Sexual Addiction, Online Conference Transcript
Phillip Sharp Ph.D. has spent the past 5 years developing a specialty in the field of Sexual Addiction counseling, including incest and sexual perpetration issues. He works with sex addicts, their spouses or partners, and families. Dr. Sharp is our guest speaker tonight.
David is the HealthyPlace.com moderator.
The people in blue are audience members.
David: Good evening everyone. I'm David Roberts. I'm the moderator for tonight's conference. I want to welcome everyone to HealthyPlace.com. Our topic tonight is "Sexual Addiction". Our guest is psychologist, Dr. Phillip Sharp, who is a specialist in the field of sexual addiction counseling. Dr. Phillip Sharp's early training included work with families dealing with incest and sexual perpetration issues. Over the past 5 years, Dr. Sharp has developed a specialty in the field of Sexual Addiction counseling, working with sex addicts, their spouses or partners and families. We'll be talking about treatments for sexual addiction as well as the impact it has on family members -- and more importantly, what can be done to help.
Good Evening, Dr. Sharp and welcome to HealthyPlace.com. We appreciate you being here tonight. I know our audience members have different levels of understanding, so briefly, can you define sexual addiction. Then we'll get into deeper issues.
Dr. Sharp: The definition varies depending upon what expert you talk to. Generally, it is a pathological relationship with a mood altering experience. In this case - sex.
David: How does a person develop sexual addiction?
Dr. Sharp: There are various paths by which a person can progress down the road of sexual addiction. Most people have some pain or injury that they seek to heal, numb or medicate. The sexual behavior becomes their primary coping mechanism.
David: And just so everyone knows, does sexual addiction only involve sex with other individuals, or does it cover pornography and other sexual activities?
Dr. Sharp: It covers any activities related to the theme of sex. It is not simply acting out with another person. It includes, pornography, fantasy, masturbation, 900 numbers, etc. The important point to remember is that it is a pathological relationship. Out of the ordinary.
David: When you spoke of "pain" or "injury" a moment ago, I'm assuming you are talking about emotional or psychological pain. Can you explain further?
Dr. Sharp: Yes. The pain usually has to do with some experienced or perceived injury, which the person may or may not be consciously aware of. It can include things such as emotional neglect in the family of origin, rejection from peers or even childhood abuse.
David: What kind of treatment is involved in dealing with sexual addiction?
Dr. Sharp: It depends on the persons underlying issues (pain) and the level of their addiction. Some folks can do fine in a general weekly therapy session with an appropriately trained professional. The therapy will likely need to be supplemented by participation in a 12-step recovery group. Other folks who have a deeper level of addiction may need to go away to an inpatient treatment center.
David: Does a person who has a sexual addiction usually have other addictions (drug, alcohol) as well?
Dr. Sharp: That is often the case. I would say it is more the norm that they will either have another addiction or abuse some other substance or process.
David: We have a few audience questions Dr. Sharp:
lostforwords: Can depression/anxiety bring on sexual addiction?
Dr. Sharp: It can help to trigger it. Usually, depression and anxiety are due to other underlying issues. The underlying issues, such as unresolved trauma often fuel both the sex addiction and the depressions/anxiety.
David: Like other addictions, I imagine there is "no cure," but rather sexual addiction is managed on a day-by-day basis. Is that true?
Dr. Sharp: Yes, that is true. A person is typically in recovery for the rest of their lives.
David: And what about the ability of a sex addict to have close personal relationships?
Dr. Sharp: When the sexual addiction is active, it usually severely hampers and disturbs truly intimate relationships. It is hard to spend all of the time that the addict puts into their acting out behaviors and still maintain the level of attention that a personal and close relationship requires. In recovery, the person has the best chance of maintaining close relationships.
David: Here's another audience question:
iaacogca: I have heard it said that not all love addicts are sex addicts but all sex addicts are love addicts. Comments?
