Intimacy and Recovery

2. Intimacy and Recovery from Sex Addiction

2.1 Intimacy and sex are separate things.

“Many people use the words “sex” and “intimacy” interchangeably. However, they are not the same thing. Intimacy means a close, familiar, and usually affectionate personal relationship with self, others, or Higher Power. A person can have friendships or relationships that are intimate but not sexual, and many sex addicts have learned that a person can have sex without being intimate.” (An Intimacy and Sexual Avoidance-Focused First Step Guide)

2.2     Intimacy avoidance

Intimacy avoidance refers to “conduct and attitudes that serve to avoid or block sexual, emotional, or spiritual connection with others, ourselves, or our Higher Power. (Intimacy Avoidance – Another Aspect of Sex Addiction)

Some may wonder, “How can I be an intimacy avoidant if I have so much sex?”

Whether we were compulsively avoiding sexual thoughts, feelings, or behaviors, or struggling with addictive behaviors such as sexual obsession, trading sex for money or services, or viewing pornography, we were avoiding or blocking emotional or spiritual connection with ourselves or others. Here are a few more examples of the intimacy avoidance aspect of sex addiction.

“In order to avoid emotional closeness, some of us chose anonymous partners, used drugs or alcohol, or hid under the cover of darkness. To deflect sexual attention, we may have dressed in dirty, baggy, or unflattering clothes, protected ourselves by excessive weight gain, or foregone basic hygiene and self-care. For some of us, voyeurism or peeping was a way to keep a wall of secrecy, distance or glass between ourselves and those to whom we were attracted. The glass of the computer screen could be seen as just a new or more sophisticated “window” that provided a similar barrier between others and being known by them.” (Intimacy Avoidance – Another Aspect of Sex Addiction)     

Those who shared their experience and hope in our basic text, Sex Addicts Anonymous, understood that compulsive sexual behavior does not emotionally or spiritually connect a person with themself or with others.

“The truth is that most of us didn’t really experience sex when we were acting out. In our most intense experiences, we tended to be disconnected, lost in a bubble of repetition, fantasy, and obsession. Our disease kept us from being fully present when we were sexual.” (Sex Addicts Anonymous, page 71)

So, even though we may have experienced physical closeness and connection, our compulsive sexual behavior often left us feeling emotionally empty and unsatisfied. 

“Being a sex addict felt like being trapped in endless contradictions. We sought love and romance, but when we found it, we feared and fled from intimacy. We neglected or even avoided sex with those who loved us, preferring new conquests, the unknown, and the solitary. Some of us had periods of time when sex and relationships were unbearable, and we avoided contact with others. Then we would plunge into a period when no amount of sex was sufficient. … Our sexuality, which should have been a source of happiness and pleasure, became joyless, and even destructive and dangerous to ourselves and others.” (Sex Addicts Anonymous, pages 6-7)

The following quotes from Sex Addicts Anonymous highlight some characteristics of sex addiction. When viewed through the lens of the avoidance of genuine connection and intimacy, some SAA members see that their sex addiction is a manifestation of intimacy avoidance.

When we “chose sex and romantic obsession over those things we cherished the most—including friends, family, and career,” we were avoiding true connection with others. Our “sexual thoughts, romantic fantasies, and seductive planning filled our minds and distorted our thinking,” which prevented us from being intimately aware of our feelings and needs. This intimacy avoidance was compulsive. “We made attempts to stop the behavior, but they failed.” Because “much of our time was spent either being sexual, or managing crises and problems that arose because of our sexual behavior,” it prevented us from being present with ourselves or others.“We violated our own values, and sex became the chief measure of what was important,” which disconnected us from ourselves.“Our sexual choices created fear and despair,” instead of the joy and safety of connection and genuine intimacy. “We found ourselves isolated and alone” because our behavior was preventing emotional closeness and presence with others. Due to our lack of intimacy with a Higher Power, “we felt spiritually empty.” (See Sex Addicts Anonymous, page 4)

2.3     Intimacy avoidance can be subtle

Those of us whose addiction did not cause very much sexual acting out needed to look for powerlessness and unmanageability within ourselves. On the surface, we might have appeared to be present with ourselves and others. We may have been convinced we weren’t avoiding intimacy because we had a job, a family, a social life, etc. But once we started exploring submerged feelings of loneliness, detachment, depression, or anxiety, we realized something was missing in our lives. Perhaps we recognized that we restricted all of our conversations to impersonal topics, or we didn’t have anyone we could really be honest with about our struggles. We may have avoided loving sexual intimacy through disconnected sex, being mechanical or lost in fantasy, or by avoiding sexual contact altogether. Looking closer, we “gradually became aware of a range of subtle but overt behaviors that enabled us to avoid authentic closeness or intimacy.” (Intimacy Avoidance – Another Aspect of Sex Addiction)