'My husband was addicted to sex. But he didn't want to sleep with me for 10 years.'

Julie* and her husband, Mick*, have shared 36 years of marriage, yet for a decade during that time, their connection lacked intimacy in every sense. The catalyst? A hidden truth that Mick had harboured — sex addiction.

"Our relationship took a sharp turn when our two children ventured out on their own in their early twenties," recalls Julie. "What followed was complete disconnect, characterised by an absence of communication. However, my attachment to Mick and the life we had built together was strong and the thought of leaving was overwhelming. Our journey had begun in our late teens and we had been through too much to walk away from it all."

As Julie sought validation from Mick, little did she know he had already mentally and physically withdrawn from their marriage. "Unbeknownst to me, Mick had embarked on a path of infidelity, engaging in one-night stands and prolonged affairs — one of which spanned two years.

"The revelation was a profound blow," says Julie. "He had ventured into the realm of online chat rooms, introduced by a friend, which in turn fuelled a spiralling cycle of sex and fantasies with other partners."

Watch: The cause of sex addiction, explained scientifically. Post continues after video.

Video via Psych Hub.

Mick was incessantly in pursuit of momentary connections and an escape from what he termed his 'reality.' "The irony lay in my ceaseless selflessness, dedicating myself to his well-being and the upkeep of our home. It wasn't until I began therapy that I understood I had codependency. Our relationship was unhealthy and full of secrets. We had a co-addiction. It took years to repair it and reconnect in a loving, respectful way."

In the modern world, where technology seamlessly connects individuals across continents and relationships often take unconventional forms, the lines between healthy intimacy and destructive behaviours can become blurred. Two intertwined issues, sex addiction and codependency, have emerged as formidable challenges that can silently wreak havoc on lives, relationships, and mental well-being.

The allure and dangers of sex addiction.

Sex, a fundamental aspect of human existence, can become a source of distress when desire transforms into compulsion. Sex addiction, often characterised by an uncontrollable urge to engage in sexual activities, transcends the realms of physical pleasure and enters the territory of emotional turmoil. While mainstream media might romanticise a hypersexual lifestyle, the reality is far more complex. Behind the veneer of promiscuity lies a desperate struggle for validation, escape from emotional pain, and a distorted sense of self-worth.

Sex can be likened to other addictive behaviours, such as substance abuse, due to the dopamine-driven reward loop that reinforces the behaviour. Constant access to explicit content online and dating apps that cater to casual encounters can escalate the problem, trapping individuals in a cycle of temporary euphoria followed by deep remorse and guilt. The secrecy that often shrouds sex addiction further exacerbates the problem, making it challenging for those affected to seek help.


The dynamics of codependency.

In the shadow of sex addiction often lurks another adversary: codependency. At its core, codependency revolves around a dysfunctional pattern of relying on others for self-worth and identity. Codependent individuals often find themselves in relationships where they prioritise others' needs over their own, perpetuating a cycle of emotional emptiness. While sex addiction can be a manifestation of codependency, it can also be the other way around, with one issue feeding into the other in a dangerous dance of mutual reinforcement. 

Codependency can be traced back to a variety of factors, including childhood experiences, trauma, and low self-esteem. Often, individuals who have grown up in households with dysfunctional dynamics or have witnessed addictive behaviours are more prone to developing codependent tendencies. The desire to "fix" or "rescue" a partner suffering from sex addiction can lead codependent individuals to enable destructive behaviours, inadvertently becoming enablers in the process.

Listen to Sealed Section where Chantelle answers a dilemma from a listener whose boyfriend has confided that he's battling a porn addiction, and wants to know how to support him (and herself). Post continues below.


How do we treat sex addiction and codependency?

As societal attitudes toward sex and relationships continue to evolve, destigmatising these struggles becomes paramount. Recognising the intricate interplay between sex addiction and codependency is the first step towards recovery. The journey to recovery is multifaceted and requires a combination of self-awareness, therapy, and a supportive community. 

Individual and group therapy, and even 12-step programs, can provide essential tools for breaking free from the cycle of addiction and dependency. Engaging in honest and open conversations with partners and loved ones is crucial, as it fosters an environment where healing can take place collectively. From here, partners can collectively work toward a future where intimacy is healthy, boundaries are respected, and self-worth is nurtured from within. 

*Names have been changed for privacy.

Diane Young is a psychotherapist at South Pacific Private - one of Australia’s leading treatment centres for trauma, addiction and mental health.  

If you think you or someone you know needs help, please call South Pacific Private on 1800 063 332.

Feature Image: Getty. 

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