Dr. Sharp: I disagree. Sex addiction has nothing to do with love really. It's really about loneliness, the inability to connect intimately and an attempt to deal with the pain of the real loneliness. At the heart of it, sex addicts, although some are extremely sociable and outgoing, are truly lonely people who feel disconnected.
mrlmonroe: Being new to this, what is "acting out". In other words, what types of behaviors would be considered acting out - besides the obvious?
Dr. Sharp: A person can act out or act in. Acting out refers to behaviors external to the self, such as careless and senseless sex, masturbation, pornography, chat rooms and 900 numbers. A person can act in with fantasy and distorted perception of reality.
Rhino1: What can a person do to help their spouse understand the addiction?
Dr. Sharp: I suggest that first of all, you educate yourself by reading some of the books written on the issue. For instance, Patrick Carnes, PhD has authored a number of good books. His original work was entitled Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, he also wrote: Contrary to love: Helping the Sexual Addict, Don't Call It Love: Recovery From Sexual Addiction, and Sexual Anorexia: Overcoming Self-Hatred.
Once you get an understanding of the addiction, then you need to think about confronting your partner with the unhealthy behaviors that you have observed. If you find this difficult, you may want to consult with a professional. Its just as important for the partner to get support and assistance.
David: I'm sure it is very difficult on spouses and partners of addicts too, especially since fidelity is the cornerstone of most marriages. How is a spouse or partner supposed to "understand" this type of behavior?
Dr. Sharp: It's a sickness, a disease, and it usually doesn't appear out of nowhere. The disease has been growing for a long time. It may have taken a while to manifest, or your partner may have not been honest with you about past behaviors and struggles.
dreamer1: Has Dr. Sharp ever worked with a married couple where both were sex and love addicts?
Dr. Sharp: Yes. It is a fairly common scenario to have sex and love addicts partnered together. It is a little more common to see women who are sex and love addicts, versus men.
David: Here's a question from someone with Multiple Personality Disorder:
TSchmuker: I am wondering how does Dr. Sharp handles a person with Multiple Personality Disorder, that has an alter who is sexually addicted?
Dr. Sharp: I don't do much work with MPD. To date, I have not worked with an alter that was a sex addict. I would think that a therapist would need to treat that alter for the sexual addiction while attempting to continue the integrative therapy.
fm3040: What are the chances of achieving a healthy relationship with a sex addict?
Dr. Sharp: It depends on so many things. For instance, how far into recovery is the addict and how much progress has he/she made on their underlying issues.
FaPiRDaniel: Dr. Sharp, what would you say the percentage is of adult male sex addicts in America today, dealing with homosexual desire for preteen aged children?
Dr. Sharp: I don't know that we have good data available to definitely answer that question. It also depends on what and how you define desire. Many sex addicts who consider themselves heterosexual will occasionally "cross the line" in the service of their addiction. Sexual addiction covers all sexual orientations, and all homosexuals or bisexuals are not sex addicts.
Rae1: Is it odd for a co-sex addict to change her mind about the relationship and decide to leave even after the sexual addict has worked toward recovery?
Dr. Sharp: No. not at all. Often, when one person in the relationship or system starts to get recovery, the other person leaves, because they don't want to give up their co-dependence of the sex addict. If she or he can't have the sex addict the way the person used to be, he/she may look for a replacement.
David: Does that go along the same lines as "misery loves company?"
Dr. Sharp: Yes.
panzena: Do most sex addicts really change?
Dr. Sharp: I can't really answer that, because I don't know most of them. I can tell you it is possible to change. The journey is a difficult one for most people however, and there is a tendency to experience many relapses, as with other addictions, before a person commits to and stays in recovery.
LAS1027: What level of sex addiction warrants impatient treatment?
Dr. Sharp: Usually a person who has a significant loss of self control and the addiction is interfering in a major way with one or more significant parts of their lives, such as family, career, health etc.
David: Is sex addiction more or less difficult to treat than substance abuse and why?
Dr. Sharp: I would say it is at least as difficult, and at present a little more difficult. I believe that the continuing denial of our society and lack of education makes identification difficult. Identification of and/or diagnosis of the problem is the first essential step that many professionals, partners and addicts never reach.
