What Is Sex Addiction?

Intentional Warriors is pleased to feature guest blogger David Janvier, MA, LPC, CST, a licensed Christian sex therapist, to describe pornography addiction through the eyes of a clinician who regularly treats men with this problem. Over the course of the next two days, we will hear the story of John, a man who was deeply involved in an addictive pattern with pornography and masturbation.

Recently, the mercury level has exceeded the boiling point in the heated debates surrounding the legitimacy of sexual addiction. Researchers, Academians, and Clinicians part ways over nuances of what they have discovered through their data, research and theories. Research and theories are foundational for clinical practice and necessary to guide effective treatment; however, there are limitations. This essay is not the place to explore the limitations of research and counseling theories. Scholarship certainly has its place and the field has grown greatly as a result. However, I have witnessed a disconnect from the sterile environment of research from what I see in my office. In other words, there is a gap between theory and research to actual practice. It is one position to design research studies and collect data and another to sit with clients in their journey-walking along side them experiencing their wounds, struggles and the impact of how they dysfunctionally use sex. Instead of approaching this issue from a purely academic view complete with footnotes and references, I’d like to present my experience of sexual addiction from a personal first-hand observation through my lens of being a Christian Sex Therapist.

John is a handsome 35 year-old, professional who draws many to him by his charm, charisma and friendliness. He professed Jesus as his savior at a young age and he was highly esteemed at church where he held leadership roles. John was living the American dream complete with a wife and two children. However, his dream was shattered and it quickly turned into a nightmare one evening when a police officer showed-up at his home. His wife and children watched as the officers cuffed John, read him the Miranda rights and drove him away in the squad car. The impact of his arrest has had long-lasting effects on John’s life, as well as, wounding on his wife and kids. As I walked with John on his healing journey, along with others who contact me for help in the area of sexual brokenness, I have found integrating Christian spiritual principles and the established sexual addiction model has been effective in sustained successful treatment. Labeling John’s condition as sexual addiction had given him language to identify his struggle and hope for recovery out of the bondage he found himself. Before we continue with John’s story, it is important to understand addiction and how one is diagnosed as an addict.

What Is Addiction

In evaluating for addiction, Clinicians are trained to assess for a set of criteria or factors that indicate whether an individual has an addictive relationship with someone or something. A classic factor is that the person has a lack of control over their behavior. They become consumed and obsessed with when they can get the next hit. They want to stop but find themselves returning to behavior even after multiple promises to self and others that they would discontinue. Usually this leads to the inability to stop even in the face of dire consequences, such as, broken relationships, health problems, legal issues, job loss and hurting others. The efforts to stop fail and the behavior escalates into more severe or risky behavior. The individual finds himself engaging in behavior that he would never have dreamed that he would do. Significant amounts of time and energy are consumed by engaging in the behavior at the sacrifice of other vital parts of life that include friendships, family relationships, faith, hobbies and other meaningful interests. This dynamic impedes the individual’s ability to fulfill important and responsible life obligations. As a result, valued parts of the person are lost and the individual is now enslaved to the addiction. What is so insidious about addiction is that it is based in self-deception. Usually, the addict doesn’t even know he is addicted. He is in denial until a radical event shakes him into reality and hopefully, the opportunity to seek treatment and healing. This is what happened to John.

The Making of A Sex Addict: John’s Story

The arrest was John’s wake-up call to the depth of his condition. It was this pivotal moment that broke through John’s initial denial. Little did he know that the road to recovery would be about 3-5 years and it would require more than looking at himself but looking at the impact his addiction has had on his wife, children and others.

Childhood was the fertile ground in which the seed of sexual addition took root, grew and blossomed in the destruction of John’s life. A high percentage of sex addicts have significant abuse histories. As hard as it was for John to admit to what the research demonstrated, he began to own the fact that his father’s tongue had impaled his soul and sense of self more than the welts left by extension cord. Resolving his past traumas was no easy task but a necessary one. For it was those traumas that left John as a helpless little boy in a world where the only way he learned comfort was to self-sooth through masturbation at age 5. The act would allow him to escape his reality and feel good if only for moment. Stumbling upon his father’s stash of pornographic magazines, John learned that he could disappear into a world for hours that numbed his pain and left him feeling good. John learned how to shoot-up and get high on his own dopamine anytime life’s pressures got to hard.

As John grew, so did technology. The inception of the Internet proliferated pornography and this was the accelerant that launched John’s consumption of pornography to a daily basis-often multiple times a day. At certain points, masturbation occurred so frequently, John would inflict damage to his penis and it would bleed. Despite the self-injury, John’s compulsive behavior would continue. The physical pain could not deter the medicating of the internal pain that plagued John. The neurochemical pathway set in his brain has been well worn. Receptors in John’s brain were changing. Just as in cocaine and heroin addicts, the reward center of the brain, the Nucleus Accumbens, was requiring more risky and novel behaviors to provide the same level of high.

3 Responses to “What Is Sex Addiction?”

  1. Castimonia

    Great post. I posted a link to an “official” questionare put out by the International Institute for Trauma & Addiction Professionals (IITAP) on my blog.


    The questionare gives a rating from 1 to 20 to see not only if you are a sex addict but also to see on what scale of the addiction you are on. I was a 19! But I’m in recovery now, and life is a lot better!


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