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Chasing the Dragon (C)
He understands sexual addiction from both personal experience and from working with sex addicts in several treatment programs. In his books and seminars Mark has offered hope and healing to thousands of co-strugglers. We interviewed him recently by phone from his home near Minneapolis, Minnesota. First of all, there have been quite a few stories in the news recently about sexual offenders. In several conversations about those news reports I have been struck by the fact that people in the Christian community are often unable to distinguish between sexual offenders and sexual addicts. But only a very small percentage of sexual addicts become sexual offenders. But offenders are only 1 percent or less of the people who struggle with sexual addiction. That improper use of force or authority is what, in my mind, puts a person in the category of sexual offender. Most sexual addicts are not in that category? For a person to commit a sexual offence there may also have to be other emotional or spiritual problems present. It may not be just pure sexual addiction. So there are obviously some other dynamics going on with sexual offenders in addition to sexual addiction. Another myth I suppose, and this is a strange one, is that sexual addiction is a desirable thing. His understanding, obviously not very well informed, was that sexual addicts were probably people who really enjoyed sex and had a lot of it. The idea that sexual addicts are somehow having a lot of fun is just not the case. Repetitive sexual activity that looses all of its meaning and spontaneity is very, very destructive. Sexual addiction offers no pleasure — only loneliness, emptiness, hopelessness and despair. Not the kinds of things anyone would want. I worked with a man recently whose family owns one of the largest production companies for pornographic movies in the country. He has been involved in the production of every kind of film imaginable and consequently has been involved in every kind of sexual activity you might dream of. After 20 years of this kind of life he said that what he is really longing for now is a committed, normal relationship with one woman. He would trade all of his experiences to be able to find the simple joys of faithful, heterosexual monogamy. Like all of us who struggle with sexual addiction, he did not look back over his years of addiction with fondness. They are lost years. Years of emptiness and pain. A third misconception I run into periodically is that sexual addiction is just a problem which men have. The women who came had essentially the same kinds of problems which male sex addicts experience — problems with pornography, compulsive masturbation, multiple affairs and so on. How to you respond to that kind of concern? Well, I think that there is a general attitude in the Christian community that addicts have a moral problem — an unwillingness to really repent and turn your life over to God. Unfortunately, this really misses the point. Most importantly it misses how desperately most addicts have sought salvation, have tried to repent, have tried diligently what their pastors have told them to do but still found their lives to be unmanageable. Most Christian sex addicts have repented sincerely — usually many times. They have turned their lives over to God — usually many times. But the problem remains. As you know, and the whole recovery community knows, practicing the 12 Steps is the opposite of avoiding responsibility for your actions. When you start working the steps, you work very hard at accepting your own behaviors as yours — rather than working hard at blaming others for your problems. The last thing the recovery community wants to do is to give an addict another excuse for continuing with their addictive behaviors. I suspect that this concern about recovery comes from hearing about some bizarre legal defense strategies. Coming to terms with the fact that I have no control brings me to the place where, now that I have made this admission and surrendered, I can work on repairing the damage, work on becoming a moral person again, and work on becoming accountable for my behaviors. Recovery is not at all about avoiding responsibility. It is just the opposite. Talk to me a bit more about the person who thinks that sexual addiction is just a spiritual problem. Well it is a spiritual problem. Addicts feel a great deal of shame, they believe that God has forgiven everyone else but them. So it is clearly a spiritual problem. But we also know enough about sex addiction to understand that there are lots and lots of emotional dynamics involved as well. But it does emphasize that it is not just a spiritual problem. Sex addicts are often dealing with traumatic memories. There is also growing evidence for a genetic component which predisposes addicts to addiction. When you look at the emotional dynamics and biological dynamics in addition to the spiritual dynamics you have a fuller picture of what is really going on. Having more than just a moral focus is also important because you can be a sexual addict but never engage in sexually immoral behaviors. Take, for example, the case of the sex addict who never engages in sexual activity with anyone outside of his marriage, yet who engages in sex with his spouse as an escape from intimacy, not as an expression of it. On the surface, he is faithful. But God, looking at his heart, discerns his motives. Using sex to mask their loneliness, they are unwittingly driven deeper into loneliness, never revealing their feelings. Every Christian addict I have ever known has done at least two things. They have all decided not to be an addict — most of them have made this decision many times. My own story illustrates that. When I came into recovery I was a minister. But as I look back on it, some of the spiritual stuff that I was doing was an attempt to try to manipulate God. One of the things I desperately wanted God to do was to remove all my lust. Many addicts when they come to the Lord have an agenda for what they want the Lord to do. I have a friend who, early in her recovery, said she really wanted God to take away her addiction to alcohol so that she could keep on drinking. We want God to be the person who magically fixes the problem. What kind of advise would you give to someone who knows that something about their sexual life is not working? Suppose someone is anxious about their sexual behaviors, they have heard about the concept of sexual addiction and they want to figure out if that is the problem. I would say ideally what you would like to do is to get a very thorough assessment of your situation by a Christian counselor competent enough to be able to do this. I would not try to just read about it or to take my own inventory. Why is self-diagnosis dangerous here? Well, we tend to go to either extreme. We overdiagnose ourselves, we worry about having things we might not have. They need a caring person on the outside who can be more objective for them. The person who helps you make an assessment will also probably be the person who suggests a course of action for the future. And that might involve some very difficult things that I probably want to avoid. Talk to me more about overdiagnosis. In situations like that, naming yourself as a sex addict may just be another way to add to your sexual shame. In part because of the enormous guilt which he feels and which his wife thinks he should feel! He has committed a sexual sin and he and his wife have a lot of hard work to do to repair their marriage. But to call this an addiction is entirely inappropriate. What are the features which help you to distinguish between an addiction and other problems? Well, the classic features which apply to any addiction would also apply to sexual addiction. This implies a repetitive behavior over time — usually over several years. Some addicts have a binge type use where they are out-of-control for a day or two or a week and then they stop for a while and then come back to it. Another feature of addiction is that it is destructive over time. Since all addictions are attempts to medicate some unwanted emotional realities, the first consequence is often an emotional numbness. But the consequences cover a huge range — from shame to physical diseases. A third feature is an increase in the severity of the activity over time. For example, if you masturbate once every couple of months, over time you may see that increase to once a week and then every day and then some people I see in treatment are up to multiple times a day. It might involve that, but it might also mean that you stay with a certain activity, like using pornography, but that you need more and more of it, using it more frequently or spending more money on it. And then a final feature is that we know that an addict is trying somehow to medicate or escape unwanted feelings. Research has shown that sexual activity and sexual fantasy can alter brain chemistry and produce profound feelings of pleasure. This can be a beautiful experience between two committed people. Sex addicts, however, are in the business of altering their brain chemistry, and thereby their mood, all the time. They use sex like a drug to produce a high. As the disease progresses, the sex addict cares less and less who the sexual partner is. The main pursuit is the high. Sometimes the danger inherent in promiscuous sexual activity will produce adrenaline that can also be addicting. Sex addicts may pursue dangerous sexual liaisons, such as men who have sex with married women when her husband is due home shortly. They get a high from the sex, from a new partner, and from the danger.
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