It can be difficult for recovering sex addicts to know what a healthy intimate relationship feels like.
Maureen Canning, MA, LMFT is a child abuse survivor, recovered sex addict, and relationship therapist who identifies ten key characteristics of a healthy sexual relationship after sex addiction treatment in her book Lust, Anger, Love: Understanding Sexual Addiction and the Road to Healthy Intimacy.
Sex Provides a Feeling of Well-Being
Young man kissing a woman’s forehead in bed
Feelings of safety, connection, and affirmation occur in a healthy sexual relationship. It may take some time to move away from feelings of danger, disconnection, and shame, but it is worth the patience and perseverance.
Emotional and Physical Sensations Are Felt
In a healthy intimate relationship, both partners are aware of their own emotional vulnerability and physical sensations. These are experienced positively with no need for numbing or “chasing the orgasm.”
Creativity and Passion Are Rediscovered
This is not limited to sexual activity but could be a rediscovery of authentic creative activities, such as playing music, painting or writing. Sex no longer needs to be the only outlet for emotional expression.
You Nurture Yourself in Non-Genital Ways
Healthy sexuality is not the exclusive channel for self-nurturance and is experienced more authentically if you regularly and deliberately experience pleasure in other ways. Find joy in physical and sensual activities like taking a hot bubble bath, enjoying a warm cup of tea, or dancing in the rain.
Suffering and Stress Are Tolerated as a Part of Life
Being able to cope with disappointment, tiredness, and difficulty without resorting to sexual relief is an important part of recovery. Other ways to cope include writing, listening to music, exercising, calling a friend, and doing relaxation exercises.
You Can Be Emotionally Vulnerable
Whereas sex addicts fear betrayal and sexualize their feelings to protect themselves from vulnerability, in a healthy intimate relationship you realize that vulnerability is central to relating honestly with others.
You Develop and Maintain Healthy Boundaries With Others
Sex addicts have difficulty with healthy boundaries, either being too rigid or not recognizing the importance of boundaries in keeping both people in the relationship safe. Developing healthy boundaries allows you to be vulnerable and safe at the same time.
Sexuality Is Well-balanced and Moderate
While sex addicts live in extremes of sexual energy, experiencing either full-on excessive sexual tension or repressed, walled-off sexual feelings, when you develop sexual maturity, you can control an appropriate flow of sexual energy.
You Are Curious and Caring About Other People’s Reactions to You
Instead of taking what people say personally and reacting emotionally, healthy intimacy allows you to try to understand what is going on for them. We all think and act differently, so open communication between you and others is the key to learning to empathize and understand others.
You Learn to Trust Others
In overcoming sexual addiction, you must first focus on trusting yourself and learn to recognize your own truth. Then you can use healthy boundaries to keep yourself safe while trusting others’ truths as you move through the stages of relationships.