David: Is it because they don't see having a lot of sex as a "problem" vs. drugs and alcohol?
Dr. Sharp: I believe that is part of it for many people. Our culture tends to overlook high levels of sexual activity for certain groups such as males, college students and homosexual men.
fm3040: Isn't it better to just leave the sexual addict if there is such a high rate of relapse?
Dr. Sharp: Please clarify your question. What do you mean by leave?
David: I think what fm3040 is saying, if you are a spouse or partner of an addict, and there's a significant chance of relapse, why stick around for more pain?
Dr. Sharp: That is a decision that each person has to make for themselves. I can't tell you whether it is better to stay or to leave. Some of it may depend on the persons level of addiction and the seriousness/risk of their acting out behaviors. A person with a lower level of addiction who primarily fantasizes and masturbates may be more easily treated and have better prospects for the future.
David: Is that because a person who has sex with many different partners in an addictive environment has a difficult time with personal attachment?
Dr. Sharp: Yes. And the deeper you go into acting out behaviors, the farther you have to come back.
dreamer1 What do you mean the deeper you go into acting out, the farther you have to come back?
Dr. Sharp: Patrick Carnes, PhD., the acknowledged world-wide guru writes about different levels of addiction and acting out behaviors. The types of behaviors, the frequency, the legal and other consequences as well as longevity of the addiction can all influence the course of recovery. "The farther you've fallen into it, the harder it is to get out."
JamesLaws: What groups or organizations are available to people with sexual addictions?
Dr. Sharp: There are several. Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex and Love Addictions Anonymous, co-Sex Addicts Anonymous. Sexual Compulsives Anonymous, to name a few.
David: James, these groups are usually listed too in the local phone book or you can call your local psychological association to guide you in the right direction.
paulv54: Doctor Sharp, you mentioned the propensity for relapse in the early stages of recovery. From what I hear at meetings, this is true. However, this should not deter the addict from participating fully in a recovery program, working the twelve steps, etcetera, should it?
Dr. Sharp: Not at all. Every relapse is not a full slide back into all of the previous behaviors. If you don't start your recovery, it will never happen for sure. Don't be put off by the possible enormity of the task. Rather, avail yourself of the many resources such as Mental health professionals, 12-step groups, in town and on-line. There is increasingly more self-help materials to supplement all of this and aid your recovery.
Rosebud: I'm a recovering addict and I want to know, is it normal to have memory lost of your childhood? I can't remember any, except for bits and pieces.
Dr. Sharp: That suggests that you experienced some abuse or trauma in your past. Most sex addicts have experienced some level of abuse or trauma as children or teens.
Deirdre: What about this scene "Dominance and submission" that I have been seeing with "humiliation". It looks like a sexual addiction in a new package?
Dr. Sharp: It often is. Sex addicts differ in their preferences or "modus operandi."
David: But Domination and other forms of "sexual play" can be covered under sexual addiction, correct?
Dr. Sharp: Yes. I would not assume that all games of dominance play are Sex Addiction. But, in contrast, it often is a symptom of people's addiction.
David: By the way, are the terms "sexual addiction" and "sexual compulsion" synonymous?
Dr. Sharp: Yes. Different people use slightly differing terms that mean basically the same thing. There is some dispute in the professional community as to whether this is an addiction or compulsion, according to guidelines placed in the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical manual. For the layperson's purpose (and most of the rest of us) they are synonymous.
MikeS: Are there any non-12 Step related recovery programs that have been effective?
Dr. Sharp: There are some religious programs that don't specifically use the 12-step approach, but very similar principles, that are having success.
David: How about approaches that don't deal with a "higher power?"
Dr. Sharp: I believe some programs such as the Masters and Johnson treatment centers may not specifically rely on 12-steps or higher power. They do a lot of work with Trauma Recovery.
David: With substance abuse addictions, there's speculation that in some people, at least they are "organically based" or a person is genetically predisposed to a substance like drugs or alcohol. I'm assuming that isn't so with sex addiction, that it's more of a psychological issue. Is that true?
