I'm worried my sex life is out of control

Is my sex life out of control?

Sex is an important, natural and perfectly healthy part of life.  During sex, powerful endorphins are released and that’s one of the reasons it feels so good.  However, just like most things that make us feel good, sex can cross the line and be used in an unhealthy way.  

Sex is natural

Sex can sometimes be moralized in our culture, especially for those of us in the LGBTQ+ community.  The purpose of this article is not to make you feel bad for whatever your sexual desires or kinks may be.  All kinds of different sex can be healthy, as long as it involves consenting adults. What I’m talking about here is when sex has crossed the line and no longer feels enjoyable or satisfying.  

Out of control sexual behavior

Out of control sexual behavior is any sexual thoughts, actions or compulsions that are difficult to control and cause suffering and pain in a person’s life.

Let me tell you a story that can help explain out of control sexual behavior.  Meet Bob. He’s a 30 something gay man in a big city. He has a big job that’s very stressful.  He’s single, but he uses the apps to meet guys for anonymous sex. The more stressed out he gets at work, the more he uses the apps.  He tries to delete them for awhile, but he always reinstalls them. He finds more and more of his free time is getting sucked up by compulsively scanning for anonymous sex.  After he gets off, he typically feels shame and remorse for having wasted so much time online. He also feels lonely and depressed because he’s not able to find a long term boyfriend.  

Sound familiar? That’s a small taste of what out of control sexual behavior can look like in practice.

Do I have a sex addiction?

Personally, I’m wary of the term sex addiction for those of us in the LGBTQ+ community.  For most of us, we’ve been made to believe that perfectly natural sex is shameful or wrong at one point or another.  Sex addiction and 12-step programs like Sex Addicts Anonymous use language that can feel very shaming at times. While 12-Step programs can be life saving with other addictions, I believe sex addiction is an outlier there.  That’s why I use the term out of control sexual behavior instead of sex addiction. I promote using a harm reduction approach to dealing with out of control sexual behavior and I’ll explain more about that later.

Examples of out of control sexual behavior

Below are some of the ways that out of control sexual behavior can show up in your life.  

  • Sexually acting out in a mutually agreed upon monogamous relationship
  • Lying or covering up sexual activity
  • Excessive porn use that is causing distress
  • Using hook-up apps and feeling bad or guilty afterward
  • Having risky sexual encounters
  • Using drugs and sex in a way that feels dissatisfying

There is no one size fits all definition for what makes something out of control sexual behavior.  What may feel out of control for one person may be perfectly natural for someone else. Sexuality is unique, important, vital and deserves to be celebrated. However, if it’s taking control of your life in a way that feels bad, you can make some changes and find relief.  

I want to change my relationship with sex but I’m not sure how 

When starting to think about changing something, whether it be substance use or out of control sexual behavior I like to start with a harm reduction approach.  What does harm reduction mean? Harm reduction encourages you to look at the negative consequences of a behavior and then work on minimizing the harm. 

What is the harm?  

Think about your sex life for a moment.   What is causing you distress? It could be the amount of time and energy you’re spending looking for sex.  Or the bad feelings that come after a sexual encounter. It could be the number of STIs that you’ve gotten over the past few months.  

When you can clearly identify the pain points, you can work on finding ways to minimize the harm.  

But how do I change my sex life?

Once you’ve identified the things that are causing you pain you can begin the trial and error process of finding solutions.   And it will take some trial and error. For example, if the worst part for you is the bad feelings after sex, you can do some self exploration into those bad feelings or find a therapist to help you explore them further.  

Perhaps you’re dealing with some unaddressed internalized homophobia.  Or maybe you haven’t had the opportunity to imagine what a healthy relationship with sex could be like.  Once you identify the pain point, you can work on finding solutions.

Bottom line

No pun intended… but the bottom line is that sex should feel good.  If it’s not feeling good, find some support so that you can make the changes you need to make in order to have a healthy relationship with you own unique sexuality.  

Tom Bruett

Tom Bruett

Tom Bruett, LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist with an office in San Francisco, CA. Tom feels passionately about helping people have better relationships. The purpose of this blog is not to provide advice or to take the place of working with a mental health professional. For more information please visit the homepage.