- The Timothy Center
What Dating Looks Like for a Recovering Sex Addict
The sex addict has a true shot at real joy – if he or she can trust the process.
By Alexandra Katehakis, Ph.D., MFT
Sex addicts use behaviors rather than substances as coping mechanisms. These might include masturbation, compulsive viewing of pornography, infidelity, one-night stands and a host of other ‘acting out’ practices that undermine the ability to form intimate bonds with another human being. However, once in therapy, there inevitably comes a day when the sex addict is ready to embark on that daunting journey we call dating. For a man who has spent years, if not decades, relating to porn actresses on a computer screen, encountering a flesh and blood partner can seem unpredictable and terrifying. Likewise for the woman who always seems to get involved with unavailable, married men, a truly present, drama-free suitor can be deemed ‘boring.’ These unique challenges can be overcome, of course, but the sex addict will have their work cut out for them. The first major challenge is time. The sex addict is used to instant gratification, and may not have the patience to invest in a long term relationship that builds gradually through shared interests and time spent getting to know one another. This impossible ‘slowness’ that intimacy requires may frustrate and confuse the addict, who no doubt is in a rush to form a relationship after so many months spent healing in celibacy. Compulsive sex is the fast food of relationships, and developing a taste for the slow-cooked meal may take some time. Here the experienced therapist can be of huge assistance by reminding the sex addict that dating is not a race, nor a competition, but rather an adventure into the complete unknown where everything the addict thought they knew about intimacy turned out to be false, and a whole new universe must open up in order to move forward. The second challenge is transparency. Before recovery, the sex addict made decisions independently, choosing who to date, whom to have sex with, who to contact and what acts to participate in. Of course, these choices brought the addict much pain, and now post-recovery, he or she must tolerate a temporary loss of autonomy, sharing with a therapist, a 12-step group sponsor and even a support group the everyday minutia of their dating process. Here the addict may long to keep just one or two secrets, but to do so would be counterproductive to the entire recovery process. Instead of seeing transparency as a punishment or a hindrance, the addict must come to view it as rock-solid security measure again potential relapse, where relapse would eliminate all chances at personal happiness. The realm of healthy dating may seem strange for other reasons as well. Sometimes the addict has been off the dating scene for years and is returning as an older person. It’s natural to be confused in this case about one’s age and to find only younger people attractive. After all, addiction tends to arrest people emotionally, and in recovery they often surface at the point from which they left off, feeling, for instance, like a 20-year old trapped in a 35-year old’s body. Here the therapist can offer gentle, loving encouragement to try giving people their own age a chance. Regardless of the particular brand of sex addiction, this stage of reentry into the dating pool is critical for every sex addict. It cannot be rushed, underestimated or faced alone anymore than the early emergency stages of recovery could be when the addict was hitting bottom. This time around, however, the addict has a true shot at real joy – if he or she can trust the process.