Sex Addiction

Synopsis of “Healing The Wounds of Sexual Addiction” by Dr. Mark Laaser, faculty with Institute for Sexual Wholeness, adjunct teacher at Dallas and Fuller Theological Seminaries. Anything marked “observation” comes from Dr. Laaser’s direct ministry experience counseling sex addicts. Note that addiction and sin may be used interchangeably, because the topic, sexual addiction, is sin.

Note: Dr. Laaser points out calling it addiction or disease (which fell out of favor in the 90s) does not remove someone’s responsibility: “People should repent, change their ways, and get right with God.” As well, Dr. Gerald May, writing in “Addiction & Grace”, calls all addiction sin.

Sex Addiction is a Sin

Sexual Addiction is a Sin. Some common characteristics:
  1. Sin is uncontrollable (in the flesh; Rom. 7-8) & unmanageable (Jesus died to free us from it)
  2. Sin & addiction provide an escape from feelings like fear. Examples of fear causing us to abandon God’s will for our lives: Elijah running from Jezebel, Jonah running from God.
  3. Sin and addiction have destructive consequences (broken lives, homes, & careers; Rom. 6:23).
  4. Observation: sex addicts experience shame (due to sin) and believe they are worthless (due to bondage to sin). Examples: Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden of Eden.

Observed Characteristics Contrasted With Psalm 51

    Observed characteristics / symptoms of sex addicts (contrasted with Ps. 51, HCSB)

1 Be gracious to me, God, according to Your faithful love; according to Your abundant compassion, blot out my rebellion.
    (instead of fearing accountability, David seeks it; instead of “trying harder”, David turns to God for forgiveness)
2 Wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.
    (David is no doubt experiencing the depression and/or anxiety produced by the guilt of his sins, which is good.)
3 For I am conscious of my rebellion, and my sin is always before me.
    (David experiences a kind of obsessing which is normal for those experiencing guilt over their sins)
4 Against You—You alone—I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight. So You are right when You pass sentence; You are blameless when You judge.
    (instead of self-righteous behavior, which is very common for sex addicts, David pursues true repentance)
5 Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me.
    (though it may appear David is depressed, he correctly views sin as our inborn human nature)
6 Surely You desire integrity in the inner self, and You teach me wisdom deep within.
    (instead of fearing accountability, responsibility, and intimacy, like sex addicts, David pursues right standing before God)
7 Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
    (instead of again turning to sex to medicate his guilt and shame, David breaks free by asking God to purify him)
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice.
    (David has experienced the physical consequences common to sex addicts, but instead of complaining or justifying, he validates God's righteous punishment, which leads to a change of heart)
9 Turn Your face away from my sins and blot out all my guilt.
    (instead of fearing intimacy, David asks God to restore the relationship through forgiveness.  though possibly experiencing depression and/or anxiety, David rightly turns to God)
10 God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
    (instead of denying, David asks God to heal his psyche)
11 Do not banish me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me.
    (though David may be feeling worthless due to guilt of sin, he asks God for mercy.  instead of fearing intimacy, David seeks intimacy in a restored relationship with God)
12 Restore the joy of Your salvation to me, and give me a willing spirit.
    (though David is likely experiencing anxiety over the guilt of his sin, he asks God to heal him, which is a right and proper cure)
13 Then I will teach the rebellious Your ways, and sinners will return to You.
    (instead of exhibiting self-righteousness, which is common for sex addicts, David asks God to once again make him [as king] worthy and in a right relationship before God before he tries to tell sinners how to get right with God)
14 Save me from the guilt of bloodshed, God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing of Your righteousness.
15 Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise.
16 You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it; You are not pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart.
    (instead of self-righteousness, looking for religious formulas, blaming others, etc, David knows what true repentance is)

Can Moral Behavior Become Sexual Sin?

