Fifteen years ago, people didn’t even know there was such a thing as sex addiction, never mind how to get help for it. With Patrick Carnes’ groundbreaking book Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sex Addiction, people who suffer from self-destructive sexual acts had hope of knowing what ailed them. Since then, the disorder has received tremendous attention from the media and a whole new group of therapists trained to treat sex addiction.

The field, however, is still developing. People who seek counseling for this debilitating addiction often don’t know how or where to get help from a competent clinician. Moreover, the path to sane sexuality — the goals and objectives that one should strive for — are still sometimes muddy and confusing.

Treatment for sex addiction should be individualized for each person and serve the goal of helping the individual to:

Diminish/eliminate shameful, compulsive sexual behaviors

Learn to deal with urges/cravings by understanding that they are transitory and that they are not imperatives to act out

Know triggers and have behavioral strategies for dealing with them

Develop a caring support system and identify individuals to contact when relapse is about to occur and as a support for getting dependency needs met

Reduction of denial, justification, rationalizations, minimalization and other distorted thoughts and beliefs

Replace negative core beliefs about the self with healthy self-esteem

Heal the shame that both precedes and follows sexual acting out

Reframe slips/relapses from a sense of failure to an opportunity for learning new coping skills

Develop an understanding of the unconscious internal factors driving sexual behavior

Attain better self-regulation (of moods, feelings, behavior) through the gradual internalization the nurturance, containment, and structure of various treatment modalities

Improve capacity for interpersonal relationships

Improve capacity to reflect on thoughts and feelings, with a resulting increase in inner control and a decreased need to act out unwanted mental states

Explore the functions the sexual activity is serving (relief from anxiety, momentary intimacy, master feelings of powerless and helplessness from the past, etc.) so more constructive strategies can be developed to get needs met

Explore how sexual compulsion is an enactment of dysfunctional relating patterns from the past

Develop a clear definition of healthy sexual patterns vs. shaming and self-harming sexual activities

Reduce marital/relationship conflicts

Increase understanding of need to control intimacy as a function of long-standing early neglect and abuse.

Author's Bio: 

Dorothy Hayden, LCSW, has been treating sex addiction for 15 years. With 30 articles and one e-book, "Total Sex Addiction Recovery -- A Guide to Therapy", she is considered a "thought leader" in the field. She has been interviewed by HBO, CNN and "20/20" about cybersex and sex addiction.