We do! In this Q&A, we’ll look at seven key topics around help for women addicted to sex:
- The truth about sex addiction and women
- What sex addiction is
- What can cause sex addiction
- How a woman’s need for relationship can be a double-edged sword
- Unique challenges for female sex addicts
- Recovering from sexual addiction
- Finding support
Whether you or someone you love is in a battle against sex addiction (also referred to as hypersexuality or hypersexual disorder), it can be hard to reach out for help. But you’re not alone. We all struggle with sexual brokenness in one form or another. Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story.
Here at Focus on the Family, we draw our beliefs about sexuality from the Bible. And Scripture makes it clear that God created us male and female. He created our sexuality. It’s a gift from Him to be offered back either in lifelong marriage between one man and one woman, or in celibacy as a single.
To love God in our sex lives means to be pure in the fullness of the person God created us to be — physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. To do so is to live in wholeness. ~ “The Glorious Story of Sexuality”
Whether married or single, we can honor our Creator and care for the bodies, minds, and spirits He’s given us. We can learn to live out God’s healthy and life-affirming vision for sex and sexuality.
The truth about sex addiction and women
Sex addiction affects both men and women. Unfortunately, many people (including some professionals) mistakenly assume that only men can be addicted to sex.
One consequence of this bias is that women are underrepresented in sex addiction studies. In addition, female addicts often run into greater social stigma than males. So the increased shame they may experience can make them less likely to seek treatment.
Even when women do ask for professional help, counselors, therapists, and doctors might not know the distinctions that typically characterize female sex addiction. And a lack of formal understanding means that finding the right guidance and support toward recovery can be difficult.
That’s why it’s critical to have a solid grasp of the subject and what women can do to increase the likelihood of a successful recovery.
What is sex addiction?
The American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association haven’t yet classified sex addiction as a mental health disorder (but it’s only a matter of time, as research, statistics, and life experience suggest). So, what is it?
Sexual addiction is compulsive sexual behavior
“It’s an excessive preoccupation with sexual fantasies, urges or behaviors that is difficult to control, causes you distress, or negatively affects your health, job, relationships or other parts of your life” (Mayo Clinic).
Sex addiction (like other addictions) is a complex, whole-person condition that creates unwanted changes in desires, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. The sexual behaviors often involve another person — or, in the case of pornography, the image of another person.
Sexual addiction is never really about sex
Sexual addiction is about a heart that’s hungry for intimacy. In that sense, sex addiction can be understood as an attachment or intimacy disorder. For some people struggling with this addiction, sex is the way they find care and acceptance.
What can cause sex addiction?
As with any addiction, there’s not necessarily one cause of sexual addiction. Factors can include:
- The need to medicate emotional pain or escape an unsatisfactory situation.
- An impulsive or even compulsive search to satisfy unmet emotional needs.
- Coming from a severely dysfunctional family. (In most cases, at least one other member of the family has an addiction.)
- Exposure to pornography as a child.
- One addiction leading to another. (Sex addicts are prone to multiple addictions. For females, eating disorders are common, as is chemical dependency, and compulsions to work, spend, and gamble.)
- Childhood abuse.
This last point is especially serious. All traumatic experiences affect us negatively — but those involving childhood abuse deeply influence how we navigate life as adults.
Understand the impact of childhood abuse
Yes, sexual experiences imprint on us regardless of age; they create sensations, memories, appetites, and fantasies. However, children are the least capable of knowing how to steward their sexuality according to God’s plan.
Childhood sexual abuse can awaken sexual desires that aren’t age appropriate. When a child tries to understand — and sometimes imitate — abusive (but still naturally pleasurable) actions, their curiosity can lead to even more inappropriate sexual exposure. And that feeds a negative, growing cycle.
Abuse can be verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, and spiritual. And each type of abuse can be obvious or subtle (devious but not obvious). For example, obvious verbal abuse involves the misuse of words, tone, and volume. Subtle verbal abuse, on the other hand, could be refusing to affirm someone with words of love and encouragement.
Often, more than one type of abuse has happened in the developmental history of sex addiction. Because interpersonal connection is a core need for all humans, it’s easy to see how any kind of abuse damages a person’s ability to foster healthy attachment to others.
If you or a loved one has suffered abuse, we urge you to get professional help from a trained Christian counselor who specializes in this issue. Sadly, too many women go undiagnosed, or treatment of past abuse is greatly limited.
We realize that you might feel afraid to share your hurt — to risk opening old wounds. But resolving your suffering will give you opportunities to live a healthier, happier life. And a thriving life can prevent unhealthy emotions and behaviors from affecting your marriage or being passed to your children.
A woman’s need for relationship: A double-edged sword
Females are generally more relational and nurturing than males. However, a woman’s openness to relationship can be good or bad, depending on the circumstances.
When a woman’s trust in others has been broken by any kind of abuse, her desire for relationship doesn’t go away. In fact, she still has a hunger to connect — but it’s now combined with fear and mistrust. As a result, she’ll likely try to protect herself psychologically with different defenses and manipulations.
