As humans, sex is a tremendously important part of our lives. Not simply because it is the primary drive which encourages the perpetuation of our species, but also because sex connects us and can sometimes even heal. We use our sexuality to express who we are and to reach out to and play with others, finding out about them in the process.
When we become deeply physically connected to another through sex, it can be cathartic—we may find ourselves more emotionally open and flooded with hormones the body finds rewarding and pleasurable. Sex, like eating and sleeping, is for most people a necessary factor in determining the health of our bodies and minds.
It Really Isn’t About Sex
For those who have experienced sexual addiction, some component of the sexual process has become pathological or sick. While many people assume sexual addiction has everything to do with sex—a gluttonous appetite for a pleasurable physical experience or unusual sexual behavior—sex addiction really has very little to do with sex. It is a problem of disordered intimacy. For those who find themselves sexually addicted—whether addicted to anonymous sex, affairs, masturbation, porn, exhibitionism, etc.—at base, their problem is about an inability to become or remain vulnerable and deeply honest in the face of an emotionally intimate connection. Like all addictions, recovering sex addicts learn there exists a root cause, an originating issue to their addictive behavior that often has little to do with the habitual behavior itself.
How Recovery Can Make Sex Addicts Great Partners
All relationships require hard work and conscious attention. It may seem like taking on a relationship with a recovering addict would require far too much work or attention, but when a person has taken her recovery seriously and has spent time truly working on the issues behind the addiction, she may have a head start. After all, it is the quality of the relationship we have with ourselves that determines how well we do in relationship to others. So while it may seem counterintuitive or even just plain risky to imagine entering into or remain in a relationship with a sex addict, there are plenty of reasons recovering sex addicts can and do make excellent partners:
- Few people understand the value and beauty of true intimacy more than those who’ve struggled to overcome their fear of it. Sexual addiction is, at its core, a problem with intimacy. For people who undertake recovery from sex addiction, grappling with fear of emotional intimacy is a must. The habitual behaviors of any form of addiction serve to take us out of ourselves, to numb us to feelings we’d rather not feel; this is no less true for the sex addict. For them, physical or even emotional intensity replaces the bonds formed through true intimacy; when he chooses only intense experiences, he does not risk truly being seen or known. Once a sex addict has spent some time in recovery, however, recognition of this truth becomes very clear. Where physical experiences were once valued, emotional truths and the ability to share them now become most important.
- Individuals who undertake their recovery seriously—whether through inpatient treatment or group meetings or both—become practiced at deep, personal honesty—and know their health as well as their relationships depend on it. Recovery from sex addiction doesn’t just depend on being willing to move through our fear of vulnerability and to enter into intimate emotional contracts, but to become willing to share the deepest parts of ourselves, even when it’s painful to do so, and even before it is required. Addressing issues before they become problems is important in any relationship and those who have lived the secret lives of addiction know this perhaps better than anyone. Bringing the truth out into the light, being willing to talk about anything even when it’s painful, and openly asking this of others are capacities recovered sex addicts are likely to possess.
- People who attend closely to recovery from sexual addiction come to understand the importance of establishing and maintaining strong personal boundaries. Recovering sex addicts are called to examine situations or people who might cause them to slip or relapse, and become adept at learning to avoid those situations or people or to govern themselves appropriately when engaged in their presence. Because learning healthy boundaries becomes so important, recovering sex addicts can usually be expected to honor the boundaries of their partners. Recognizing when it is inappropriate to be alone with someone not in their relationship or how to behave when attractive members of the preferred sex are around are important behaviors careful lovers take into consideration.
- Individuals who’ve worked hard at recovery from sex addiction are people who become committed to living in integrity. Most people want to be in a relationship with someone who has integrity, someone trustworthy. We all have the potential to disengage from our inner moral compass at times, but someone who has learned the hard way how critical it can be to continue steering true can make a good friend and perhaps a great partner. It is the practice of most people in recovery to be honest with those closest to them about their past failures as well as their desire to be better, and the ways they aim to go about it. Not everyone has such a careful plan or as intentional a purpose around self-improvement, but this is the essence of recovery, and there is so much we can learn from people whose lives are lived with personal healing in mind.