Tiger Woods. Amber Smith. Kanye. Bill Cosby. Lindsay Lohan. Seungri. Lamar Odom. Their sex addictions have made huge headlines and/or ruined lives. Chances are, you have someone in your circle as well who has a sex addiction. Various polls have shown that roughly 25% of females in the church self-report compulsive sexual behavior, and men nearly triple that percentage. Yet, hardly anyone is talking about it. Especially during the dating stage.
This silence is problematic because if the dating couple ends up marrying, the sex addiction will reveal itself at some point during the marriage. Sex addiction does not magically go away in marriage. It is a myth that regular sex with your spouse will cure sex addiction. This then turns into crisis, a complete breach of trust, and perhaps divorce. The betrayed and traumatized spouse will cry out, “Why didn’t you tell me you had this problem when we were dating?!”
One of the most common responses to the above question is: You wouldn’t have married me if I told you. If you think about it, this answer is jacked up on so many levels. In a way, it’s one person “tricking” another person into marrying them by omission or by deceit. Tragically, hiding a significant part of one’s self is a hallmark of most addicts. The shame they feel about themselves gets so heavy that they feel compelled to lie in order to be accepted. When they are alone, however, the two-faced reality hits hard and they go back to the activity that provides relief: sexual behaviors.
Friends, I have advice for any reader who is currently dating, or interested in dating. This advice differs for the one who has the sex addiction, and the one who does not have the sex addiction.
First, for the one without the sex addiction, be courageous and ask the person you are dating if they have a porn/sex addiction. Or any addiction for that matter. Substance, gambling, eating, gaming, hoarding. If they say no, and then you discover later while dating that they were lying, you have a clear character red flag which should make you seriously reconsider staying in the relationship, let alone marrying the person.
If they say yes they do have an addiction, ask them what they are doing about it. This, too, will reveal their character. As a marriage and family therapist, I can testify that character makes or breaks marriages. It does not matter how hot they are, how much money they will potentially earn, how great their family is, how talented their musical skill, or how kindly they treat you. If their character breaches your trust, you will have a frozen, miserable marriage. I would even say the earlier you ask them about addictions the better, before you get too emotionally attached. If you are already sexually active with this person, the attachment is unfortunately even stronger.
I realize this is terrifying material for the sex addict. You may be thinking, “Roy just shut up please, just shut up.” Trust me, I am trying to help you, not hurt you. More important than my fear of making you uncomfortable, however, is my goal of breaking the wheel of sex addiction because I see what it does to families and churches. Any prevention of devastation is worth this level of discomfort. So here is my advice to those of you with the sex addiction: Start recovery NOW, not later.
Consider this scenario. You’re on date #3 with someone you’re starting to really like. This person asks you, “I know this is awkward but I have to ask you something important. I saw my church split because my pastor lied for years about his sex addiction. If he had been upfront and gotten treatment, I think it would have gone a whole lot better. Do you have a porn or sex addiction?”
You now have choices as your heart starts thumping. You can lie. Or you can tell the truth. But even if you tell the truth, will you minimize it? Most people minimize it for self protection. But those who have started true recovery have already begun the process of being authentic. So let’s say the truth is, you know you have an addiction, and you are considering getting treatment. Credit to you for being truthful. However, what confidence will your date have if you haven’t even started treatment?
Now consider this alternate scenario. It’s the same date #3 with the same person, with the same question posed to you. This time, you tell this truth: “I was compulsive in looking at porn since 4th grade, all the way up until the start of college. I also objectified people, trying to hook up with random people, and even paying for sex. I started treatment 3 years ago with a certified sex addiction therapist. I attended group therapy weekly, and still do for accountability. I haven’t looked at porn for 2.5 years, and because I know this will be my life long temptation, I have 8 structures in place so that I’ll never go back to it. I have 3 go-to people to talk to when I get tempted to fantasize, and I have never felt so free in my life.” Now, contrast how your date will feel after hearing this answer, as opposed to the previous answer.
This is character. This is knowing yourself, knowing your weakness, and confronting it instead of hiding it and lying about it to others. If the polls are correct, there are way more people with sex addiction than you think. The question is, what are they doing about it? If someone told me they were controlling it by prayer and reading Scripture, I’d say: And?
Even if you tell your date that you are 10 years sober, there is the chance that they will not want to date you anymore. I don’t shy away from that reality. That is their choice, and it will sting. Part of our character building though, is being able to accept another person’s answer. Another part of our character building is being able to accept that we may not be quite ready to date right now. We may need to work on our health so that we become safe to others.
If you are convicted that this dating advice is what you (and God) would want, here are some ways to start:
- Make an appointment with your local CSAT (Certified Sex Addiction Therapist). They specialize in getting you on the road to recovery. You can go to www.sexhelp.com and use the search filters to find one in your area.
- If your CSAT does not offer group therapy, find a group to attend via www.sa.org. These meetings are free. Though they are not moderated by a therapist, the community aspect is essential for any sex addict’s recovery. Isolating is one of the worst things a sex addict can do.
- Listen to podcasts that focus on sex addiction. Some of my favorites are “Sexual Addiction:Strength/Hope/Recovery” hosted by Carol the Coach, and “Pure Desire Podcast.” I also host a podcast called “SA speakeasy” that centers on the topic of sex addiction.
I would not be hitting hard with this advice if I didn’t have strong personal conviction. As a recovering addict myself, I know how terrifying it is to reveal my true nature to others. But the blood of Christ has paid for our shame. We can now focus on working hard towards sobriety. If His gospel does not reach the level of dealing with our shame, and we are still living a double life, then what really has He set us free from? It is liberating to know Christ is my strongest advocate in my own sobriety, and in yours as well.