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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Reforming a Sex Addict?

This week's character assessment comes from fellow 2010 Genesis Finalist Rebecca Lynn. She's writing a contemporary romance about Kathy*, a 29-year-old heroine who's something of a sex addict. Kathy tells people she's a Christian, but she's been sexually active for many years. She feels very guilty about her exploits, but that doesn't stop her from picking up guy after guy. She'll chose guys hoping to be together, but once they've had sex, she either continues to use them or bail out/dumps them when they want to be more serious. Then she meets hero Donny*. Donny's not on her radar at first because he's arrogant, on a power trip, and quite a bit older than her. He's had a horrible divorce where he lost his son and is no longer able to see him, and he's decided he'll never be in another relationship. They work together in close proximity for a year and fight a lot, and just as his walls start to come down to allow for an attraction to Kathy, her sexually exploitative past comes up.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Rebecca wants to know: Is it even realistic to expect that Donny, whose wife cheated on him, would be willing to accept the past of someone who has sexually exploited men (even without Kathy knowing she's done this)?

There is no rule book for the rules of attraction. While our sensibilities would say Donny wouldn't fall for someone so like his ex, how many women do you know who get into relationship after relationship with "bad boys" who all treat them terribly? None of these women get out of an awful relationship thinking they want to do that again. 

So I think the immediate answer to your question is that it's possible, but it would be more realistic if he didn't know on the front end, either by willful denial of Kathy's actions or blissful ignorance. That would be the key. No sensible, conscientious person would fall in love with someone like Kathy if he knew her full, sordid history. But if he were oblivious, attraction could take root before the apprehension of being used or abused would.

I think you're actually asking if Donny could still love Kathy if he found this out about her. Since I don't really know much of Donny's history other than a painful divorce, I can't really answer this. But I can give you some questions to ask Donny that might help.

1) How does having Kathy in his life bring about positive change?
2) Can he imagine a life without her? Is that life better or worse?
3) A year is a long time to have a relationship with someone, even if it's not romantic. How does this information about Kathy's past gel with what he already knows about her? How does it feel in his gut?

Rebecca also wants to know: Is it psychologically plausible for someone with Kathy's sexual addiction to find fulfillment in a monogamous relationship, or will she need extensive therapy in addition to finding someone who accepts that part of her and loves her as a whole person?

Sexual addiction isn't officially recognized as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (4th edition, text revision). It's also not up for inclusion in the 5th edition. But there are a lot of sexual disorders, usually involving some unusual fetish or urge, but there is a diagnosis of Sexual Disorders Not Otherwise Specified, and that's where Kathy might fit in. Within this disorder, you'd find someone who experiences "distress about a pattern of repeated sexual relationships involving a succession of lovers who are experienced by the individual only as things to be used." Symptoms generally focus more on a compulsive sexual behavior, like fixating on an unattainable target or compulsively searching for more partners.

Really, Kathy isn't as bad as I've known some people with true sexual addictions to act. When a person has multiple anonymous partners, masturbates constantly, is into porn/fetishes/strip clubs/adult stores, and unsafe sexual practices/prostitution, this is more the idea sexual addiction conveys. These exploits take up a tremendous amount of the person's time and energy.

Kathy's symptoms fall more into having repeated/sequential affairs and possibly objectifying men. She's had a large amount of shallow, short-lived affairs, and likely has viewed men as only objects to see to her needs, whether that's physical (sexual) or emotional (need for security, acceptance, etc) as well. Basically, she's been a little slutty. If I had Kathy in my office, I'd want to ask her tons of questions, because increased sexual desire (also called hypersexuality) is a symptom of bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, impulse control disorder, cyclothymic disorder, adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct and PTSD.

With that in mind, her chances of finding a monogamous relationship increase exponentially. Many sexual addicts join 12-step programs, much like an alcoholic or drug addict or gambler. There are communities out there for sexual addicts, even the website Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health, dedicated to the world of sexual addicts (even though it's not even clinically agreed upon what, exactly, that means!). Antidepressants are also commonly prescribed to help treat this.

