Stigma of Sexual Addiction

Liz Lacy

One of the reasons I started treating sexually compulsive behaviors is because at the age of 26 I had a close friend who suffered with them. He was a guy with masters degrees, commitment to his community and a very loving heart yet he felt such shame about what felt to him like an unforgivable compulsion to be sexually stimulated. The pain and shame I saw in a man I respected and loved made me want to learn more effective methods of treating the pain and shame of sex addiction. I don’t think any other addiction is hidden as much as this one. 

What still bothers me after 20+ years in the field is how much stigma is still involved in people seeking treatment even within the field of psychotherapy. I was recently struck by how difficult it was to find a trauma group for one of my patients who was not yet entirely sober. He had come a long way but a few self destructive behaviors hung on due to his history of sexual abuse. He needed an additional support through trauma work with others. After three calls with colleagues who ran trauma groups and an in patient program for trauma, I still hadn’t identified one where I wasn’t being told ‘ think his addiction could be triggering (upsetting) for the other members’. I began to wonder if I would find a group that would accept him. This is New York City…I had hoped for more enlightened treatment. Luckily the fourth call was to a colleague who understood the compulsion which like other addictions was just another way of reenacting trauma, difficulty with intimacy and/or avoiding painful feelings (in this instance). 

As in eating disorders and other process addictions, I’m looking forward to the day where assessing for and treating this compulsion becomes routine in mental health assessments and treatment so that people can get what they truly need to heal. People should not have to live with this shame especially when talking to providers.

Meanwhile, we in the SAT Network try to educate, treat and inform people as we are able. For me, it’s always been more than just a career… it’s a calling.