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Sex addiction?

Ever wonder if you are too interested in sex for your own good? No doubt many gay men have asked themselves this question. For a variety of reasons, sex tends to be important to us.  We tend to have sex with more partners than straight men do – sometimes, lots and lots more partners.

Just the same, many gay men regard their sex lives as a bit of a dirty secret.  They read about the fight for marriage rights in their local gay paper, and they see “good gay guy” images on TV sitcoms that look pretty virtuous.  What about the man who isn’t interested in settling down, and who considers cruising his sport of choice?

Take Jeff, who enjoys sex.  A lot.  Jeff wouldn’t hazard a guess as to how many guys he has hooked up with over the years, but it’s not unusual for him to go home with a guy after dancing the night away at his local club.  He goes to the baths on occasion.  His profile on a well-known hookup website makes it clear that he’s available.  He’s in his mid-30s and not interested in settling down.  He has a circle of friends he can count on when he needs them, and he considers his life pretty happy and fulfilling.  He thinks of himself good at sex, and for him sex is the equivalent of going to the movies or heading to the bowling alley.  Last month Jeff has sex with half a dozen men.

Does Jeff have a problem?  Let’s take a look.  He’s doing well in his job as a legal professional; his erotic life doesn’t interfere with his professional work or relationships.  He doesn’t put himself at risk of arrest by doing anything illegal.  He has enough friends to get his needs for emotional intimacy met.  He plays safe; in fact, despite all his sex partners, Jeff has never had an STD.  His personal life is in good shape.

Simply having a lot of sex doesn’t make a person a sex addict. The phrase “sex addiction” has been popularized over the past couple of decades to describe compulsive sexual behavior. The term is controversial in some quarters. When addiction was first coined as a term to describe self-destructive behavior it was used in the context of drug or alcohol abuse. Anything short of complete abstinence from drug or alcohol use is described as relapse. This sort of language becomes a problem when we talk about “food addiction” or “sex addiction,” where abstaining completely isn’t possible.   Going without sex the way that an addict needs to give up heroin doesn’t make sense.

Sex can play havoc in our lives when it really is uncontrollable.  Sex is compulsive when it takes over so much of our lives that other parts of life and well-being suffer – or when our sexuality becomes destructive and out of control.  It’s not just sex; human beings seem able to make almost anything a compulsion or “addiction.”

Mark has a problem with sex.  He spends all of his free time cruising for sex online, even when he should be working.  He can’t seem to keep away from the toilets in the rest stop on the highway outside of town, even though he has nearly been arrested or robbed more than once and rarely meets anyone who turns him on.

When he has sex with someone, he often doesn’t enjoy it all that much. He feels guilty as hell afterwards.  He never hooks up with the same guy twice.  He has trouble dating.  He feels lonely and bored a lot of the time, but the thrill of cruising seems to take his mind off his troubles.

Some people assume that men who are sexually compulsive are “oversexed” and horny all the time.  That’s not true; uncontrollable sexual behavior is more likely to be unrewarding rather than passionate. Too often, Mark has sex when he’s anxious, not because he’s horny.  Sex is a time-filler for him.

If you’re concerned about your sexuality, take a look at both the quality of your sex life and how it fits in with your overall well-being.  Are you enjoying sex?  Does a sexual encounter leave you feeling good about yourself?   Do you have sex when you’re horny…or just because there is nothing else to do right now?

If you find yourself feeling guilty around sex, it’s useful to understand why.  Guilty feelings could be a signal that you are doing something stupid and need to stop before you get hurt.  But guilt could also be an expression of internalized homophobia – a feeling that gay sex is wrong or dirty.  There is no need to feel ashamed of being affected by homophobia, but you’ll need to work on getting rid of it if you are going to be truly happy in life.

Is there enough emotional intimacy in your life?  Even if you aren’t interested in a boyfriend, it’s important to have people around you that support and love you – people you can count on both in a crisis and during everyday life.

If you’ve got a concern that your erotic life isn’t working for you, seek out a gay positive, sex positive counselor or therapist. Talking about sex can be difficult.  Interview a prospective counselor carefully.  How does he or she feel about sex?  Is he comfortable talking about it with you?  (Don’t just assume therapists have worked through all their own issues!)  You need to work with someone who can challenge you, but who can also make you feel comfortable.  A therapist with a negative or judgmental attitude towards sex isn’t going to help.  Be an informed consumer.

If you want to make changes in your life, try to work on more than just getting rid of stuff you don’t want.  You need to replace what’s not working in your life with new behaviors that will make you happier.  Finding out more about what you truly want isn’t always as easy as it seems, but it’s important if you are going to be happy in the long run.

About John

I have been  licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years.  My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression.  My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships. 

I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems.  My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate.  If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.

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Whether you've worked with a therapist before or are exploring counseling for the first time, you probably have questions.  It is important to have the information you need to make a good decision when selecting a therapist.  I welcome your questions -- about your specific situation, about me or about my approach to therapy. Making things better can start with an email, or you can call me at (404) 874-8536.