For most recovering sex addicts who are not already in a long-term relationship, healthy dating and sexuality is an important goal of recovery. However, because they’ve spent so much of their lives chasing sexual intensity rather than any sort of true intimate connection, they often approach this task with trepidation. Generally speaking, their three primary fears boil down to the following:
- I don’t know how to date and I’m afraid I’ll do it the wrong way, and that when I make mistakes whoever it is that I’m dating will reject me because of that.
- I don’t know how to have a meaningful connection with another person, even someone I really like, because I’ve never done it.
- I don’t know when or how (or if) I should tell a person I’m dating about my sexual addiction and the rules that govern my recovery (i.e., my sexual sobriety plan).
In this posting, I will address the third of these concerns, related to disclosure about sexual addiction. This question is eventually faced by any recovering sex addict who decides that he or she wants to date and be sexual in healthy, life-affirming, non-compulsive ways. And even when they know intellectually that the best relationships are built on a solid foundation of honesty and mutual trust, talking about their addiction to another person, especially to a non-sex addict, can be daunting. Nevertheless, if recovering sex addicts are dating and seeking a healthy long-term relationship, they must accept that keeping important secrets is, at best, counterproductive. Sure, recovering sex addicts, like anyone else, want to look good in the eyes of the person they are dating, especially early on, but eventually, and probably sooner rather than later, they need to come clean about their addiction.
If you’re a recovering sex addict and you find that you’re reluctant to share about sexual addiction with someone you’ve started dating, you may want to ask yourself why. Are you afraid that he or she will think you’re a creepy pervert and reject you? If that’s your fear, then I’m going to let you in on a little secret. A person who would reject you simply because you have a problem with an addiction that you’re actively addressing is probably not the loving and supportive partner you deserve, so good riddance.
Generally speaking, if you’re serious about a new relationship, disclosing about sex addiction is not so much a question of if, but when. Obviously, the first few dates are probably not appropriate times. In fact, it is important to have healthy boundaries about what you do and don’t share in the early stages of dating, and generally speaking a useful boundary is to keep things light in the beginning. In fact, bringing up sex addiction within the first few dates may cause the other person to wonder whether you’re looking for sympathy or a rescue rather than an intimate partnership. If, however, you’ve had several dates and the other person is beginning to feel important to you, you should think about disclosure. In no event should you wait until you’re already a committed couple before springing this information. That is not only bad form, it is likely to engender both resentment and worries about what else you may be hiding.
Usually, the best time to talk about your addiction with a person you’re dating is during the same conversation in which you say, “Gee, we’ve been seeing each other for a little while and I’m really enjoying this. I want us to get to know each other a little better and maybe even get a bit more serious.” If the other person responds to that or a similar statement in a positive way, you can then say, “I want to start by letting you know more about my life as a way to help us grow closer.” Then it might be useful to talk in a general way about not only your addiction but some of the ways you want to grow as a person. If you are still getting nods and a smiling, engaged face, you and the other person can move forward into the kind of open, honest, nonjudgmental conversation that forms the basis of all lasting relationships.
Regardless of when and how you choose to disclose about sexual addiction to a person you are dating, you need to make sure that your support network – your therapist, your 12-step sexual recovery sponsor, your friends in sexual recovery, etc. – is aware of this occurrence. In other words, before you talk to the person you are dating, you should solicit feedback from the people who know all about you and your addiction. If these supportive others are in agreement that disclosure is the next right step in your romance, they can help you to formulate a plan for doing so. More importantly, they can support you afterward, helping you to stay sexually sober no matter the outcome.
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. An internationally acknowledged clinician and author, he has served as a subject expert on the intersection of human intimacy and digital technology for multiple media outlets including The Oprah Winfrey Network, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, and CNN, among many others. He is the author of several highly regarded books, including Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Love, and Porn Addiction. For more information please visit website, robertweissmsw.com.