    Some sexual actions are always sinful. However, sexual addiction can corrupt otherwise healthy acts.  Example: sex used to escape intimacy with a spouse rather than as an expression of it can be viewed as sinful.  This mirrors a definition of sin: that which separates us from God.  Hence, any sexual act which does not unite the married couple could be viewed as sin.
    Observation: often, the sex addict does not understand the Biblical concept of intimacy.

The Building Blocks of Sex Addiction

  1. Sexual fantasy (lust)
  2. Pornography and erotica (fornication/adultery/digital prostitution)
  3. Masturbation

Some Types of Sexual Addiction

  1. Sex with a consenting partner (i.e. not your spouse through marriage)
  2. Internet types: cyber-sex; pornography.
  3. Prostitution (includes pornography)
  4. Exhibitionism and voyeurism (clothing choices, lingering near dressing rooms, etc)
  5. Indecent liberties (grabbing, pinching, tickling, rubbing up against, groping, even hugging)
  6. Obscene phone calls
  7. Bestiality
  8. Power-based personal violence: rape, incest, child molestation.

Observed Sexual Addiction Cycle

    Note: one observation of sex addicts is they often a repeat of sexual trauma the perpetrator themselves experienced.  This type of repetitive sinful behavior could be considered the definition of "foolish" and/or "folly" from Proverbs (26:11 and many others).  The book of Proverbs strongly recognizes such sinful and/or foolish patterns of behavior.
  1. Preoccupation (can’t stop/won’t stop thinking about it; lust is sin)
  2. Ritual (seeking to be alone; cruising the bars; online activities to find a partner)
  3. Acting Out (committing the sin)
  4. Despair (guilt from sin resulting in a negative emotional state that “needs” to be medicated)

Observable Symptoms of Sex Addiction

    These are mainly for the counselor or therapist, but keep them in mind: you may see them in the lives of family members.  Keep in mind, not all of these are as strong a proof of sex addiction as others.  Some come after their addiction is revealed, some before.
  1. Preoccupation with sexual behaviors
  2. Escalating patterns of sexual activity
  3. Acting distant or withdrawn (fear of being discovered, fear of intimacy)
  4. Depression and mood swings (angry outbursts, etc)
  5. Irritability
  6. Abuse of self or others
  7. Resistance to supervision or accountability; fear of criticism
  8. Use of sexual humor
  9. Inappropriate sexual behavior and overt sexual advances
  10. Aftermath: occupational, social, family, professional, and legal difficulties
  11. (For family members) Intuition that something is wrong
  12. Direct evidence of sinful behavior

List of Observed Characteristics of Sex Addiction

    These are mainly for clinicians who diagnose.
    Note: Satan uses various techniques to get us addicted, such as unhealthy family dynamics, past abuse, and lies, especially lies in the media. Make no mistake: this is spiritual warfare.  None of these below are an excuse for sex addiction, but may explain how someone became weak towards it.
  1. Poor or improper self-image (bravado, playing martyr, overachieving, underachieving, depression)
  2. Using sex to elevate their mood (to get to sleep, medicate fear/depression)(Ps. 56:3 we're supposed to turn to God when afraid, not sex)
  3. Sense of entitlement (sex as reward)
  4. Control efforts (self-mutilation, “baptism shopping”, can't quit > 30 days, “white knuckling”, even “sexual anorexia”)
  5. Denial & delusions (no accountability or fear of it, justifying behavior, “victimless crime”)
  6. Tolerance (needs more sex/porn and/or more deviant types of sex/porn to get high)
  7. Blackouts (observed, either due to past trauma link or denial; holes in their memories)
  8. Self-righteousness (rigidity, blaming others, looking for religious formulas to follow)(cf Matt. 23:25-26 "first clean the inside of the cup")
  9. Intimacy disorders: not intimate with friends and/or spouse; irresponsible with time, “slippery” (lots of acquaintances but no friends); gender hatred.
    1. keep in mind Prov. 18:1a "One who isolates himself pursues selfish desires."
  10. Simultaneous multiple (“comorbid”) addictions (alcohol, drugs, food, etc)(Prov. 23:33, of alcohol, "your eyes will see strange things....")
  11. Depression/anxiety (some contribute to it, some are the result of it, but not to give excuse)
  12. Natural progression (Prov. 26:11): sin gets worse with time, not better
  13. Like all sin, sex addiction eventually leads to death (Rom. 6:23)

