Sex Addiction Among U.S. Service Members

Source: Charles Deluvio of UnSplash

Spouses of U.S. service members feel isolated enough as their lives revolve around some aspect of military culture such as deployments, relocations, and constant change.

Now imagine, this isolation being exacerbated because of a partner’s sex addiction. With your identity intertwined with military life, how do you find help without feeling even more alienated? 

Due to the nature of military work life, secretive sexual behaviors (i.e. everything from pornography to prostitutes) can be hidden years longer than those in the civilian world. Thus, the trauma, hurt, and betrayal to the spouse or partner from these behaviors can be much deeper.   

The goal in couples work is to work through these feelings of loss, disillusionment, and pain so that trust can be rebuilt into the relationship. This may feel very discouraging at first but statistics show if couples can commit to the process of recovery for at least one year, then chances are more likely for a successful outcome where true emotional and physical intimacy can emerge.

Sex addiction is first and foremost an intimacy disorder. The person struggling with addiction has learned over time to develop unhealthy patterns in relationships marked by living a double-life for fear of being known. The work in counseling is to help the person learn to bond, trust, and get his relational and emotional needs met in healthy ways as opposed to relying on his past compulsive sexual behaviors.

Something to keep in mind is that he oftentimes has a distorted belief about himself which includes*:

  • “I’m a bad, defective, unworthy person.” The person is shame-bound and sees himself as deserving of punishment and retribution with no understanding of healthy guilt (i.e. separation of behavior from his personhood).
  • “If you knew me, you’d leave me.” or “No one will love me as I am.” (Deep fears of abandonment which leads to a life of secrecy)
  • “My needs won’t be met if I have to depend on others” or “I can’t trust anyone to meet my needs” (i.e. emotional needs of affirmation, validation, care, relational trust and security)
  • “Sex is my greatest need” (distorted belief that sexual release is a need or necessity for life like air, water, and food as opposed to a want)

Oftentimes, these beliefs stem from being raised in a family or culture where emotions are stifled. It doesn’t help that military culture extols stoicism and emotional repression which only adds to increased emotional compartmentalization.

Trauma, be it sexual, physical, or emotional abuse also can play a role in the addictive mindset. Addictions are a means to self-medicate and stave off negative emotions, thoughts, or triggers of the abuse.

Finally, we also live in an age where a young mind can easily be saturated in sexual imagery via commercials, movies, pornography, or early sexual experiences. With limited understanding of relational maturity, sex can be misinterpreted as love leading one down a course of love addiction.

With spouses of military service members, it’s imperative they find the courage to break out of the solitude and seek help. Just as much as society in general has shifted its attitudes towards seeking help for mental health (especially for men), masculinity (it’s ok for men to cry), and de-stigmatizing addictions, an additional shift is needed for partners of service members dealing specifically with sexual addictions.  

*from Dr. Patrick Carnes “Out of the Shadows”


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