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The Truth About Sex Addiction: An Intimacy Disorder

A black and white photo where two people are holding both hands in front of them with their fingers touching, in an intimate way

Suppose you or your loved one suffers from an intimacy disorder such as sex addiction or pornography addiction. In that case, you will have many questions about how to recover and thrive.

At the Integrative Life Center, we believe the first steps in healing are education and awareness. They are crucial tools that help you overcome your addiction and create a new healthy lifestyle you can be proud of. 

Sex Addiction: An intimacy Disorder

Sex addiction falls under the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a kind of psychologist’s handbook, as a compulsive sexual behavior disorder. This diagnosis means that the symptoms of sex addiction are a series of behaviors that feel uncontrollable to a person and are relied on as coping mechanisms.

But we now understand sex addiction as a trauma-based intimacy disorder that springs out of a lack of attunement or relationship bonding and nurturing that usually starts in childhood. 

What is an Intimacy Disorder?

Real, authentic intimacy requires vulnerability. It involves the risk of rejection in hopes of being loved and appreciated for who you are. 

A person suffering from an intimacy disorder seeks other means of getting emotionally fed since they’re unable or unwilling to let people see them for who they are. 

The symptoms of an intimacy disorder often result from adverse childhood experiences when a person’s primary caregivers reject them or deprive them of authentic, loving human connection. They learn to survive and get love by any means necessary, usually acting out or seeking temporary love and affection from anyone willing to give it to them. 

The fear of abandonment, the fear of harm, the fear of rejection develops into something like a phobia of intimacy and authenticity. People suffering from sex addiction carry this fear throughout their lives until they get the help they need and deserve. 

Learn more about our Intimacy Disorder Treatment program.

What is Sex Addiction?

Sex addiction is a series of long-held compulsive behaviors that often lead a person to experience persistent guilt and shame or even start a double life. When sex, pleasure, and masturbation go from a way to connect with people you care for to a way of coping with stress, anxiety, or sadness, sex can quickly become an addiction. 

What Makes Sexual Addiction an Intimacy Disorder?

Those who become sex addicts mostly grew up living through some trauma. These traumatic events left the person seeking intimacy and fulfillment through sexual acts.

People seek intimacy through sex acts because they can control masturbation and pleasure. Rejection and abandonment by others are outside of their control. Therefore, the person suffering from an intimacy disorder develops a sex addiction as a coping mechanism. 

Sex addiction develops from:

  • Being extremely sensitive to criticism
  • Having low self-esteem and extreme awkwardness or shyness
  • Having an intense fear of being judged or humiliation anxiety
  • Fearing and avoiding social interactions or situations

Two men with their backs to the camera looking out the windows, the man on the right has his arm around the other

Intensity vs. Intimacy

Just like love and lust are confused for one another, so are intimacy and intensity, especially by those suffering from intimacy disorders.

There are four main types of intimacy:

  • Physical intimacy. More than just sex, this form of intimacy is holding hands, kissing, hugging, and providing physical touch that you don’t intend to be sexual or lead to sexual acts.
  • Intellectual intimacy. The mental connection between you and your partner where you can engage in thoughtful conversation about a wide variety of topics
  • Emotional intimacy. The ability to be vulnerable around your partner and know you are safe. Sharing your deepest and most uncomfortable feelings without the fear of rejection or judgment.
  • Spiritual intimacy. Regardless of sharing the same religious or spiritual beliefs, it means you both have respect for the other person’s belief systems or even what it means to be a good person.

No relationship can be intimate without all four levels. They connect, weave, and form the foundation of a long-lasting and healthy bond with another person. 

Need more information on the 5 Levels of Emotional Intimacy? Read more from The Begin Again Institute.

Fear of any of these levels could indicate that an intimacy disorder is present. 

Some signs that your relationship is lacking one of these levels of intimacy are:

  • You’re not comfortable turning to your partner for advice, input, or guidance.
  • You are not comfortable talking about your emotions.
  • Your partner feels distant and disconnected.
  • Physical touch mainly happens in the bedroom or is expected to lead to sexual acts.

Types of Sex Addiction 

While sex addiction may sound like just being addicted to intercourse, it can take many forms. They are not mutually exclusive and often become intertwined in people suffering from intimacy disorders as one thing can lead to the next. Types of sex addition include:

  • Intercourse Addiction. This type of addiction may look different for many people. Still, common factors include constantly swiping on hook-up apps, spending excessive amounts of money on sex workers, pressuring your partner into sexual acts, and being unfaithful.
  • Pornography Addiction. When you watch so much pornography that it negatively impacts your ability to function at work or in relationships. 
  • Masturbation Addiction. When masturbation is taken to an extreme, you may find yourself masturbating rather than addressing your daily responsibilities. You may use it as a way to cope with uncomfortable emotions or choose self-pleasure over partnered activities. 

Signs of Sex Addiction

At its core, sex addiction is an intimacy disorder characterized by specific behaviors. Sex addition signs include:

  • Thinking so frequently about sexual acts or fantasies that interferes with daily responsibilities
  • Engaging in escalating sexual activities that could threaten personal or other people’s safety, such as engaging in voyeurism or paying for the services of sex workers
  • Lying, deceit, and having a series of behaviors that you keep hidden from everyone in your life — sometimes leading to whole separate lives and identities
  • Using sex and masturbation as a coping mechanism for loneliness, sadness, anger, or other extreme emotions
  • Spending an excessive amount of time on planning, seeking, or fulfilling sexual compulsions
  • Isolating yourself due to the amount of shame and guilt you feel about your sexual behaviors

How ILC Can Help

If you or your loved one suffers from an intimacy disorder like sex addiction, recovery and growth are possible. Support is not only helpful but necessary.

At Integrative Life Center, we offer various treatments for addiction. We provide you or your loved one the best possible care and chance of recovery from your intimacy disorder, using techniques such as:

  • Psychodrama therapy. These group sessions use guided drama exercises to help you learn healthy coping mechanisms and better communications methods, among other things.
  • Motivational interviewing therapy. Used specifically for addiction treatment, this therapy helps you confront your motivations and resolve uncertain feelings, thoughts, and insecurities. Motivational interviewing therapy makes you responsible and accountable for your actions while developing a plan to address them.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy. Uses mindfulness to help you learn how to observe your emotions in stressful situations instead of reacting to them, helping you recognize triggers and avoid undesirable actions.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy. Perhaps the most common type of therapy, CBT helps you and your therapist identify harmful ways you think and behave. You then work together to determine how to respond to those thoughts and actions in a healthier way.

Key Takeaways

Intimacy disorders, such as sex addiction, create the inability to be vulnerable or authentic in our relationships with other people. 

Sex addiction can manifest in many ways but, generally, signs of sex addiction consist of a set of compulsive sexual behaviors you can’t stop by yourself and that leave you feeling ashamed and guilty.

ILC has the tools available to help you overcome your sex addiction. Contact us today to get started with a treatment plan.

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