Sexuality, Dependence and Addiction - Core Counselling
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Sexuality, Dependence and Addiction

For the purpose of defining problematic sexual behaviours, I want to suggest that we utilize the term sexual dependence rather then sexual addiction. Since sexuality is often innate to us humans, I want to concerned as some some may see their sexuality as bad by using the word addiction. Sexual dependence encapsulates several attributes of an individual’s struggle, while still providing a simplified and flexible description.

Sexual dependence describes instances where individuals are dependent on sexual activity or expressions in order to function, while experiencing increasing personal concerns and/or external consequences within their lives. This definition distances itself from a medical model of symptomatology as previously described within the term “addiction”.

The term sexual dependence allows individuals’ experiences and assessment of their behaviours to be identified as important. Furthermore, this approach allows for personal experiences and simplicity for individuals to determine if their behaviours are beneficial or a hindrance.

Sexual dependence provides a way for individuals to cope and escape from negative emotional experiences. Schwartz and Southern (2000) suggest that individuals who experience overwhelming, negative experiences may find anonymous and emotionless sexual activities safer than working through their relational problems with their partner. One form of finding relief from painful experiences is in the form of sexual anticipation and release. In essence, sexual dependence becomes an effective form of escape for psychological suffering, which individuals were unable to manage on their own.

Sexual dependence acknowledges the influence of widespread factors such as social, environmental, and biological factors (Coleman, 1992; Guigliano, 2009). Hence, it’s important that sexual activities are viewed with tolerance and flexibility, allowing individuals to use their subjectivity to define their situation. Therefore, the primary prerequisite for a sexual dependency would be that individuals view their own behaviours as problematic, in that they experience personal conflict and/or external consequences directly due to the sexual activities.

Sexual dependence may include but does not specifically require compulsion, obsession, or impulsion. These components are not required to validate an individual’s diagnosis of dependence. On a more concrete level, sexual dependence often displays classic characteristics of addiction including loss of control, withdrawal symptoms, and continuation despite harmful consequences, yet one’s ability to tolerate symptoms or comfort thresholds may vary immensely (Briken et al., 2007).

Treatment for sexual dependence should not be based on the validation of diagnosis and whether or not individuals fit into a certain criteria. Rather, treatment should be a collaborative interpretation which allows people to seek therapy through their own personal motivation, trying to curb their problematic sexual behaviours. This approach to defining sex dependence not only values clients and their experiences, but also initiates a therapeutic journey of exploration.

Addressing sexual dependence in this way allows for openness and an exploration of the human experience. Every story of sexual dependency is different. Individuals that enter into therapy are often hoping that their life can be better but do not know how to change. The term “sexual dependence” further incorporates the human desire for self-actualization, it acknowledges the efforts of individuals to cope and work through their own pain as a part of creating existential meaning around suffering and striving towards the self-actualizing growth, which is powered by the human spirit.