Dear New Shrink,
I keep reading about sexual addiction and it is really bothering me. I now am wondering if my boyfriend has it. He has had two affairs since we started seeing each other. He says it is because he wasn’t ready for a commitment at the time but now he knows that he loves me and it won’t happen again. Am I being stupid? Is he lying to me?
Dear Very Worried,
I can’t say if your boyfriend has it or not but two affairs does not qualify as an addiction. It may be exactly as he said.
Commitment problems may be the real issue here. It may be that he has attachment problems meaning that because of past disappointments, disturbances in attachment or loss of attachment, he may have a deep fear of forming new attachments. This often manifests as a commitment problem.
Also, men often view commitment differently than women. If it is not an attachment issue, this different perspective may be at play. Women view commitments in an emotional way, but men tend to think of them as a responsibility as well. Biological history as well as years of socialization have made men think of their role in a committed relationship as being required to bring home the bacon and to protect their women and families. This is a big responsibility. For many men, the C word is also the R word.
Men also have to negotiate intimacy with their masculinity. This is because when they go off to school as young boys, they must adjust their attachments to their mothers and become little men because if they don’t, they will be called mama’s boys, sissies and the like. They will be ostracized and isolated from their peers, and made fun of. Fast forward, there can be a push/pull in forming attachments with women until they know that their masculinity will not be compromised.
Relationships are not easy. There will be conflict and infidelity happens perhaps more than it should, but all of this is a long way from sexual addiction.
As you may have read, the medical professionals do not consider it a real addiction. Our profession has called it Compulsive Sexuality. But this is a bit like splitting hairs. There is no evidence of tolerance building or withdrawal but there are clearly both men and women who have addictive behavior around sex. They are preoccupied with sex, and will have it numerous times a day, either with themselves, or others. Some will put their lives in danger to obtain it.
I recall a man who on a daily basis went to a rather unsafe area of town to score his “sex fix.” He was good looking and drove a nice car and wore an expensive watch. After a couple of years of this daily routine, he was one day robbed and beaten, left for possibly dead in the gutter. Never saw the car or watch again but worse, after being released from the hospital, the first thing he did was to go back for more sex. One would think this might have cured him, but it did not. This is someone who definitely needs help for sexual addiction or compulsive sexuality. Call it what you may but this is beyond normal.
Often these people have been sexually abused during their childhood years and are caught up in repeating some version of the original act. Many people think that the proliferation of pornography on the web has created more sexual compulsives or addicts. Research has shown that a drug’s availability is highly correlated with the number of people addicted to it. This is the same kind of notion but availability alone does not make everyone try something and then of those who do, not everyone becomes engaged enough to continue with it.
When you are completely preoccupied with sex, lose hours to masturbation or have literally hundreds of sexual liaisons, something is simply not normal. When you risk you life, health, job, family just to have a sexual encounter, then you probably are a sex addict.
Infidelity happens when someone goes outside of a committed monogamous relationship and it is either a lapse in judgment and control or a sign that something is missing in the relationship.
In your case, it sounds like you weren’t even fully committed as a couple yet and unless your boyfriend fits the criteria mentioned above, he probably is not a sex addict.
For more information, look up Patrick Carnes or go to the website sexhelp.com.
Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and marriage and family therapist. She also specializes in addiction and is certified by the American Psychological Association in the treatment of substance abuse. Her offices are located in Brentwood. Send your confidential questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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