In conjunction with therapy, her chances are fairly high at maintaining a normal, one-man kind of life. Therapy would help her find the deep wounds from her childhood that have driven her to her sexual behaviors. You wrote that you had read a book, Soul Wounds, that made you wonder if Donny and Kathy could actually make it. I'd just caution you not to take everything in a book like this to heart. I've not read it, but lots of therapists/psychologists come up with these great concepts for books that make a lot of sense, but it's never a hard-and-fast rule for life.

What I like about your premise is the seeming impossibility of Donny and Kathy's match. You'd have the reader rooting for this from page 1. Yes, Kathy needs to work through why she's felt compelled to use 'em and lose 'em. Donny needs to work through the trauma of his divorce and the pain that's caused. But I'm a firm believer in God taking two broken people and making a whole that just fits together perfect.

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to charactertherapist (at) hotmail (dot) com.

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Rebecca Lynn said...

It's really interesting to me that sex addiction is not in the DSM-IV. I think that Kathy probably evinces other signs of sex addiction, but there's no way I can talk about that in a Christian book. I'm not even sure I can really handle her sexual addiction with any realness. I do think that her addiction goes deeper than objectifying men, just given the work I've done with her so far, but it's possible that I might have to modify that. Because I really do need for her and Donny to have their HeA, and have it be believable. :-)

The questions you gave me will be great. I can see how thinking along those lines will be really helpful.

And the more work I do with Donny's character, the more convinced I am that he really is the perfect match for her brokenness. He's a very stable and calm man, but deeply passionate. And even though he thinks he has had his one great love, he has no idea what it will be like to have his love returned to him--something his first wife never did.

Anyway, thanks for putting Kathy and Donny on the couch! And thanks for the Genesis shout-out. Have a great time at ACFW Nationals! :-)

Steena Holmes said...

Kathy gives me shivers. Rebecca, what a tough subject within a Christian book. I don't have much to offer in terms of advice- Jeannie is awesome on that front - but I'm wondering how much of Donny's struggle you'll dwell on? You have two fantastic stories to weave in here and I think you can do it. There's a way to show Kathy's despair, her need and how she begins to heal within. You'll do it ;) Donny fascinates me as well. Especially after you've said he's the perfect match for her. Will he also feel the betrayal?
I can't wait to read it!

Renee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Renee said...

Jeannie, this is awesome! I love it!!!

Rebecca, I firmly believe what Jeannie wrote "But I'm a firm believer in God taking two broken people and making a whole that just fits together perfect."

I can't wait to read this story!

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

thanks for that affirmation, renee. hope to see you back here more often.

and steena - thanks, girl.

Jessica Nelson said...

I didn't think she sounded like a sex addict myself. Promiscuous, but is that an addiction? Either way, I love your last line of this post!

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

thanks jessica. i would think promiscuity is just a compulsive behavior, not an addiction, but anything taken to an extreme can result in addiction, i guess.

rebecca - good luck with this story. it's got a lot of people rooting for it. :) thanks for writing in.

Anonymous said...

In a fantasy world, this ill fated relationship might work. Reality is much more grim. As a bitter, arrogant person, Donny will most likely use someone like Kathy to project all his hate of women and life in general upon. He would likely become verbally and emotionally abusive with Kathy and use her past against her in his manipulative powerplays. Kathy will accept that hate because she feels guilt and shame about her own behavior. She will either be destroyed by the relationship as he becomes more and more controlling, or she will engage in her own passive-aggressive escapism via continued secret sexual exploits, especially since she knows they are a perfect way to hurt him back yet still remain under his radar. And, she will feel worse and worse about herself yet justified because he is so hateful. This is just a recipe for a typical murder-suicide by the abuser.

Two dysfunctional, self loathing people do not make healthy relationships unless they both agree to go into long term counseling to address the pain that got them to that place. They need a solid work on their heavy baggage, and then, maybe, they might see each other as worth loving. Love does not heal all, not without knowledge and a will to heal, especially when people don't really love themselves.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

wow, anonymous, sounds like you might have some first hand experience with this. everything you wrote is SO REAL. I'm seeing a couple right now that won't address the long-term dysfunction....they sweep it under the rug with various vices. so sad. thanks for stopping over!


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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.