My Personal Advice: How To Get Free

  1. A relationship with God, period.  This is the #1 way.  Per Rom. 8, the power to live a holy life is only through the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.  So ask: God won't disappoint you.
  2. If married, you must be honest with your spouse.  This might need to be done in a counseling environment.  Do it responsibly, with the goal of minimizing the damage, but tell the truth.  Do not have secrets.
  3. Join a 12 step program.  Seriously.  You need accountability and support, and these offer both, as well as a spiritual foundation.
  4. Counseling.  Whether clinical or lay counseling, get help.  This is vital.  For yourself and for your spouse, if applicable.
  5. Accountability: have one person at church who either is not fallen in this area, or who has fallen but who has conquered it, to be your best friend and accountability partner.  At first, accountability and friendly intimacy may feel like your life and thoughts are being invaded.  You will get used to it.  It won't hurt you.
  6. Do not masturbate.  Some may try anything to justify that masturbation is ok.  It's absolutely not.  Whether you are single or married, masturbation is the gateway behavior, a building block, to becoming a sex addict, and/or staying one.  Society tells many lies about this, like you'll become impotent if you don't, you'll have substandard sexual performance in a relationship, etc.  They are all lies.  You will not explode.  You will not go blind or get cancer.  You can stop masturbating and your brain will adapt.
  7. If you are single, stop pursuing a relationship for a short time.  It is completely possible to not act out and be single.
  8. If you are married, do not go to any extreme in sex.  Do not become sexually anorexic: per 1 Cor. 7 denying your spouse is a sin, unless they consent for a time, etc.  Also, do not become hyper sexual.  Be honest with your spouse about your drive, but do not badger them for sex.  If your spouse thinks that they must now become hyper-sexual to keep you from acting out, they need to be told that this isn't true (though it might be appreciated).  If your spouse becomes hyper sexual or sexually anorexic, he/she needs to go to counseling with you and also get help.  For the addict: just let sex happen when it happens.  Adapt to your spouse's sex schedule.  It will be difficult, but over time it will become possible.
  9. Remove, if possible, all acting out possibilities.  Do without a computer if you can, or at least put it in a public place.  Get accountability software for your computer and/or router.  Filter your internet.  Do the same with your phone, if possible.  If tempted to spend money on it, and you're married, have your spouse take all your money and cards for a time, if possible.  If a specific lube like Vaseline was your acting out ritual, get rid of it.  If you were in an affair, break off all contact with the person, even if you need to change jobs and/or move to a different state.  Never be alone with any person of a gender that excites you (so for straight men, do not be alone with women, etc).
  10. Forgive yourself, in Christ.  Wallowing in guilt and shame only keeps you in the cycle.  If you have truly confessed your sins (1 John 1:9), believe it and then get out of the emotional ditch.  Get help if you find that difficult.  Remember that Jesus loves you, and He would not have died for someone who is worthless and/or beyond hope.
  11. Get a hold of plenty of Christian music you enjoy and have it playing whenever you can: at work, in the car, at home.
  12. Attend church services.  Do not become self-righteous, thinking more Bible reading, more prayer, more church is the answer.  This is actually the deception of self-righteousness.  Holiness is something God must do to you, not something you do to yourself.  Church is good, Bible reading is good, praying is good, but these are actions, not necessarily relationship.  Like I said: pray for the Holy Spirit to help you.  Don't cut these actions out of your life, but don't rely on them.  Works do not save.  Spend time alone with God.  Focus on the relationship.  However, back to the point of this bullet: attend church.  Church (corporate worship, corporate prayer, small groups, etc) is the environment that God uses to purify and shape our hearts.  If you attend a church where you can't tell anyone what you're going through, leave it and find one where people can be honest with each other.