Are you in a relationship with a partner who is addicted to sex or porn? Is it okay to say no to sex? While the answer to this question might seem simple, discover the subtleties within this question, and learn what would be loving to yourself with a sex addicted partner.
One of the most common issues I work with in relationships is one partner wanting much more sex than their partner, or the other partner not being interested in having sex.
In my work with individuals and couples, I often hear this complaint. Lawrence asked this question in one of my webinars:
“Would you please address how one deals with the anger, frustration, hurt, etc., which arises when one person in a marriage (in this case my wife) concludes she no longer desires sexual connection due to the combination of menopause, childhood abuse issues, pressure of life, etc., and she makes it clear she is not interested in changing the infrequency of sex–she just not interested in it. End of the discussion…period.”
What I said to Lawrence is:
“I understand what a challenging situation this is for you. Under your anger, hurt and frustration, you are likely feeling some heartbreak, loneliness, and helplessness over your wife. These are very hard feelings to feel. The first thing I suggest is that you open your heart to kindness and compassion for your own painful feelings. It’s very important for you to feel these difficult feelings with caring toward yourself, so you can let them move through you.
“However, while menopause, childhood abuse issues, and the pressures of life can certainly contribute to your wife not wanting sex, there are likely other issues regarding your relationship that are the actual causes of her not wanting sex. Generally, when partners are able to share love and intimacy emotionally, this extends to the sexual relationship. So I suggest you look at what is going on between you and your wife that is causing her to no longer want sex with you.
“You might want to start with looking at your own anger, frustration, and hurt. These feelings indicate that your intent may be to control her rather than truly learn about what is going on between you that is causing the problem. She might be telling you that the problem is menopause, childhood abuse, and the pressures of life because she might be afraid to tell you the real reason – which may be that she feels emotionally disconnected from you. Anger and frustration are the opposite of caring and kindness and indicate that you want control over having sex with her, rather than being open to learning about what she is actually feeling and why.
“Are you making her responsible for your good feelings about yourself? Does she have to have sex with you for you to feel that you are okay? If this is the case, then she might be feeling pulled on to make you feel that you are okay, and this pull, which indicates neediness, emptiness, and using sex addictively, is not a turn on for most women.
“Your question indicates that you are completely focused on yourself and your own needs and not at all interested in what is really going on between you, and that you feel judgmental toward her. She is likely picking up your judgmental energy, and sexual connection doesn’t flow well when there is judgment rather than caring and kindness.
“I suggest you reframe your question. Instead of asking how to deal with your anger, frustration and hurt, ask instead, ‘What can I do to understand what is going on between me and my wife that results in her no longer wanting to have sex with me?’ The answer to this question is for you to move into a true desire to learn rather than to control. By genuinely opening your heart to learning, you open the door to deeper communication with your wife. You might be surprised about what you learn about yourself and about her. Learning about yourselves and each other creates the emotional intimacy that allows sexual energy to flow.”
When someone asks a question like this about not having sex and being angry about it, it’s generally an indication of sexual addiction.
Psychologist David Ley states in his book, “The Myth of Sex Addiction,” that there is no such thing as sex addiction—that the term is just an excuse for bad behavior. I disagree with that position. In my view, the label of ‘addiction’ doesn’t excuse anything. That’s because my definition of addiction is anything we do to avoid taking responsibility for our feelings and the resulting behavior. Since my definition centers around choice, it is not about an illness that is ‘happening’ to you, and therefore cannot be used as an excuse.
In my experience, addictions are a result, not a cause. While they can cause many severe problems and even death, the underlying cause is the avoidance of responsibility for one’s own emotions, and sex addiction is no exception.
Let’s take another example:
Henry and Alicia have been married for 18 years. Alicia grew up in a household where looks and sexual desirability were highly admired. She learned early to attach her worth to whether a man desired her, and to try to fill her emptiness through male attention. Early in their marriage, Alicia attached her worth and happiness to whether or not Henry wanted to have sex with her. She had also learned in her family to get angry and blaming when she didn’t get what she wanted.
Henry grew up in an alcoholic home with two very controlling parents. He not only learned to turn to alcohol to avoid his feelings; he also learned to resist what Alicia wanted by shutting down. This was his way of not being controlled by her.
