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Dealing with sexual addiction in a relationship can be very distressing for both parties. We talk to Paula Hall, a Relate Sex Therapist to find out how to recognise addiction and what to do if you think you or your partner may have a problem.  

What is sex addiction?

Sex addiction is a term that describes any sexual behaviour that feels ‘out of control’. It’s not the behaviour itself that defines it as an addiction but rather the dependency on it to numb out negative emotions and difficult experiences. As with all addictions, most people with sex addiction will have tried to stop or limit their behaviour on many occasions – but in spite of continuing harmful consequences to self and others, they can’t reliably stay stopped. 

What are the issues for partners?

Finding out that your partner is a sex or pornography addict is devastating for most partners. Not only do partners experience the betrayal and deceit that often accompanies an affair, but they may also have to face a future with a partner living in recovery from addiction. Most partners have absolutely no idea that their partner is an addict until it is either disclosed or discovered, so shock is the first and most intense emotion. Along with that are feelings of anger, shame, self-doubt, loss and fear.  

How do you know if your partner is a sex addict?

It’s impossible to know if someone is a sex addict without a thorough assessment with a sex therapist, but warning signs include increasing secrecy, isolation, moodiness and avoidance of couple, family and social responsibilities. There may be increased irritability, tiredness, depression and anxiety and some couples notice an impact on their sex life such as erectile difficulties or avoiding sex. But do remember there are many explanations for all of these behaviours so it’s important not to jump to conclusions. However, if you know your partner has struggled with addictions in the past and you also know that they use pornography – it may be worth asking if their pornography use has increased or become problem for them.

What should you do if you think you or your partner has a problem?

First and foremost you need to talk to each other. Many people with addiction go through a period of denial before they feel able to accept that the problem really is an addiction that has gotten out of control. If your partner accepts that they have a problem then you need to find help for both of you.

Your first port of call could be a Relate Centre where they will do an assessment to decide if your partner would benefit from specialist sex addiction help (most do). You can also ask about getting help and support for yourself either through individual counselling or a group support programme. As well as your local Relate Centre, you can find specialist sex addiction help for addicts and partners through the Association for the Treatment of Sex Addiction & Compulsivity.

If your partner doesn’t accept, or believe, that they have a problem then you can still reach out for help and support for yourself. The problem may not be addiction, but if it’s something that’s affecting your happiness then you can still benefit from talking to a counsellor about how you can move forward.  

Paula Hall is a Relationship and Sex Therapist.

How we can help

If you're worried about your sex life, there are various ways we can help.

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