growth and healing.”
With Weiss’ guidance, some of the nation’s top drug rehabilitation programs have introduced education and support for sexual addiction. Once such program, The Ranch, is a nationally acknowledged, 35-day residential facility near Nashville, Tennessee. It provides a comprehensive educational and therapeutic curriculum for sexual addiction and related intimacy disorders. In addition to standard treatments, patients participate in art, equine and adventure therapies, plus ropes courses, sweat lodges and many opportunities for experiential treatment.
“Specialized residential treatment allows clients to deal with their presenting sex and relationship concerns as well as deal with the underlying issues driving their problem sexual behavior,” Weiss said. “We understand the relationship of past trauma to current client triggers and relapse prevention. Clients get the tools they need to stop the behavior as well as a more evolved way of looking into their past that helps to reduce their shame.”
Tech has its good side as well. In this case, online life can also support sex addicts through recovery apps like Cassava, online 12-Step support groups, and an abundance of web-based educational and therapeutic resources.
The cost of not getting help
There is a lot of secrecy and shame surrounding sex addiction. Clients may not want to go to a 12-Step meeting for fear of seeing someone they know. Some may not want to spend precious dollars for treatment or might not believe that it can help them. In these cases, we ask clients to consider the costs of continuing their behaviors and not getting structured, focused help.
Weiss commented, “I ask hesitant clients to consider the costs of a lost marriage, broken family and divorce. What is the cost to children who find extensive porn on a parent’s computer or witness their parents struggling with painful betrayals and infidelity? Sadly, these situations, along with health, legal and career losses are the logical outcome of unaddressed sexual addiction.”