Don't Try to Heal Sexual Problems Alone

In my Atlanta counseling practice I regularly help people who are facing the painful consequences that happen when their previously secretive sexual behavior is suddenly brought out into the open. (The other side of this equation is when a person finds out that a spouse or other important person has been holding sexual secrets, often for years or even decades.  While this article is written primarily for the person whose behavior has been discovered, the main concept applies either way.)

Not only does the emotional pain in these situations feel overwhelming but the "two-headed monster" of fear and shame can prevent people from sharing this extremely difficult situation with anyone. The resulting sense of isolation is very unfortunate since it comes at the time when compassion, understanding and support is most needed. While friends and family can be very helpful almost no one can fully understand unless they have gone through the same thing.  Fortunately there are resources available to people who find themselves in such an exceedingly difficult situation .

If you are a person who has lived with deep sexual secrets it is likely that shame has caused you to feel that you could never tell anyone else about it.  You probably feared that if people knew about these behaviors they would never understand, accept or care for you. Maybe with some people this will actually be the case. But I have often seen situations when people who initially react with anger, shock and rejection can eventually grow to accept, support and forgive you. This may not happen either quickly or with everyone, but if you make sufficient changes and amends many people will ultimately respect rather than condemn you. 

Obviously I provide support, counseling and psychotherapy to people who engage in problematic sexual behavior (which I define as sexual behavior that violates a person's commitments, values and/or self-control). As I've written elsewhere, people engage in this kind of behavior for all kinds of reasons, including sex or porn addiction.  Regardless of the causes or labels, it is important to understand their roots, address their negative consequences and learn to live in a way that is no longer marked by secrecy and shame. This is "heavy lifting" and it is rare for this to be accomplished alone. Like many other forms of growth and healing it often "takes a village" to accomplish these goals.

All this is to say clearly and simply: you're not alone in your shame and sorrow. Many other people who have been in similar situations now lead much healthier, happier lives. Often it's not enough to have a single friend or source of support. Even the most caring person you know may not fully understand what you are going through and what it takes to "get to the other side."

This may seem self-serving but the reality is that a counselor or therapist who is specifically trained and sufficiently experienced in helping folks navigate this journey can be immensely beneficial. To borrow from an old phrase, if you don't get help from me, get it from somewhere. I'm not the right person for everyone for a lot of reasons. One purpose of the many blog posts and articles I've written is to provide support, guidance and direction to people who I may not ever meet.

In addition to professional assistance, the best way to combat isolation is to find other people in similar situations. Connecting with others who share a similar history is immensely beneficial.  One form of support that is easily available and doesn't cost anything is to attend a 12-step support group. While not for everyone, I encourage many of my clients to attend a few of these meetings to decide they may be helpful. 

I'm writing all this to emphasize one ultimate point: if you are in pain because of your previously secretive sexual behavior, you're not alone and shouldn't try to address it by yourself. You may have grown up in a family that did not encourage talking about problems. You may have learned the "man code" of going it alone and not sharing feelings. But now is the time to bust out of that prison of isolation and despair. You need and deserve a community of support, and it starts by taking that next step


Bill Herring LCSW, CSAT is an Atlanta counselor and therapist specializing in problematic sexual behaviors such as excessive porn use, chronic infidelity and the many forms of compulsive sex and porn addiction.