Dr. Sharp: Again, we do not have sufficient scientific evidence to suggest one way or another. Although I doubt if there is a Sex Addiction gene, it may be fair to guess that some people are neurologically predisposed to sexual addiction.
David: Is there any medication available that helps the sex addict?
Dr. Sharp: Some physicians are finding success with the anti-depressants, SSRIs. These are Selective Seretonin Reuptake Inhibitors, such as Paxil, , Prozac. Medication alone is not sufficient treatment however.
David: If a partner of a sex addict could do one thing to aid in the addict's recovery, what would you suggest?
Dr. Sharp: Avoid enabling. Don't overlook or excuse the behavior, but also be supportive and encouraging of recovery.
Charcy2000: Do they ever recover and lead healthy lives?
Dr. Sharp: Yes. Many do. There are thousands of people who recover from sex addiction and lead healthy lives.
FaPiRDaniel: Dr. Sharp, Are there any really good programs available to assist recovery pedophiles?
Dr. Sharp: I know that there are. I cannot name them off the top of my head. Contact your Sex Addicts and Sex Addicts Anonymous organizations as well as your community mental health system. They frequently can give you leads. I could research that further and have information available at a later date.
iaacogca: Is there anything the spouse can do, such as being more sexually responsive in order to help the addict avoid acting out?
Dr. Sharp: Being more sexually responsive will not typically curb the acting out for long. Sex addiction is about a fantasy relationship, its not reality oriented. Consequently, the Sex Addict often looks for an excuse to get angry with their spouse or partner. This gives them an excuse to go act out through their unhealthy behaviors.
mrlmonroe: Do you think it is ever possible to have a "kinky" sex life with a sexual addict. My fiance who is a Sexual Addict and I, have had a good sex life, and now that I know of his illness, I am afraid to even venture to places we used to go?
Dr. Sharp: You need to be careful. Although I don't condemn people's sexual peculiarities, its important to try to find out what significance this behavior has for the sex addict partner. Would your partner ever have non-kinky sex with you and be OK with it? Also, are you OK with it, or does it make you feel used? I would want to know how much of the kinky sex is about loving you, versus simply acting out and getting the high. I guess what I am wondering is, is your partner fully present with you or in some fantasy.
mrlmonroe: Yes, we do vary our sexuality a lot - and it is very fulfilling for both of us. That's why the acting out has me so baffled.
David: By the way, are you saying that having kinky sex with an addict is dangerous, like let's say, putting alcohol before an alcoholic?
Dr. Sharp: It can be. It may simply be part of that person's ritualized behaviors and may lead to other things that you don't know about.
paulv54: What about the sex addict for whom sex has such negative connotations, history, and feelings, that he has almost an impossible time envisioning having a sexual relationship with someone he loves and respects?
Dr. Sharp: That suggests trauma and really requires treatment. That is assuming your goal is, to one day have a healthy sexual relationship. Of course, people can concentrate on having healthy, non-sexual relationships. The important thing is to take care of yourself and not force yourself or let someone force you to do something you are not ready for. Obviously, if you are in a marriage or partnered relationship, that partner may or may not be willing to settle for a sexless marriage.
David: Well, it's getting late. I want to thank everyone for coming tonight. I want to thank Dr. Sharp for coming tonight, sharing his knowledge and expertise. And I want to thank everyone in the audience for participating. If you are interested in conferences like this one, please sign up with the community mail list that interests you. Our homepage is: www.healthyplace.com.
Any closing comments Dr. Sharp?
Dr. Sharp: Thanks for inviting me. I have an e-mail attached to my website if folks need assistance with referrals or further information. That email address is: drpsharp @netscape.net.
David: Wonderful! Thanks again and good night.
Disclaimer: We are not recommending or endorsing any of the suggestions of our guest. In fact, we strongly encourage you to talk over any therapies, remedies or suggestions with your doctor BEFORE you implement them or make any changes in your treatment.
Last Updated: 31 March 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD