“Your sexuality and your body is one of the most magnificent gifts that any being could be given. Not just the first time you have sex, but every time you choose to share that with someone, you want to be conscious and you want to know that that other person is conscious and deserves this gift that you're sharing with them.”
Laura Berman, Relationship Therapist
What exactly is sex addiction? Is it an insatiable physical libido? Is it watching too much porn? Is it chronic infidelity?
We have all these ideas about what sex addiction might be and how it should be treated, so to help clear things up, I sat down with Dr. Laura Berman, a relationship therapist and the award-winning host of Uncovered Radio with Dr. Laura Berman.
Here’s our conversation:
Koorosh: A good place maybe for us to start is to go, “Well, what is sex addiction? Like, let’s define this thing.
Laura: Yeah, well, I mean, look. For me, sex addiction does act in a way like other addictions in its in its core, which is you're using sex to fill up a void right to either avoid feeling something or to try to feel something else, you know, to fill something up that's missing inside you and instead of alcohol or drugs, sex, you know, is is the thing.
And it's not necessarily for everyone the act of sex. It is the being wanted. Sex, the act of sex, is kind of a byproduct for many sex addicts. It's the chase, right? Or the seduction, or knowing I could, even though I'm going to it's not even about doing it, right? People assume that a sex addict has an insatiable physical libido and it's really often not even about that. It's an emotional coping mechanism that people are using, and in order for them to be considered to have a problem, you know, it has to be something where they are really putting their relationships, their life, their work, their ability to function, their health at serious risk. So, you know when your life is starting to fall apart, when you're, you know, health is at risk, when you're hooking up with people and you're exposing yourself to dangerous situations, you know, or you're addicted to porn in a way where you can't carry on a relationship, or you're looking at it all day at work, you know that's when there's a real issue just like with any other thing that we enjoy, right?
There's that continuum of when you stop being in the driver's seat and I think that's the common denominator with sex addiction is that the person who is the addict is not in the driver's seat of their sex life.
Koorosh: So, for people that are out there watching this video, what are some of the things that they might think about as they wonder, “Am i a sex addict?” How would one know? What’s the difference between healthy, maybe slightly unhealthy, versus addiction.
Laura: Well, I mean I'd be interested in your take on this too, but from my perspective, what I see, and I see this happen all the time, is that couples come to me, usually the guy you know, saying, “I think I'm a sex addict.” Okay, and then as we drill down into like what exactly is happening, what's happening, and it's and very often now, we've seen a big influx in porn addiction which is a category of sex addiction, and that really is--porn addiction is one of the easiest ways to see the way sex addiction works because it's not with another person and there's none of the, like, relationship dynamics “muddying the waters.” It's just like, “I don't want to think, I need a release,” you know? And then they just compulsively do that in the same way people sometimes cut, in the same way people drink or do drugs, right? Like, “I just don't want to feel,” and so they'll do it almost compulsively.
And as we drill down into whether it's porn addiction or sex addiction, almost always it's not so much that that person is addicted to the sex--and this is where you and I talk about addiction this way all the time, it's that they're addicted to the way sex makes them feel or the way that it makes them not feel.
Koorosh: Yeah, I mean everything you say makes total sense to me in terms of how I view human behavior. And sex and sexual lives is such an important part of the tapestry. Particularly people that seek me out, and seek us out, generally are dealing with substances or other sort of things that are more commonly thought of as addictions and from time to time people that come in and say, “My issue is sex,” and it's about that same to go, “Okay, well what is it? What is it that's keeping you from having that that relationship with sex that you want to have?”
And for a lot of people, particularly young boys, it's difficult because it's so tied in to so many other behaviors.
Laura: To their status, their camaraderie, and, you know, their hormones.
Laura: All of that.
Koorosh: The first thing that I try to do is to to eliminate, or at least--I can't I don't think I can eliminate--to stand against the shame. To try to stand firmly with this person to sort of prop them up as a human being that's trying to do the best they can. And these things are happening, and they're confusing, and they're hard, and they hurt themselves, and they hurt other people, and they're difficult, and so to stand and go, “This isn't evidence of your brokenness, this is evidence of struggle and let’s sort of find out what's happening.”
And the light at the end of the tunnel is a healthy version of yourself, whatever that might mean to you. And we'll find where sex and relationships and porn, and whether they're one or they're separate, fall for you. So, everything that you're saying really sort of adds a certain strength to the work that we already do.
Laura: Yeah, and I love how you're so good at that shame piece, which is not only obviously crucial for addiction, you know, to substances. But in particular for sexual issues, you know, I'm always saying that shame is the crappiest motivator on the planet and it's one that most of us were raised with as a motivator. And it's not sustainable. And it's not--and it keeps you from really facing things, you know, and treating them.
The other thing that I have found is that almost always if someone is addicted to sex, has a sex addiction, they also have some other addiction. I almost always see them go hand-in-hand.
Koorosh: I would say the same. But that it often--stimulant use is very common, alcohol, other substances, gambling and sex. They're very tied. And one of the invisible ones that I see quite often with older men is workaholism and sex addiction. People who pursue work in that same compelled sort of way as opposed to the more flexible choice perspective.
Laura: And those are not the--those are the ones that are addicted to what we were talking about before, the chase. Because the work addicts, the workaholics, are like reaching, then when I get there I'll be okay, when I get there I'll be okay, and it's the same thing with sex. When when that one that I want wants me, then I can feel attractive. When that one that I want--
Koorosh: That’s right.
Laura: So, it's the same, yeah. It's a very similar dynamic.
Koorosh: And you use the actual language that you used at the beginning to define addiction. Which was the sort of pursuit of being wanted. And so, you're tapping in and what I thought of is the spectrum of where is each person on a spectrum? And to take the time to wonder about, “Where am I? Am I on the more asexual side, less sexual side? Am I on the more sexual side? Do I have an appetite for multiple partners versus a single partner?
Laura: And where is that appetite coming from?
Koorosh: Right, what's driving it?
Laura: Is it real hunger or is it, you know, distraction or convincing myself, or conquering something, you know? And it's not that you can't have sex that way, it's just--I mean none of this is bad, it's when its ruling your life in a way where you're no longer driving it.
Koorosh: Yeah, we sort of--the language we use is this, “Are you compelled to do a thing or are you choosing to do that thing?” Being compelled to do it is that sort of, “What am I getting away from, what's the habit, what am I getting from it?” versus choosing it is more flexible. It's more, “I have to be here in order to choose.”
So, this has been really great. So, I think it would also be really helpful for folks to hear, “So, now I listen to this, I'm finding myself on the compelled side. This porn relationship I have is not what I want and I see how it might be affecting my relationships with real-life partners, so what--how do I get what's help, what does help look like?
Laura: You’re help. Come to Evo Health and Wellness. No, you often need that therapeutic help because what's happening is, is what's underneath. For instance, a lot of the women that I work with who you know are having all of these sexual encounters with no real satisfaction, you know, as we unwind it, it's really about that guy that left her, you know, and spread rumors around school, and then she was named the school slut and then that became her MO, and then she could get boys attention and, you know? Or the woman who was sexually molested or abused, or the woman who was abandoned.
And so, very often, just like with any addiction you have to kind of get clear on what the wound is, or what the thing is that you can't be with. And it's not about going cold turkey or never looking at porn again or, god forbid, never having sex again. It's about building a more conscious relationship.
And what I always try to say, not only to women but to men too, is that, you know, your sexuality and your body is to me, I mean maybe I'm biased but, it's one of the most magnificent, priceless, amazing, earth-shattering gifts that any being could be given. Not just the first time you have sex, but every time you choose to share that with someone, you want to be conscious and you want to know that that other person is conscious and deserves this gift that you're sharing with them. And, when you can choose, and this is what I do a lot with those people who are struggling with sex addiction or whatever we want to call it, is that, you know, we're making a commitment not to never have sex again, but at least for the foreseeable future to only have conscious sex. And to really start building that in, while at the same time dealing with those wounds that you've been using unconscious sex to run from.
Koorosh: Yeah, that's really great. And just that idea of mindfulness, that paying attention to, whether it's the sex or whether it's the porn, don't try to stop. That might not even be possible and it may not be your end game, but to insert this little bit of space that says, “What's happening now? Am I horny or am I nervous or am I lonely or am I whatever--fill in the gap?”
Laura: Or did I just feel rejected, or did I just get disappointed by something?
Koorosh: Or is this just what I do at this time of day?
Laura: It’s just like my habit, it’s like my afternoon drink.
Koorosh: Right, that's right, that's right.
Thank you so much for taking time and having this conversation with us. Dr. Laura Berman, please check her out. She's got great information. It's LauraBerman.com, right?
Laura: DrLauraBerman.com or @DrLauraBerman on all the different social media platforms.
Dr. Laura Berman is the world’s leading expert in sex, love and relationships. She earned two Masters and a PhD degree from New York University and has spent the last several decades helping individuals and couples around the globe love and be loved better. In addition to her clinical practice, Dr. Berman is the award winning host of the nationally syndicated show, Uncovered Radio with Dr. Laura Berman. She’s been honored with a Gracie Award for Best Talk Radio Show Host and recently was named one of Radio Ink’s Most Influential Women in Radio. Dr. Berman is also a best-selling NY Times author of eight books, and hosted and starred in several television shows, including OWN’s In the Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman, The Dr. Laura Berman Show, and Sexual Healing on Showtime. Dr Berman is a well loved and regular expert on love and relationships on television, radio and written media and is on the advisory board of the Dr Oz show. Dr Berman was raised in Glynn County, Georgia and currently lives in Chicago and Los Angeles. She is married and the mother of three sons and 2 dogs. You can also find Dr. Berman on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Evo Health and Wellness is an outpatient addiction treatment program that respects where you are and where you want to go. Clients set goals that work for them, whether they include complete abstinence or moderation. Evo sees success as lasting change in the client’s life, including physical health, movement towards personal goals, and their sense of connection and purpose. Evo’s program integrates psychotherapy, psychiatry, life coaching, and somatic therapy. Learn more about Evo’s program.