Healthy Sexuality for Recovering Sex Addicts: Part 2, the Power of Intimacy

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Scott Brassart

In my previous post to this site, we discussed what recovering sex, porn, and substance/sex addicts need to do before they are ready to move forward with healthy sexuality. In this post, we discuss how healthy sexuality can (slowly) become an integral part of a recovering addict’s life.

For the most part, healthy sexuality is built around intimacy rather than intensity. This can be confusing for some sex addicts because they have long equated “intimacy” with sexual intensity. In actuality, intimacy and sexual intensity are very different. Intimacy is about emotional connection with another person – a connection that might or might not involve sexual behavior. Sexual intensity, especially for sex addicts, is the exact opposite, focused on emotional escape and emotional disconnection, rather than connection. Healthy sexuality involves emotional intimacy. With healthy sexuality, sex is used to connect. Addictive sexuality involves the avoidance of emotional intimacy. With addictive sexuality, sex is used to numb out and escape.

The question for recovering sex, porn, and substance/sex addicts is how they can move from incredibly intense, emotionally escapist sex into less intense but ultimately more rewarding intimate sexual connection with a romantic partner. As discussed in my previous post, this is not easy because recovering sex addicts tend to miss the dopamine/adrenaline jolt that addictive sex provides. Sometimes they even must take time to grieve this loss, knowing that the emotionally intimate sex they’re now hoping for will never match that intensity.

Happily, emotionally intimate sexuality provides other neurochemical rewards – most notably the hit of serotonin and oxytocin that comes with intimate connection. These rewards can more than make up for the loss of intensity. In fact, many recovering sex addicts say they find “sober sex” far more rewarding, both emotionally and physically, than even the best versions of “addiction sex.”

The best way for recovering sex, porn, and substance/sex addicts to achieve this new form of sexual satisfaction and reward is to explore the seven dimensions of healthy sexuality with a willing, emotionally connected partner. These seven dimensions include:

  • Self-Nurture: The process of taking care of yourself and feeling better about yourself.
  • Sensuousness: Developing body awareness and learning to stimulate all of the senses.
  • Relationship Intimacy (General): Enjoying the company of others without being sexual.
  • Partner Intimacy: Enjoying the company of your significant other without being sexual.
  • Non-Genital Physical Touch: Giving and receiving physical pleasure without genital contact.
  • Genital Sexuality: Enhancing, sustaining, and enriching genital sexuality.
  • Spiritual Intimacy: Adding meaning and turning sex into an expression of feelings, values, and connection.

Healthy (non-addicted) people innately know that there is more to sex than sex. They know that sex can be as much if not more about emotional intimacy as pure physical pleasure and intensity. Sex addicts, however, have been misusing sexual fantasy and behavior for so long (as a means of self-soothing rather than as a means of connecting) that they can hardly fathom other dimensions of sexuality. As such, it is wise for recovering sex addicts to explore each of the seven dimensions of healthy sexuality.

This exploration should take place over time. There is no hurry for recovering sex addicts to get back in the game, so to speak. If, however, you are a recovering sex addict and you feel that you are ready to move forward into healthy sexuality, I am all for it. Provided your therapist, 12-step sponsor, and partner (if you have one) are in agreement. To help with this, I suggest you ask yourself the following questions, each of which is related to one of the seven dimensions of healthy sexuality:

  • Self-Nurture: What activities, environments, and experiences enhance and nurture you?
  • Sensuousness: What activities, behaviors, or environments add to your body awareness and stimulate your senses?
  • Relationship Intimacy (General): How can you enjoy being with others without being sexual?
  • Partner Intimacy: How can you be with your partner without being sexually engaged?
  • Non-Genital Physical Touch: How can you physically please one another without genital contact?
  • Genital Sexuality: How can the genital expression of your sexuality be enhanced, sustained, and enriched?
  • Spiritual Intimacy: How can all these dimensions be made more meaningful?