In my counselling work I routinely hear from betrayed spouses that their husband says he is "not a sex addict." Often the explanation continues along the lines of "and you've got a problem, your counselor has a problem, the sex addiction field has a problem, etc., but I'm fine."
Some of these "fine" men are seeing sex workers regularly, surfing porn to the point of having erectile dysfunction and/or are in trouble with the police for their behaviors. Others are engaging occasionally in extra-marital sexual activity... after which they can be seen to become withdrawn hostile, defensive and, possibly abusive. All of these men are lying about and hiding these behaviors... even though they're "ok."
What's a woman with betrayal trauma to do when her husband has decided (sometimes backed up by an assessment, a counselor, a pastor) he's not a sex addict?
What is Sex Addiction?
In a previous post for this site, Certified Sex Addiction Specialist and Certified Clinical Partner Specialist, Dan Drake, wrote:
"Unfortunately, as many of you may (painfully) know already, the mental health field doesn’t have a clear definition about how to define or understand SA in the first place… For example, people like Martin Kafka and Rory Reid see these sexual behaviors as symptoms of “Hypersexual Disorder.” Douglas Braun Harvey uses the phrase “Out of Control Sexual Behavior.” Bill Herring calls it “Chronically Problematic Sexual Behavior,” and the Society for Sexual Health uses the term, “Problematic Sexual Behavior.” Paula Hall has her ISAT, “Institute for Sex Addiction Training,” and Michael Barta has his TINSA, “Trauma Induced Sex Addiction,” model. Recently the World Health Organization finally began to recognize the term “Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder.” And IITAP, founded by Patrick Carnes, uses the term “Sex Addiction.” Still others, like AASECT, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists came out saying that they do not endorse any sex addiction model. And still further, individuals like David Ley have made a living saying that sex addiction isn’t even real."
This is our first clue that this idea of "sex addiction" is a bit loose, though many (but not all) admit that there's something unhealthy that's going on for some people in the area of their sexuality. Christian Sex Addiction Specialists International (C-SASI) has this to say about the idea of sexual addiction:
"C-SASI works from the understanding that the term “sexual addiction” is a limited one that does not fully encapsulate the scope of the problem it is attempting to describe. While in many cases, classic patterns of addiction are present, in some cases the behaviors associated with the sex addiction appear to stem more from trauma re-enactment, neurological damage, intimacy avoidance issues or mental illness.
While most of today’s sex addiction models focus on a person’s relationship with behaviors such as porn use, purchasing of sexual services, paraphilia’s etc., we encourage our members to take an objective, subjective and principled perspective on the sexual behaviors. The latter would include taking into account a Christian perspective on issues such as lust and self-gratification."
That "objective, subjective and principled perspective" idea comes from the "Chronically Problematic Sexual Behaviors" (CPSB) framework. And to bring that idea closer to home, it means if you (as an objective observer) have a problem with your husband's sexual behaviors, then using the CPSB term to describe his behaviors is justified. More on this in a moment.
The Limits of Labels
I would like to acknowledge that some men are resistant to being called a "sex addict" for good reason. In the Beyond Betrayal book I caution:
"Please, let's also bear in mind that labels are only useful when they help someone find a path to wholeness. They have, however, equal potential to limit a person's ability to find that wholeness: so let's be cautious in accepting any label for ourselves, or putting one on others."
In other words, it's understandable when a person does not want to have their identity based on their sin. I have concerns it's not a spiritually health practice to always be identifying ourselves in such a way.
However, we can also take on board that we have sinned (are sinning) without making that our entire identity. All too frequently I see a husband's determination to avoid association with the term "sex addiction," or any of the other variants, as simply denial. Denial that his behaviors are harmful to himself, others and his relationships. Denial that his behaviours conflict with his values. Denial that he's sinning against God, his wife and others.
Thus, if your husband would prefer people on his recovery journey do not refer to him as a "sex addict" but rather as a person with (pick one or more): sexually addictive behaviors, problematic sexual behaviors, sexual integrity issues... and you can find the grace for this, just go with it.
If your husband, however, wants to argue that there's nothing wrong with him and his behaviours, I would encourage you to practice some "radical acceptance" that you (alone) are not likely to be able to persuade him otherwise. However, the reality is his behaviors (including his denial) are creating problems for you. Problems for which you would be wise to seek help. One place you'll find that help is from counselors, groups etc. for wives of sex addicts.
You Have a Problem When...
With the CPSB framework in mind my colleague Cat Etherington will say to recovery-resistant men, "if your wife has a problem with your sexual behaviors then you have two choices: change your behaviors or change your wife."
At the end of the day, sexual betrayal isn't an issue of semantics... it's an issue of relationship with God, wife, community and even one's own soul. May our husbands come to acknowledge this truth. Whether they do or not, may we heal from the wounds it has inflicted on us.
Next week I'll re-post a question to our experts on "what if I don't have (much) proof of the issues and I'm up against his denial."