Sexual addiction can be devastating to the individual addict as well as to their spouse and family. Statistics show that 3-6% of the population or 17 to 37 million people suffer from sex addiction in the U.S. And while women can be sex addicts, research shows that most are primarily male. In fact, there are three times as many men who are considered sex addicts than woman. Ironically, people struggling with sex addictions may even outnumber the people in America who report abusing prescription drugs (19 million).
The prescription drug epidemic is well publicized in America due to its tragic consequences, while sex addiction is typically kept a secret. To make matters even more complex more than 83% of self-identifying sex addicts, are dependent on alcohol or drugs or other co-occurring addictions.
Root Causes of Sex Addiction
Gabor Mate, MD who is an expert in addiction says, “Don’t ask why the addiction, ask why the pain?” Getting to the root cause of the pain for men and women experiencing sexual addiction often means addressing underlying trauma. Research consistently shows the prevalence of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse in this population which can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Eye, Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) has become a leading method of treatment for trauma and PTSD. EMDR therapy can be part of a comprehensive treatment approach to healing from sexual addiction and underlying trauma.
Benefits of Treatment
As with most addictions, the sex addict is not the only one who benefits by treatment. The partner or spouse may also benefit by recovery support as well. Partners and spouses can be deeply affected by their significant others sex addiction. The effects of sex addiction on a marriage can cause deep hurt, including feelings of betrayal, lack of safety, threat to the longevity of the marriage leading to avoidance, nightmares, panic and hyper arousal. Many treatment recovery programs, including 12 steps programs, do not adequately address the trauma causing the addiction. EMDR therapy can help get to the origin of the trauma and can be used in conjunction with other sex addiction treatments for long lasting results and deep healing.
How Do You Know If You or a Loved One is a Sex Addict?
Some indicators may include the following:
Have you experienced difficulty resisting impulses to engage in sexual behaviors?
Have you tried to stop, control, or reduce these behaviors?
Have you experienced legal consequences due to your sexual behaviors?
Do you spend large amounts of time trying to get sex or recover from being sexual?
Do you ever feel anxious or irritable if you are unable to engage in sexual behaviors?
Do you worry that others will find out about your sexual activities?
Do you often find yourself preoccupied with sexual thoughts?
Do you feel that your sexual behavior is not normal?
Are you experiencing family problems as a result of your behaviors?
If you would like to learn more you can take the Sex Addiction Screening Test for men. A high score may indicate issues of sexual addiction which would require further evaluation from a professional clinician.
What is EMDR?
EMDR is a research based and state-of-the-art therapy used to treat unresolved emotional trauma. EMDR changes the way the brain responds to external stimuli. It involves sensory stimulation such as changing lights, gentle buzzing from handheld devices or sounds heard through headphones. These sensory inputs switch back and forth from right to left, while the client tries to recall past trauma. EMDR works with the brain and the way memories, thoughts, feelings and body sensations are stored. This type of therapy helps get to the heart of the guilt and shame that many sex addicts struggle with and stops the vicious cycle of out-of-control sexual behaviors and addictions.
EMDR for the Addict
1. EMDR for addiction recovery is based on the basic principles of human behavior. It is a basic human principle that we avoid pain and seek pleasure. In fact, if a behavior has a negative consequence then there must be a positive feeling connected to it otherwise, a person would not continue to do it.
2. EMDR de-links the positive-feeling state. Sex addiction is considered a behavioral addiction. The real desire is for the feeling that underlies the behavior, not the behavior itself. An EMDR protocol specially designed for addiction is called Feeling State Addiction Protocol or FSAP. FSAP helps to de-link the positive-feeling state from the behavior so that a person will not want to continue the behavior. Some examples of positive feelings states include: feeling important, in control, powerful, lovable and good enough.
3. EMDR gets to the root cause of addiction, which is trauma. After the positive-feeling state is de-linked from the behavior, EMDR therapy helps to process the traumatic experiences that feed the desire for the positive-feelings state. For example, EMDR gets to the trauma memories in a person’s life that left them feeling unlovable, unimportant, not good enough and powerless.
4. EMDR helps to heal attachment wounds. EMDR therapy can help people to heal from early attachment trauma. Many adults struggling with relationship issues have been emotionally injured in the earliest attachment relationships with their parents or care takers. Specialized EMDR methods can help to heal early life trauma from experiences as young as birth through 3 years old.
EMDR for the Spouse/Partner
EMDR is also beneficial for the partner of someone suffering from a sex addiction. Partners can be traumatized by the betrayal of sex addicts. Sometimes they may blame themselves, feel that they are not good enough, they may feel ashamed of themselves or of their partners. And they may even believe that they are responsible for the sex addict’s behaviors.
1. EMDR therapy to help heal the wounds of spouses and partners. Partners of sex addicts feel betrayed. This betrayal can cause many PTSD-like reactions, including intrusive memories or images, nightmares and dreams, and severe emotional distress causing anxiety and depression. EMDR can be used to target the memories that cause the partner the most distress.
2. EMDR helps to heal negative self beliefs. Many spouses and partners of sex addicts develop negative thoughts and beliefs about themselves as a result of the betrayal. These can include “I am worthless", “I am unlovable”, and “I failed and I am not good enough”. EMDR processes the disturbing memories that connect to these beliefs, transforming them to more positive helpful beliefs such as, “I did the best I could”, “I am enough”, and “I have value and I am lovable”.
3. EMDR strengthens spouses and partners, helping them to live a full life. Dealing with the betrayal of sex addiction can be scary and overwhelming. When the trauma response has been reduced, partners can develop plans for next steps in their relationships including reconciliation or separation. EMDR can help partners to get “clear” on what they want in their relationship, working through triggers, setting boundaries, and re-establishing trust if they chose to.
Sex addiction is difficult for both the addict and their partner and is often accompanied by shame and suspicion. It can leave lasting wounds and make it difficult for relationships to recover. It is vital for both the addict and their partner to seek proper therapy to begin the process of healing. EMDR therapy is a powerful, effective and safe method for alleviating the long-term psychological impact of traumatic experiences and helps in the recovery of sexual addiction.
If you or someone you know is struggling with sex addiction there is help available. Don’t wait. Reach out today!
Patrick Carnes, a psychologist and researcher, was instrumental in the initial identification and treatment of sexual addiction as a condition. The data came out of his ten years of research.
Lemecia Lindsey is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and a Certified EMDR Therapist and EMDR Consultant. She began her early counseling work in community agencies and schools, helping children and teenagers who were struggling with social, emotional and behavioral issues, and providing family therapy. Her desire to help children and their families with complex emotional issues led her to explore and later be trained in the most advanced therapeutic approaches for treating trauma.
To schedule an EMDR therapy session email or call Lemecia.