Both Alicia and Henry were addicted: Alicia was addicted to sex as a way of getting validated, and to anger to get her way. She was unwilling to take responsibility for defining her own worth, bringing herself joy, and learning to fill her own emptiness through her spiritual connection. Henry was addicted to alcohol to numb his feelings, and to withdrawal as his way of having control over not being controlled. Alicia was angry and hurt much of the time over Henry not wanting sex with her, and Henry was angry and hurt much of the time over Alicia wanting to use him sexually to fill her emptiness and validate her worth.
Both Alicia and Henry were addictively avoiding their deeper feelings of loneliness and heartbreak over their childhood and over their marriage with each other. By avoiding their painful feelings with their addictions, they were both abandoning themselves, and then wanting the other person to give them what they were not giving to themselves. By abandoning themselves with their various addictions, they were causing their anger, depression, anxiety, guilt, shame, and emptiness, which then led to more addictive behavior.
Their addictions were not the primary cause of their pain, but the result of their self-abandonment.
Self-abandonment is the underlying cause of sex addiction and other addictions. Alicia and Henry’s addictions are the result of avoiding learning how to fill themselves with love from their spiritual source, so that they are not empty and needy of something external to fill them up and take away their pain.
While the above scenario is about a relationship where the woman is sexually addicted, it is far more common for the sex addict to be a man. I chose the example of the woman being the sex addict to show that both sexes can suffer from this addiction.
Addictions are not an excuse for bad behavior. Rather, addictions indicate a lack of courage to face painful feelings head on—to learn from them with love and compassion rather than avoid them with various addictions.
Sex addiction and specifically pornography addiction has become rampant in our society. One reason is the availability of pornography on the Internet, but, as I’ve said, there is a much deeper reason for addiction in general, which is self-abandonment rather than self-love.
Janet asked me the following question:
“My husband probably is a sex addict. He uses pornography and has seen prostitutes. He has only admitted a small amount of his acting out that has occurred in our marriage. I believe he is a good person with a terrible addiction, and I don’t believe either of us can heal until the entire truth is revealed and we work together as a team against this addiction. How can I become a safe place where he can confide in me? I know he is very frightened of losing me, our marriage, our family.”
I honor Janet for caring about her husband and wanting to become a safe place where he can confide in her, but her assumption that he will heal when the truth is revealed and they work together as a team against the addiction might not be accurate.
In order for her husband to heal, he first needs to want to heal. Even if he reveals everything to Janet, unless he clearly wants to heal, healing isn’t going to occur.
If he wants to heal, then he needs to learn to love himself rather than continue to abandon himself. Since all addictions result from avoiding pain, her husband would need to have the courage to face his pain rather than continue to avoid it with porn and prostitutes.
He would also likely need to join SAA – Sex Addicts Anonymous, to receive the support he would need to go into abstinence. But becoming abstinent isn’t enough. If he keeps abandoning himself, he will continue to create the inner emptiness that leads to addictive behavior.
What Janet needs to do if she wants to stay in the marriage is to learn to love herself within the marriage.
The first thing that Janet can do is ask her husband if he will come to counseling with her. They both need the safety of a compassionate third person to help them deal with the issue.
If he won’t go to counseling with her and if he doesn’t want to heal his addiction in his own counseling, then Janet needs to decide whether she is willing to stay in the marriage. In order to stay in it, she needs to fully accept that he might not ever do the work he needs to do to heal the sex addiction. She also needs to accept that she might never find out the whole truth about his addiction. Addicts lie from shame, and there is likely no way she can make him feel safe enough to tell her the truth. He would need to address his shame and many other issues in order to be able to be honest with her.
Also, in order to stay, Janet needs to fully accept her helplessness over him. In her question, she wants to believe that she has some control over him, but in reality, she doesn’t. She isn’t the cause of his addiction, nor is she the cause of his shame.
Janet might want to join COSA – Codependents of Sex Addicts – to receive support for herself regarding her husband’s addiction.
If her husband won’t join her in healing or open to doing his own healing work, and if Janet cannot fully accept his addiction, then she likely needs to leave the marriage. In situations like this, we generally have only two choices available: to fully accept or to leave. The choice she doesn’t have is to have any control over getting him to be honest with her or to want to do his healing work.
Janet would need to be honest with herself regarding what would be loving to herself – to stay and accept, or to leave. There is no right answer to this. Only she can decide what is loving to her and in her highest good. If she decided to stay, she would need to work on not taking her husband’s sex addiction personally.
One of the questions I often receive from women is whether it’s okay to say no to have sex.
