From being sexual to sexual dependence - Core Counselling
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18 Oct From being sexual to sexual dependence

Is sexuality of evolving? The short answer is “yes”. The internet has fostered the dissemination of information with incredible speed. Sexual topics, issues, and concerns are introduced, discussed, and experienced. Groups, communities, and support groups are formed as people with similar interest come together. For some, these are exciting times, as communication and openness fosters acceptance and connection with others.

Such changes in our culture’s sexual landscape has been viewed by some with concern, fear and hostility. In using a metaphor, sexuality is like a fire within every individual, ranging from a barely visible spark to a raging forest fire. While similar in nature, the presentation is different. Can you earnestly identify which presentation is better or more ideal? My initial reaction is “No.” Much like how differing presentations of fire, sexuality is not bad in itself, as naturally experienced by an individual. However, when sexuality is viewed through a particular cultural, political, or medical context, established values, beliefs, and principles collide, attempting to categorize sexuality to either good or bad. Personally, I do not feel comfortable with such categorizations and strive to develop acceptance towards one’s personal experience of his or her own sexuality.

Oftentimes, individuals can utilize their sexuality to disconnect from unwanted emotions. People may engage in isolating behaviours in order to hide certain parts of themselves, from partners, peers, at even – themselves. Sexual exploration and expressions may develop into maladaptive interactions, if such behaviours inhibit one’s normal functioning. This desire to escape negative experiences, through sexual expression, leads to an isolating cycle of personal suffering. In hopes of sidestepping painful situations, individuals desire comfort and attachment. When affirming attachment is not found in the delving into sexuality, individuals are often left to confront their initial pain, but also the subsequent shame tightly connected to sexualized behaviour.

The diversity of individuals’ experiences vary immensely. It is critical for one’s concerns relating to sexuality are met with curiosity, openness, and kindness.

Rather than focusing on an individual’s dysfunctional or maladaptive sexual behaviours, it is crucial for counsellors and therapists to take an empathic approach, focusing on relational connection and healing. The focus of therapy for sexual dependence or reported sexual concerns should lie in assisting clients understand their behaviours through a lens of acceptance and self-compassion. Commonly, individuals who struggle with aspects of their sexuality experience immense shame and rejection within other social situations.

When compared with individuals seeking recovery from substance misuse, those struggling with sexual-related issues are shamefully stigmatized as “perverts,” even though both groups share common goals of recovery (Rory, Harper, & Anderson, 2009). It is important for individuals to feel safe and accepted, rather than rejected and shamed for their choices and desires.

Considering one’s attachment needs and past experiences with trauma are vital components for successfully treating sex dependency. Research continues to confirm that individuals caught within sexually dependent behaviours have often survived extensive childhood abuse or trauma. Therefore, maladaptive sexual behaviours are more then a choice; they are developed, purposeful coping strategies through which individuals have learned to find relief from terrifying, uncomfortable feelings. If treatment only targets behaviour modification, relapse or alternative means of self-medicating are likely to occur. Treatment plans for sexual dependency must incorporate its often traumatic roots, acknowledge attachment wounds, and actively work to assist clients in resolving deeply hidden emotional experiences while strengthening self-functioning.

Recent neuroscience and psychotherapy research has substantiated the positive effect that therapeutic relationships can have on clients. This reaffirms foundational theoretical concepts by Rogers (1951), Bowlby (1973) and Satir (1987) who believed that unconditional positive regard in therapeutic relationships activates human healing potential.

Alternative treatment considerations are currently being explored and implemented for those reporting sexual dependency concerns. One such promising approach aims to assist clients in unlocking their human potential, instilling opportunities for positive life transformation. AEDP is a recently developed treatment option for sexual dependence, proven to stimulate beneficial conversations allowing for healing possibilities. The treatment of sexual dependence with AEDP acknowledges the power of emotion within a cognitive-behavioural dominated therapeutic field. It advocates for the power of complete transformation, in which clients are seen as more than just their maladaptive behaviours.

As painful experiences are processed, they are integrated as new, healing experiences for clients who begin to adopt adaptive behaviours. As pain subsides, energy is released. Rather than individuals further investing in previous coping strategies, individuals learn how to redirect their energies and focus towards an exploration of self. This process has a spiritual dynamic to it, as both clients and therapists push into the unknown of the transformative potential, trusting that their connection becomes something bigger than themselves as it morphs into life-changing experiences.

Regardless of how individuals choose to pursue their therapeutic healing journey relating to sexuality, it is important to maintain the dignity, respect, and acceptance towards individuals struggling with sexual dependence. It is my hope that continuing dialogues pertaining to this issue result in the provision of hope for those seeking freedom from their personal suffering.