For the past several month I’ve been doing research (as part of my schooling) on sex addiction. At times the journey has been frustrating and painful at other times enlightening and helpful.
Over the next two weeks I’d like to address four bits of nonsense I’ve heard from sex addiction and sexual health "experts” about porn/sex addiction… and let you know where we can find some truth to replace it
1. The problem is society’s (and your) "sex negative" point of view
The “sex negativity is the problem" argument is one that’s increasingly touted by therapists who consider that truly healthy and enlightened people take an “anything consensual goes” point of view to sex. Of course when they say, “consensual” they don’t mean between you and your husband necessarily… just between him and whoever he’s acting out with (e.g., himself, the affair partner, the prostitutes… though I personally question how much real “consent” there is on the part of the latter).
Most of these experts (and others they've influenced) will tell you there’s nothing wrong with watching (legal) porn: brushing away all the research that says it’s damaging with a wave of the hand. Others will say the same thing about various other sexual sins (e.g. swinging, bdsm, affairs). The bible's guidelines for sex (whether or not the bible is even mentioned) are scorned as "judgmental," and even contrary to healthy sexuality.
These "sexperts" ignore the fact that even in the secular world there is a lot of debate over what constitutes healthy, satisfying sex. A recent article in Psythotherapy Networker captured some of this debate well in an article contrasting therapy celebrity Esther Perel’s campaign to promote disconnected sex with research by the Gottman’s and Sue Johnson showing that intimacy results in the highest levels of sexual satisfaction. Considering that porn use (not a lot of research has been done on other SA behaviours) has been shown to result in lower levels of sexual satisfaction and higher levels of erectile dysfunction… I’d say the “sex positive” crowd looks more like the enemy of healthy, fulfilling sex than those of us promoting intimacy as a doorway to a great sex (and everything else) life.
2. It’s not your husband’s fault: his brain made him do it.
I actually have to be very careful on this one: because it’s very difficult to explain exactly how addiction works. Smarter people than me have been trying to do so for decades. However, when considering this issue I’ve always started with the bible. 1 Corinthians 10 tells believers (“brothers and sisters,” says the NIV) that they will not be tempted beyond what they can endure. Is every sex addict who goes to church one of the brothers and sisters… that’s probably a discussion for another day. However, assuming our SA husband is a believer, the bible says he has choices today and always did.
That said, by the late stages of addiction “compulsivity,” (i.e. loss of control because the brain reacts automatically to triggers) is a common factor. And while compulsivity may cause your husband to automatically lust or enter into the addiction cycle in response to certain triggers, there is still opportunity for him to get out of the cycle before he starts taking further steps towards acting out. With recovery work (predominantly "avoiding acting out"), he can reverse this automatic reaction.
Another thought about “his brain made him:” the neural networks leading to compulsivity formed because our husbands made sinful choices, again and again and again. The bible warns believers that sin is a trap… and it’s certainly not overstating the matter here. Those trapped in addiction almost always feel that they cannot stop as much as they may want to.
Plasticity = Hope
However, there's hope. Your husband's brain's plasticity (ability to change—which created the addiction to a "high dopamine hit" substance) may be a big part of his addiction, but that same plasticity can get him out again. Addiction expert, and neuroscientist, Marc Lewis, who is very sympathetic to the pain of addicts, points out that one of the main impetuses for the addict to enter recovery is when the consequences of the addiction start to become very painful. Those painful consequences interrupt the addiction feedback loop… making the addiction a bit less alluring the next time the trigger is encountered.
Please know that if you have concerns about your husband’s therapy (or other areas of his recovery), there are always options. Consider talking to other women whose husband's are in recovery, or look up another therapist at the C-SASI or APSATS websites. Keep looking until you have found someone who "gets it."
If your husband is still avoiding the truth of his sex addiction (or problematic sexual behaviors), that absolutely should not stop you from getting support to deal with your wounds and trauma… that are the result of his sin.
Next week I'll be looking at more lies around our husbands "not having a problem" as well as the lie of the inevitability of relapse. The ability to see through lies, to His marvelous truth (that sets free) is so necessary on this journey. I pray He will be your vision in the days to come.