A common issue brought up by my clients is whether or not their partner is exhibiting signs of sexual addiction or out of control sexual behavior. But the definition of truly out of control sexual behavior is not as broad as some may feel it should be. In the psychological sphere, out of control sexual behavior comprises actions or thoughts that feel out of control for that individual, so this could be an addiction, a compulsion, or other behavior that negatively and repeatedly makes a negative impact on that person’s life. Keep in mind that feeling out of control and being out of control are different things. Let’s talk about how to treat these issues.
How to Tell If Your Behavior Is Out of Control
The difference between exercising and losing control is significant. If someone feels like they are out of control, but manages not to indulge their sexual behavior in public or when other people are around, they are still exerting some amount of discipline. If someone is maintaining a bit of restraint, they can use the same strategies (e.g., distracting themselves by engaging with a friend or focusing on a project), to regain more control over their lives.
It’s imperative to differentiate addictive and compulsive behavior as separate from poor decision-making. When we label someone as having a disorder, it can have the reverse effect as desired. They may not feel as well-positioned to advocate for themselves and seek long-term help and may act out more. The label can make those who are struggling with these issues feel resigned to their fate or hopeless.
Indeed, sometimes people will fall into a disordered category of sex addiction, and that needs to be addressed. But those who are misdiagnosed or assumed to have a disorder can find the label very limiting. Jumping to conclusions is never the right path toward mental health. But sometimes it occurs because the label can be comforting to the partner who was cheated on or otherwise hurt by the sexual behavior. It often feels better to think that your partner has a disorder than to know that they chose their pleasure over your trust.
Broken Boundaries Versus Out of Control Behavior
In every relationship, sexual boundaries are necessary. If you haven’t discussed what your boundaries are, you’re likely headed for a bit of disappointment. That’s because relationships are so different, and what might feel like a complete betrayal to one person could be completely fine for someone else. The first step to ensuring your relationship is safe from out of control behavior is to talk about what is okay versus what is not. Try to be realistic, especially if you’d like this relationship to be long-term. But, also be candid about what makes you uncomfortable versus what is completely off the table.
When you are with someone for a very long time, you’ll have to distinguish between their thoughts and behavior. Thoughts are difficult to control, and it isn’t very likely that you’ll find someone who will want only you sexually forever—including in their fantasy world. They may have sexual thoughts about others, but if monogamy is how you’ve defined your sexual boundaries, as long as they choose you for real intimacy, you have a bright future.
Value Disparities Versus Out of Control Behavior
Sometimes, people will assume their partner has a sexual addiction when, overall, it’s very normal sexual behavior. People with backgrounds in certain religions may come to couples therapy because their partner looked at pornography. While this is not indicative of sexual addiction, to them, the behavior feels so egregious that they assume they will get diagnosed with a disorder. However, what the couple needs most is to have a conversation about the kind of behavior they can both agree to going forward. Reconciling their religion with their sexuality is a struggle for anyone coming from a conservative upbringing, but it is possible as long as you work together with open minds.
Sexual Addiction and Stigma
Sometimes, people with sexual disorders face such shame that it can be hard for them to fully communicate or express their sexuality in a healthy way. One very effective solution is group therapy. Stigma and shame are no match for meeting other people who have been where you are and successfully moved through to the other side.
If you have questions about whether you or your partner has a sexual addiction, find a therapist you trust who can work with you toward a long-lasting solution.
Bio: Dr. Nazanin Moali is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist in the Los Angeles area. She works with various individuals to understand and improve their sexuality. Dr. Moali conducts personal consultation sessions in her Torrance and Hermosa Beach offices, or via a secure, online video-counseling platform. Click here to download the 101 Ways to Keep Your Relationship Hot checklist.