Brad, a 30-year-old investment banker, was recently fired from his high-paying job for repeatedly using his bank-owned digital devices to look at porn and to find “dates” on hookup apps. He had been verbally warned about this behavior by his boss on two occasions, and then he’d received a written reprimand from the HR department, clearly stating that if he did not abide by bank policy regarding digital devices, he would lose his position. Still, he found ways to rationalize and justify his behavior (in his mind, but not the bank’s).
Currently unemployed and deeply depressed, Brad has sought help from a local therapist, hoping for an antidepressant medication to help him through this difficult time. In his first session, he admitted to his therapist that he was fired because of his sexual behaviors, but he was unwilling to consider the idea that those behaviors might be the cause of or even a part of his current unhappiness. This despite his therapist’s rather pointed suggestion that he might be a sex addict. In fact, Brad views his sexual acting out as a solution to rather than a cause of his problems. He says thinks like:
- “This is just perfectly normal guy stuff. I can’t believe the bank was so uptight about it.”
- “Sex is my only pleasure right now. If I wasn’t chasing sex all day, I might be suicidal.”
- “I did great work for the bank. If they were smart, they would have kept me on and let me be myself.”
- “Why does everybody want to control every little thing that I do? I deserve a little freedom and privacy.”
- “I’m not in a relationship, so there’s nothing wrong with what I’m doing. I mean, I’m not cheating, and I’m not hurting anybody, so leave me alone about it.”
In short, Brad just plain refuses to take an objective look at the compulsive nature of his sexual behaviors, or to acknowledge that his current life problems are related to those activities. So, like most active sex addicts, he is in denial about his addiction.
With sexual addiction (and other addictions), denial is an interwoven web of lies and deceits told to both self and others with the sole goal of rationalizing and justifying addictive thoughts, fantasies, and behaviors. Typically, each lie is supported by several others, with those lies supported by still more lies. Given the hard facts, of course, almost any impartial outside observer can easily see an addict’s situation for what it is, but addicts either cannot or will not – because they are so focused on protecting their active addiction. This is the case with Brad, who, even in the face of severe addiction-related consequences and gentle prodding from his therapist, refuses to look at the problematic nature of his compulsive sexual activity.
With sexual addiction (and other addictions), denial manifests in several basic ways, the most common of which are:
- Blame (Externalization): Devin says, “Since we had kids, my wife has gone frigid. So honestly, with the nonexistent sex life I have at home, who wouldn’t be looking at porn and chatting up women online?”
- Entitlement: Alexander says, “I work my tail off providing for my family and making money for the company. But it can’t be all work and no play, you know. So if I spend a few hours and a few bucks getting an erotic massage, it’s just a well-deserved reward.”
- Justification: Jane says, “I’m not in a relationship, but I still need stimulation. So I chat up guys on social media, dating sites, and a couple of apps. And if some of those guys seem nice and want to come over for a quickie, there’s nothing wrong with that. This is just what single girls do.”
- Minimization: Marco says, “Every young guy is on a bunch of hookup apps, and we all sit around waiting for that buzz to let us know somebody is interested. We meet somebody online, we have sex, and then we brag about it the next day. It’s just not a big deal.”
- Rationalization: Eileen says, “So what if I go online for a few hours after my husband falls asleep at night and have my secret little intrigues. No one gets hurt and nothing comes of it. Lots of women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey and nobody thinks they’re doing anything wrong, so why am I?”
Most of these examples, by themselves, probably seem like reasonable excuses. But when excuses and lies are piled on other excuses and lies so deeply that a person no longer knows what’s true and what isn’t – as typically occurs with addicts – denial because a powerful and overriding life-force. And it is used by addicts to ignore the complaints, concerns, and criticisms of people who care about them and try to help them. Brad, for instance, ignored multiple warnings from his employer and got fired, and now he is choosing to ignore advice and suggestions from his therapist. Instead of accepting that he is sexually compulsive, he sidesteps attempted interventions and accuses others of being judgmental, trying to control him, not understanding him, etc. All because he wants/needs to protect his active sexual addiction. Sadly, his denial will likely continue until his consequences escalate beyond their current level.
If you would like to learn more about the various facets of sexual addiction, check out my recently published book, Sex Addiction 101. If you feel you may need clinical assistance with sex and/or love addiction, therapist and treatment referrals can be found here and here.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of National Clinical Development for Elements Behavioral Health. In this capacity, he has established and overseen addiction and mental health treatment programs for more than a dozen high-end treatment facilities, including Promises Treatment Centers in Malibu and Los Angeles, The Ranch in rural Tennessee, and The Right Step in Texas. He is also the author of several highly regarded books, including Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction. For more information please visit his website, robertweissmsw.com.