For more than 30 years, Dr. Doug Weiss has been teaching people how to have great sex. A licensed psychologist, best-selling author and founder of Heart to Heart Counseling Center, Weiss is an international expert on sexual addiction. At first, it might seem counterintuitive that the man whose work and writings fueled the Lifetime Network movie Sex, Lies & Obsession is helping thousands of addicts and spouses repair marriages on the brink of divorce. But using innovative methodologies and modalities, the president of the American Association for Sex Addiction Therapy has helped men and women free themselves from their sexual addictions and recommit to repairing their relationships and improving their lives.
Weiss sat down with Renew to talk about intimacy anorexics, what causes sex addiction and how couples can move past it.
Renew: Who are you and what do you do?
Doug Weiss: I am an international expert on sexual addiction. I’ve written more than 30 books on addiction recovery as well as published many books and DVDs for marriage and youth. I have appeared on prestigious national television shows including Oprah and Dr. Phil. My work and writings have also fueled a Lifetime Network movie and an international documentary depicting my private counseling practice. As the president of the American Association for Sex Addiction Therapy, I have developed the Sex Addiction Training program to train therapists and coaches how to treat sexual addiction. This program uses my own methodology and modality, as well as my clinical application for treating sexual addiction, providing proven treatment for sexual addiction recovery. As the executive director at Heart to Heart Counseling Center for more than 20 years, I have the opportunity to see many men and women walk in freedom from their sexual addiction. I have also watched many marriages on the brink of divorce begin to heal and become better than ever.
Renew: What is your relationship to addiction and recovery?
DW: My road to recovery started pretty early. I’ve been sober from alcohol and drugs for 35 years and sober from sex addiction for 30 years. But sex addiction wasn’t even a word 30 years ago.
Renew: What is the biggest misconception when it comes to being a sex addict?
DW: The No. 1 is that there is no such thing. The question is what’s the difference between a high libido and sex addiction? Someone with a sex addiction is about disconnection. It’s not about relationships. It’s about sexual release. They feel empty after sex. It’s significantly different. They’re using sex to medicate. Someone with a high libido is enhancing their world.
Another misconception is you have to be a pervert or a sex offender. Most sex addicts are masturbators or porn guys. Some cheat; some don't.
The third is that it can’t be fixed. It can be. I’ve seen thousands of guys get better. You can be well your entire life. Well looks like having a great sex life and being mature. You can have a better sex life than ever.
Another thing is that it doesn’t impact anybody. It’s the exact same thing with alcohol and drugs. It affects everyone.
Renew: So can you be a sex addict without having sex?
DW: With eating disorders, you can’t telling someone not to eat. It’s the same with sex. With sex addiction, you teach them how to have great sex in a healthy way that’s constructive to their life. I’ve been teaching people how to have great sex for 30 years. You’re teaching people how to be engaged sexually.
Renew: What is your philosophy as a psychologist treating addiction?
DW: We have six types of sex addicts, so it really depends on what type of sex addict you are.
- The Biological Sex Addict: In my experience, less than 15 percent are only biological sex addicts. In a solely biological sex addict, he or she typically grew up in relatively healthy homes and had no sexual or other type of trauma. The addict simply created the neuroconditioning cycle in a steady manner leading them to sexual addiction.
- The Psychological Sex Addict: The larger population of sex addicts have suffered some form of abuse or neglect. This person finds the combination of the messages in the fantasy world and the sexual chemical cocktail to the brain to be a salve unto their hurting soul. Simply put, they medicate the past or the pain in their souls with acting out which is their form of medicine. These painful events will ultimately need to be addressed for the addict to fully heal.
- The Spiritual-based Sex Addict: This addict is looking for a spiritual connection in all the wrong places. In recovery, we talk about our spiritual hole. This person puts sex in this hole and finds it doesn’t scratch the itch over time. I understand this personally and still had to do the healing work after my spiritual awakening to heal from my own sexual addiction.
- The Trauma-based Sex Addict: The trauma based sex addict has experienced sexual trauma(s) as a child or adolescent. Here, trauma work will need to be addressed for the addict to heal.
- The Intimacy Anorexic Sex Addict: Many addicts who have been trying to get sober but keep having what I call “flat tire” recovery (relapsing regularly) often are unidentified as intimacy anorexics. If you have been sober from sexual addictive acting out behaviors for a year but your wife wants to leave you now because “nothing’s changed” you might also be a sexual/emotional anorexic.
- The Sex Addict with Mood Disorders: Some sex addicts in adolescence or young adulthood have chemical imbalances.This young person finds the sexual release as a way to medicate or alter their chemical imbalance. Exercises in addition to seeing a psychiatrist for possible medication for the mood disorder.
Renew: What does the term “intimacy anorexics” mean?
DW: No matter where we were treating patients, we were seeing the same thing: the sex addict who wouldn’t have sex with their wife. They’d masturbate or have sex with other people, but they wouldn't have sex with their wife. They weren’t passing up sex. They were passing up intimacy. When we found it, we didn’t know what to call it, but people resonated with it. “That’s what I’m living with,” they’d say. “You describe my marriage to a T.” It’s a common problem because addiction is a common problem. Trying to do a relationship without emotional or spiritual development is handicapping.
We determined 29 percent of sex addicts fit into the category of “intimacy anorexia.” Here are the characteristics of intimacy anorexia. Answer these the way your spouse or partner would answer them about you. If you believe that five or more criteria apply to you, then you are probably an intimacy anorexic.
- Withhold love
- Withhold praise or appreciation
- Control by silence/anger
- Criticism causing isolation
- Withholding sex
- Blaming partner for everything
- Staying very busy to avoid partner time
- Control/Shame with money issues
- Unable to share feelings
- Withholding spiritual connection
Intimacy Anorexics have a 12-step program. They have a workbook. They go to support groups. They have a sponsor. They work through the issues of how they got there: sexual abuse, sexual addiction, cross-gender attachment, poor role models with parents, etc. They deal with the causes. They have an intimacy regiment and a sex agreement they do with their spouse. I have seen even the most distressed marriage relationships transformed—like the pair that was once so alienated they had no sexual intimacy for over ten years. Countless others experienced a happily ever after greater than they ever dreamed could happen.
Renew: What’s the key to a healthy relationship?
DW: Honesty. Spirituality. Fun.