Compulsive Sex & HIV

V4, N1, Jan 1994

Related Issues

Issues Affecting Partners

Similar to other compulsive and addicitive behaviors, compulsive sex can affect one's family and others. Partners of people who are sexually compulsive often come from dysfunctional families themselves and may suffer low self-esteem before entering the relationship. As the relationship grows, these feelings may intensify, and a partner may become increasingly dependent on the sexually compulsive person for his or her well-being. This can perpetuate the compulsive behavior of the sexual "addict." (14)

In one study, partners feared abandonment and were willing to accept abusive behavior. They typically blamed themselves for the behavior of the sexually compulsive partner. (14) A study of bisexual men and their wives, in which the men self-identified as "sexual addicts," shows the level of feelings sometimes experienced by partners. The spouse of a man who compulsively visited adult bookstores where he had sex with strangers reported fears of rejection and felt "ugly, worthless and inadequate." (15)

Partners' unsuccessful eforts to find an answer to relationship problems often foster development of their own harmful behaviors. Some female partners, who have been taught that being valued as a person is tied to sexual attraction, believe they must be sexual to receive love, regardless of whether they desire sex. There is little research regarding male partners of sexually compulsive people.

Assessing Compulsive Sex

The following questions may help a client in making a self-assessment. (7) Typically, those who are sexually compulsive will answer yes to several questions; answering yes to a single question does not indicate that a person is sexually compulsive.

  • Do you or others who know you find you to be overly preoccupied with sex?
  • Do you ever find yourself compelled to engage in sex in response to stress, anxiety or depression?
  • Have serious problems developed as a result of your sexual behavior (for example, loss of a job or relationship, sexually transmitted diseases, injuries or illnesses, sexual offenses)?
  • Do you feel guilty and shameful about some of your sexual behavior?
  • Do you find yourself constantly searching the environment for a sex partner?
  • Do you ever find yourself sexually obsessed with someone who is not interested in you or doesn't even know you?
  • Do you think your pattern of masturbation is excessive, driven, or dangerous?
  • Have you had numerous love relationships that are short-lived, intense, and unfulfilling?

An Account of Sexual Compulsion

The following is a firsthand account from a person with a history of compulsive sex

I figured for a long time that I wasn't sexually compulsive because my image of a sex addict was someone dirty and unshaven who had sex with hundreds of partners and was always having sex.

Usually once a week, or less, was enough for me, but the pattern of compulsion was definitely there. I started to see I had a problem when I found myself having sex when I didn't want to. I'd be in a situation, it could be at work or home, and suddenly all I could do was go have sex. Sometimes I might get rid of the urge, but it would come right back, and keep me from whatever else I was doing.

Ultimately, I'd go have sex, and sometimes I'd be unsafe. I had known what was unsafe, and I wanted to be safe. But in the moment of sex, these convictions were gone. It was only when I entered a 12-step program around sex and relationship issues that I saw I didn't have to be this way. I had thought my reasons for being unsafe were that my partners were hot and I wanted to make them happy.

I have had unsafe sex in recovery, but it happens far less than if I wasn't in recovery, and when I am unsafe I can see why know. It's not because I'm a horrible person, it's because it's tough for me to like myself and assert myself. I also now see that alcohol leads me to be unsafe, so I've stopped drinking.

I'm angry that health providers don't take sex addiction more seriously. I think they incorrectly assume they'll be shaming people if they view sex as a potential problem. But, in my case, I broke through denial and made changes only after I saw sex as a problem.

Lots of people are able to express themselves sexually without harm, but I have a compulsive personality. I need to set specific boundaries and limits to take care of myself, and I need help doing so.

[email protected] (Sun Nov 27 23:45:21 1994)