A woman who is sexually wounded may try to use the power of her sexuality to regain the security and innocence that was stolen from her. Without treatment and a safe path to recovery, she could develop a mask — a false self — and use her sexuality to punish men or herself.
- She may not understand that the person who violated her holds full responsibility. Instead, she might believe the lie that she shares blame for the abuse.
- She might want to “get even” by enticing men.
- She may have shame and self-contempt and want to punish herself. She then compulsively looks for secret ways to meet sexual needs instead of investing in an intimate relationship with her husband or in the love of family and friends.
- Alternatively, she might refuse healthy and moral sexuality (sexual anorexia is when a person doesn’t express healthy sexual desire).
No matter what the behavior is or whether it’s obvious or subtle, it’s still just the tip of the iceberg. An addict’s motivations are usually as much a mystery to her as to those who love her.
With that in mind, an important step toward recovery is to become aware of the unique challenges that women face because they’re women.
Unique challenges for female sex addicts
Culture’s emphasis on provocative media and casual sex are as close as the phones in our hands, the TVs in our living rooms, and the magazines in our supermarket checkout lanes. Whatever the form, though, they all can serve as gateways to — and fuel for — sex addiction.
That’s not to mention the increasing availability and erotic tone of romance media. Yes, women are sexual beings who have basic heart longings. But so-called “mommy porn“ is a counterfeit, dangerous way to try and meet legitimate needs.
Society’s double standards
Society tends to promote a stereotypical double standard that boys will be boys and good girls don’t, even while it grooms females to play the coy seductress. For this reason, female addicts often experience greater social stigma and private shame.
Because of that, a woman might compartmentalize her sexually addicted self from her roles of wife, mother, and Sunday school teacher. Essentially, she leads a double life. But denial only strengthens addiction.
The good news is that God doesn’t have a double standard. We are made in His image, and He empowers Christian men and women to live in ways that honor Him and His creation. What should that look like? Mutual respect, care, and encouragement. And it means that both men and women are responsible to live beyond stereotypes.
Recovering from sexual addiction
Yes, sexual sin can lead to a progressive, biological addiction. (Sexual sins cause complications that aren’t common to other sins.) But be encouraged:
A personal relationship with Jesus Christ will help you grow in truth as you rest in His grace and love. And with well-informed counseling, sex addiction can be overcome. Recovery isn’t a one-and-done decision; it’s an ongoing process, a moment-by-moment choice. But it is possible.
A woman can find help to heal distorted thoughts, damaged emotions, and a wounded spirit. She can learn to appreciate and cherish her sexuality as God designed. She can harmonize her emotions and actions in God-honoring ways. And as a result, she’ll be able to build authentic relationships of deep care and trust.
The first step? Get to the root of the addiction
To move from sexual addiction to sexual integrity, you need to understand personal sin and take responsibility to live out God’s design for healthy sexuality. That’s foundational to the healing process.
So be honest with yourself and with a trained Christian counselor or therapist who specializes in sex addiction:
Honesty is the foundation to recovery for any addict, and it’s no different for the sexual addict. Healing does not occur if secrets are kept. Recovery will require a willingness and commitment to go the distance. ~ “Recovery and Treatment for Sexual Addiction”
Women who are serious about the recovery process will welcome input and guidance from their counselor or therapist.
Steps and tools for recovery
- Join a Christ-centered recovery group led by well-trained individuals who can give you understanding, encouragement, and accountability. Groups like those offered by Pure Desire Ministries can play a vital role in your recovery.
- Learn to handle attraction, grief, anger, and other feelings in healthy ways. Emotions can be healed over time.
- Install web filtering and accountability tools like Covenant Eyes.
- Be accountable to a friend in your support network if you’ll be in a setting with people who might trigger your compulsion. Talk to your friend before and after the event.
- Stay connected to your support network when you travel alone. Text them, email, or call. And ask the hotel to disable any tempting TV channels that could trigger your addiction.
This list isn’t exhaustive by any means. Know and pay attention to your triggers. Work with your counselor to pinpoint situations or feelings that could cause a setback. Then plan specifically how you’ll resist an impulse or overcome a temptation — how you’ll run away from it.
Understand the importance of self-care
Figure out your legitimate and God-given emotional needs and find good, productive ways to meet them. (Learning self-care and the positive things to say yes to is just as important as knowing what to say no to.)
Safeguards can’t guarantee that you won’t have a slipup, of course. The thing to remember is that a relapse doesn’t mean your recovery efforts failed; it just means you’re human.
Remember: Recovery is a continual growth process, a moment-by-moment choice. And you can face each choice with hope because God made you, He loves you, and He cares about your future.
Whether you or someone you love is struggling, we know that addiction can be painful and confusing. Would you let us walk with you?
Call us for a free over-the-phone consultation. Our licensed or pastoral counselors would welcome the chance to hear your story and talk with you in more detail. They can also suggest referrals to qualified counselors and Christian therapists in your area. In the meantime, dig into the recommended resources below.
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.
Overcoming Sexual Brokenness (resource list)
Healing From Sexual Abuse (resource list)
Healing From Emotional, Verbal, Physical, & Spiritual Abuse (resource list)