3. ISA and Sex Addiction

Some of us have experienced the avoidance of sex as addictive, in some cases choosing to identify as “sexual anorexics”…afraid of sex because of its association in our minds with our addiction or with past sexual trauma, or because of a fear of intimacy and vulnerability. Trying to control our sexuality in this way is just another symptom of our disease. The solution lies in turning our will and lives over to the care of our Higher Power.

— Sex Addicts Anonymous, p. 72

Return to ISA landing page

3.1 What is 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)

3.2 How does intimacy avoidance relate to sex addiction?

“Intimacy means a close, familiar, and usually affectionate personal relationship with self, others, or a 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.”

First Step to Intimacy – A Guide for Working the First Step on Intimacy and Sexual Avoidance or Sexual Anorexia

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

“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

“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, page 4 highlight some characteristics of sex addiction. When viewed through the lens of the avoidance of genuine connection and intimacy, it becomes clear that sex addiction is a manifestation of intimacy avoidance. 

Compulsive sexual avoidance (sexual anorexia) can be another side of sex addiction.

“For some of us, the compulsive avoidance of sex and intimacy became a destructive pattern, dominating our thoughts and actions. We may always have felt unable or unwilling to be sexual. Or we may have experienced periods of feeling ‘shut down’ alternating with other periods of sexual acting out. We have come to realize that both extremes represent symptoms of the same disease. Whether we were acting out or not being sexual at all, our addiction involved being emotionally unavailable.”

Sex Addicts Anonymous, page 6

3.3. Intimacy Avoidance Can be Compulsive

Being vulnerable and reaching out to connect with others takes courage and trust. However, for some of us, the fear of rejection or abandonment caused our intimacy avoidance to become pathological. Avoiding sex and intimacy became as destructive as sexual acting out.

Instead of tuning in to our feelings, for example, most of us disconnected from our emotions by denying, stuffing, or medicating them (often with compulsive sexual behavior). Rather than be fully present in our bodies, many of us preferred to live in fantasy of one sort or another. We may have even been so “checked-out” that we ignored bodily needs such as food, rest, and other self-care requirements. We may have avoided intimacy with others by staying at home for days or refusing to answer the phone.

3.4. Intimacy Avoidance Can be Subtle

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, and a social life. But once we started allowing ourselves to recognize 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 noticed we avoided sexual intimacy when it may have been appropriate.  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).

3.5. Active Sex Addicts Can be Avoiding Intimacy

It is common for sex addicts to avoid emotional intimacy without avoiding physical intimacy (sex). Many people in recovery have realized that our compulsive or addictive sexual behavior did not include sharing genuine feelings or being fully present in the moment while being sexual. Our minds were usually focused on fantasy rather than reality.

“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

There are a number of ways we avoided emotional connection or intimacy during sex.

“Some of us chose anonymous partners, used drugs or alcohol, or hid under the cover of darkness. … 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

 

Return to ISA landing page