Adele wrote this question to me on one of my webinars:
“If I don’t want sex with my husband, is that a form of control from me? Therefore, should I have sex even though it brings up painful feelings? Should I just feel the feelings? They only come up at that time.”
In this situation, it is important to identify the intent in not wanting sex, or in going ahead and having sex. It doesn’t sound like Adele is trying to control her husband by not having sex, but it does sound like she is trying to control her own feelings. If Adele’s intent were to learn, she would be willing to allow the feelings to come up, and then be willing to stop and explore the feelings at the time. Since they only come up during sex, this might involve communication with her husband, letting him know that she is having painful feelings and needs to stop and explore them.
If Adele has sex with him and just feels the painful feelings without learning, then she is giving herself up to him, which is a form of control. If she is too afraid of her husband’s reaction that she does not stop to explore and learn from her painful feelings – which may indicate that he is sexually addicted – then she is trying to control through her compliance how her husband feels about her.
There is much to learn here.
If the painful feelings are physical, then she needs to see a doctor and get checked out.
If the painful feelings are caused by vaginismus, which is a spasm of the vaginal muscles making penetration very painful or impossible, she may need therapeutic help. Perhaps there is sexual abuse in her background that she needs to heal. Perhaps there are current problems in the relationship that need attending to. If her partner is coming from neediness and a resulting sexual addiction, she might feel responsible for her him, and feel that she needs to give herself up to please him. If her partner is not empathetic toward her pain, then her partner likely has some narcissism and Adele needs to come to terms with this. Most important, she needs to move into compassion for her own painful feelings and learn from them. Avoiding them – either by not having sex or by giving herself up and having sex without dealing with the feelings – is self-abandonment.
Many women, often after having their children, experience vaginismus when their husbands are coming from the neediness and emptiness that indicate sexual addiction and self-abandonment. It’s like the bodies of these women are saying no because they don’t feel they have the right to say no when they are feeling used rather than loved. The vaginismus may indicate that they are also abandoning themselves.
The very fact that Adele is asking this question indicates self-abandonment.
If she wanted responsibility for her feelings, she would never just have sex and endure the pain. Nor would she deprive herself and her husband of a loving sexual relationship by avoiding the problem. It sounds like she is judging herself for not wanting sex and for possibly trying to control, rather than opening to learning about the problem.
If it turns out that there are problems in the relationship that are leading to the painful feelings, then Adele would need to have the courage to address the problems with her husband. Her question indicates that she and her husband do not have an open arena in which to explore this issue – or perhaps any issue. If that is the case, this itself is likely the problem. Adele needs to feel safe in the sexual situation; a lack of an open arena in which to explore, learn and grow with each other creates an unsafe relationship environment.
Obviously, the answer to the question of whether or not it’s okay to say no to sex is not an easy one.
In order to move forward with this issue, Adele needs to open to learning from her feelings rather than continue to avoid them. It is likely that her intent to avoid responsibility for her feelings led to the question in the first place. Sometimes intent can be subtle!
Is it okay to say no to sex? I don’t look at it as okay or not okay. I look at it in terms of intent – either to avoid pain with some form of controlling or avoidant behavior, or to learn about what is loving to oneself and take loving action in one’s own behalf.
When both partners are loving themselves and sharing their love with each other, love flows between them and their sexuality is a natural outcome of their loving, intimate connection. Addictions, including sexual addiction, indicates self-abandonment and will always disrupt the intimacy and connection between partners. If you are with a sexually addicted partner, I encourage you to do your own inner work to learn to love yourself, and then see whether staying in your relationship or leaving is most loving to you. And also say no to sex if that is what’s loving to you.
We offer many ways to learn to love yourself and heal relationships issues.
You can learn much about healing your relationship, including sexual addiction, with my 30-Day online video relationship course: Wildly, Deeply, Joyously in Love.
You can take my 30-Day course, “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.”
You can learn from our very in-depth online program, SelfQuest, at https://selfquest.com.
For an in-depth and inexpensive way of learning Inner Bonding, see my book: “The Inner Bonding Workbook: Six Steps to Healing Yourself and Connecting With Your Divine Guidance.”
Also helpful is my book, Diet for Divine Connection: Beyond Junk Foods and Junk Thoughts to At-Will Spiritual Connection
And, of course, we have much to offer you at our website at https:www.innerbonding.com.
I’m sending you my love and my blessings.