Sexual Boundaries and the Female Sex Addict

Posted on August 16th, 2015
Posted in News

A woman who originally sought treatment for alcoholism learns she may also be a sex addict.

Kendall sits at the bar of a downtown hotel in a city far from home. She sips a drink in honor of another far off city, and stares blankly past the bartender in his uncomfortable tuxedo. She has just helped land an important account and is still feeling the crinkle of anxiety and excitement, but she has no one to tell. An hour passes before a man she doesn’t know sits down. He’s 20 years her senior and married, but when he brushes her arm or leans into her ear, she ignores the sensation of impending regret. She wants to feel noticed, or maybe liked, or maybe nothing. She follows him up to his room.

The daylight is barely dawning as Kendall stumbles past a cleaning crew and toward the elevators; it is by no means the first time she has promised herself “not again.” In less than a month, her boss’ boss will sit down on her desk and make an off-color joke. Only the two of them will hear it. Kendall will throw her head back and laugh throatily, yet inside, she’ll feel just a little bit smaller. Within a year, this man will promote her into an important position, and the subtle innuendos and outright passes will become more frequent. She’ll find herself wearing provocative clothing in one-on-one meetings off-site, even though she finds the man vaguely repellant. She will have an affair with him. In her head, Kendall will think, Why am I doing this? and I’ll lose too much if I try to stop. Sometimes when she’s feeling lonely or undesirable she will seek this man out on her own, but soon enough, she’ll find that he has given her a poor evaluation. Rumors will circulate about her in the office. To soothe her anxiety, she’ll head out clubbing. She’ll drink too much and go home with stranger after stranger.

Skip ahead.

The day Kendall walks into treatment, she is 44 years old. She has been married and divorced three times. She is childless and estranged from her only living parent. She’d originally sought recovery for alcohol addiction, but through literature she read as a result of getting sober in AA, she discovered she also has sex addiction. This is not uncommon for both men and women—they learn they have a problem with sex addiction after seeking treatment for a different kind of impulse control, usually alcoholism, substance abuse or eating disorders.

Signs of a Sexual Boundary Violation

In her book, “Women, Sex and Addiction: A Search for Love and Power,” Charlotte Davis Kasl, Ph.D. writes: “The internal signal that someone is violating a boundary is a rush of anger.” Other signs are sadness or confusion. And if you don’t feel good about someone’s touch, you might be dealing with a boundary violation.

U.S. and Canadian women are brought up in a culture that teaches them that qualities like being nice, pleasing others and being attractive (and sexy) are more important than being smart, being tough or getting ahead—traits highly valued in men and assigned to masculinity. Because women are taught to please others, especially men, and because they find themselves most often in positions subordinate to men, it is very easy for the lines of acceptable behavior to become blurred when it comes to sexual appropriateness. Sexual innuendo, sexual humor, sexual favors and sexual consent are all areas that, historically, have been problematic between men and women. Sexual consent is achieved when someone agrees to sex, not merely because of the lack of “no.”

Learning to Say ‘No’

Female sex addicts often have a history of abuse, which may be one cause of hypersexuality later in life. Child sexual abuse victims and any child who is insecurely or anxiously attached to her caregivers may develop poor personal boundaries, sexual and otherwise. It’s critical to teach children the importance of saying “no” to unwanted touch, to teach them healthy and age-appropriate sexuality, as well as the importance of sexual privacy. When all or part of this trifecta is avoided or overlooked, sexual boundaries may not be learned, and subsequently, sexual boundary violations may be more likely to occur.

Through treatment and recovery of sex addiction, women learn to place “no” into their vocabularies, often for the first time. Sex addicts, especially women, frequently mistake the intensity of sex for emotional connection. Women who are sex addicts often use sex for power, for validation and in order to numb themselves to emotional pain. Recovery teaches women how to move through difficult emotions without reaching for sex to check out or get high. Recovery is possible when you learn to practice healthy boundaries—unafraid to examine your emotional needs and cues, and able to speak your truth.

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