Recovering sex addicts struggle to know what healthy sexuality feels like: Here are 6 characteristics of a healthy sexual relationship

  • Sex addiction is characterized by the obsessive need to engage in sexual activity; symptoms include preoccupation with sex and an inability to control sexual behavior.
  • Fortunately, sex addicts can recover from their addiction and develop a healthy sexuality, of which involves developing sexual self-control and self-awareness.
  • Once the individual learns this self-control, they can then focus on building a healthy sexual relationship with somebody again.
  • One important key to a healthy sexual relationship is consent: this is a clear and willing agreement to engage in sexual activity together.
  • A couple other important characteristics of a healthy sexual relationship are safety and satisfaction: practice safe sex and make sure all parties are satisfied.
  • Also, communicate; listen to your partner’s needs and communicate about your own to supplement a healthy sexual relationship.
  • Finally, respect and compromise are also characteristic of a healthy sexual relationship; respect each other’s boundaries and compromise on an interaction that meets all parties’ needs.

Sex addiction is characterized by a compulsive need to engage in sexual acts. Symptoms include obsessive sexual thoughts, preoccupation with having sex—even when it interferes with day to day responsibilities—and an inability to control their sexual behavior.

Fortunately, over time, sex addicts can recover and heal from their addiction. This involves admitting there is a problem, addressing underlying causes of the sex addiction, and understanding what healthy sexuality feels like. Let’s first discuss the importance of regaining self-control as part of the recovery process and then delve into the essentials of a healthy sexual relationship.

Develop Self-Control to Supplement Sex Addiction Recovery

Angela Watson is a clinical social worker and sex therapist. She frequently works with clients who struggle with sex addiction and helps them overcome hurdles like working through their addiction when a significant other is in the picture. According to Watson, “dealing with a sex addiction while in an intimate relationship can make getting to the root of the problem easier (if you have a supportive partner),” but it can also make other things more difficult. Still, you can do it if you follow the right steps. Watson delves into the importance of developing self-control and self-awareness, in terms of your sexual being:

“It’s important to recognize that just like drugs and alcohol, sex addiction is just that, an addiction… The first step is abstinence and the ability to develop control of one’s sexual urges. I always try to explain to my clients that of all addictions, sex addiction is likely the most common. It’s not something to be ashamed of and there is a very simple biological reason for it: procreation. Biologically, it’s really the only job we have as humans.

One of the main components of kicking the addiction is to establish self-control. I always advise my clients to go through a period of anywhere from 3-5 days (or longer if possible) where they abstain from all sexual contact. During this period, it is important to be cognizant and aware of your urges and triggers and write them down when they occur. Understanding when/why you are getting sexual urges is a very powerful exercise. By doing this, one becomes more self-aware of what gives their addiction its power.”

Once you’ve developed self-control, you can then focus on developing healthy sexual relationships—with yourself and your significant other, as explained by Watson: “After going through a period of abstinence, provided it was successful, the next step is to begin building a healthy sexual relationship with yourself and your partner. This is accomplished both through communication, setting boundaries, and most importantly, staying true to the boundaries that you set.”

Build a Healthy Sexual Relationship: 6 Keys

A healthy sexual relationship is one that supports overall health and wellbeing. We all need to put effort into developing a healthy sexual relationship with those we are intimate with to fulfill ourselves mentally, emotionally, and physically. 

Daniel Sher is a registered clinical psychologist and consultant for the Between Us Clinic, which provides online sex-therapy programs to couples. According to Sher, a healthy sexual relationship has 6 essential characteristics and an additional factor is important, too: “A healthy sexual relationship is one which is characterized by consent, safety, satisfaction, communication, and respect. Often, a healthy sexual relationship also involves compromise. This is to be expected, given that a relationship involves two people with (often) differing sexual needs.” Here’s a brief look at what’s involved with each of these features of a healthy sexual relationship:

1. Consent

The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) defines consent as an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent is all about communication. Here are a few examples of what communicating about consent looks like:

  • Explicitly agreeing by saying “yes” or using another affirmative statement
  • Communicating every step of your interaction: “Is this okay?”
  • Understanding that not saying “no” doesn’t mean “yes”

2. Safety

Safe sex means protecting your health and your partner’s health. Make sure to take the necessary steps to prevent transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancy.

3. Satisfaction

A healthy sex life can work wonders: it can lower blood pressure, reduce stress, alleviate pain, and more. It is also physically, mentally, and emotionally satisfying. Keep in mind, though, that it’s important both you and your partner are enjoying it.

4. Communication

Communication is another key to a healthy sexual relationship. Every step before this requires communication: consenting, practicing safe sex, and ensuring that both you and your partner are being satisfied. “Establishing a healthy sexual relationship involves communicating clearly so that each partner recognizes and understands the other’s needs,” Sher explains.

5. Respect

Healthy sex also involves respect. Both partners should be able to express their feelings and respect each other’s boundaries. For example, maybe you’re comfortable with kissing, but you don’t want to go any farther. A partner would demonstrate respect by honoring your feelings and limits.

6. Compromise

Sher’s last key to a healthy sexual relationship is compromise. Two individuals must “decide on a sexual relationship that meets each person’s needs without compromising the other’s wellbeing.” 

These keys can help you develop a healthy sexual relationship with your significant other or simply an intimate partner. In either regard, remember that consent, safety, satisfaction, communication, respect, and compromise matter.

Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett is a staff writer at Thriveworks. She devotes herself to distributing important information about mental health and wellbeing, writing mental health news and self-improvement tips daily. Taylor received her bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism, with minors in professional writing and leadership from Virginia Tech. She is a co-author of Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book and has published content on Thought Catalog, Odyssey, and The Traveling Parent.