Our American society is currently primed for sexual addiction to touch the lives of thousands of individuals and families. The avenues by which men, women, and children can become hooked on sexualized content and behaviors have literally become commonplace within our culture (e.g., internet pornography, prostitution, strip clubs, etc.). Unfortunately, the amount of people who have been affected by sexual addiction is quite significant. The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health estimates 3-5% of the US population suffers from sexual compulsion disorders (MyAddiction.com). These statistics are truly saddening. However, considering the scope of people impacted by these compulsions, it is necessary to understanding how these compulsions manifest themselves.
Levels of Addiction
There is more than just one form of addiction. There are also various levels of addiction.
Dr. Patrick Carnes, in his book Out of the Shadows, provides a clear description of each level:
1. Level one contains behaviors regarded as normal, acceptable, or tolerable (e.g., masturbation, pornography, and prostitution), and are given general cultural acceptance. Though some of these behaviors may be considered illegal, widespread practice conveys a public tolerance. The healthiest forms of sexual expression (e.g., masturbation) can turn into self-defeating behaviors or the victimization of others. Many level one addicts feel they can control their behavior, and may rationalize they are no different than most people.
2. Level two extends to those behaviors which are clearly victimizing and for which legal sanctions are enforced. These are seen as nuisance offenses such as exhibitionism or voyeurism. One element common to all level two obsessions is that someone is victimized.
3. Level three behaviors have significant consequences for the victims and legal consequences for the addicts; examples are incest, child molestation, or rape. Compulsivity at this level represents a severe progression of the addiction and involves the violation of significant boundaries (Carnes, 2001).
Dr. Carnes further explains each level can be utterly destructive for the addict, and that individuals who are seeking recovery from their addiction must understand the full range of possibilities whether they are solely involved at Level one or involved across multiple levels. He adds the majority of addicts are at Level one or two (Carnes, 2001).
Understanding the Addict
Certain misconceptions of sexual addiction include sex addicts as being people who are simply guilt ridden because of sexual behavior, thus implying they need to be more free, to be better informed, and to simply enjoy their sexuality (Carnes, 2001). This view is too simplistic, however, in that it does not account for the damage done to the individual or the victims involved emotionally, relationally, physically, or spiritually. It does reveal the need for our culture to become more informed as a whole regarding the area of sexual addiction.
Becoming Informed as a Family
Education regarding sexual addiction is an important segment of recovery for both the addict and their family. Landau, Garrett, and Webb (2008) show that the only long-term path to recovery is through family recovery, not just individual recovery. They further explain addiction affects the family, and that the family can positively affect recovery from addiction (p. 511).
Sexual addiction is a very present phenomenon in our society, and considering the data from Dr. Carnes (2001) regarding the levels of addiction, it is hard to deny the need not only for intervention in the lives of those struggling with sexual addiction but for cultural change. Addressing our culture is one matter; getting help as soon as possible if you have a sexual addiction is another matter.
You can beat sexual addiction through the grace, strength, and love God provides.
1. Carnes, P. (2001). Out of the shadows: Understanding sexual addiction. City Center, MN: Hazelden.
3. Landau, J., Garrett, J., & Webb, R. (2008). Assisting a concerned person to motivate someone experiencing cybersex treatment. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 34 (4), 498-511.
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