What Are The Triggers Of Sexual Addiction Relapse?

A person seeking to manage compulsive sexual behavior must learn how to recognize and effectively respond to to the fact that a variety of "triggers" can set the spiral of an addictive relapse into motion, including:

(1)  Environmental triggers -- It's natural to want to look at someone we find appealing, but gazing at sexually attractive people is risky for a person with a sexual tendency toward obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.  Even when not immediately arousing, this type of behavior is capable of fueling an unhealthy spiral of fantasy, intrigue and objectificationThe danger is not limited to overt staring: even a series of subtle and seemingly innocent glances is sufficient to "drink in" another person's sexual allure.  The cumulative effect of this type of behavior can be very challenging to long-term sexual sobriety.  While some locations have obvious risks (a summer beach, for instance), the opportunity for a visual "hit" can occur at almost any place and time.  Utilizing techniques such as the "3 second rule" can be very useful for rapidly recognizing and discontinuing engagement with potential masturbatory imagery.

(2) Psychological triggers -- Compulsive sexual behavior can be triggered by a wide spectrum of psychological stress factors.    The act of engaging in sexually obsessive rituals is often an unconscious attempt to numb, divert or otherwise manage anger, anxiety, sadness and many other difficult emotional states.  It is therefore important to develop adequate coping skills for effectively dealing with these emotions.  Both professional counseling and 12-step group attendance can be very beneficial in these efforts.

(3) Opportunistic triggers -- Sexually addictive urges often intensify in the absence of accountability to others. Some sexual impulses are fueled simply by the opportunity to engage in them without being discovered.  This is why internet filters can be so very valuable in reducing the opportunity for "getting away" with online pornography and chat.  One of the many benefits of 12-step support groups is their ability to provide a much-needed source of accountability and reduce the risk of extended periods of isolation.  

(4) Cognitive triggers -- Certain trains of thoughts are dangerous for a person susceptible to sexually compulsive behavior.  Daydreaming about past escapades (known as "euphoric recall"), engaging in sexual fantasy, and minimizing the problems that accompany sexual misconduct are just some of the distorted thought patterns can lead to horrendous outcomes.  The fact that these thoughts can be hard to recognize when they are happening makes them doubly dangerous.  This is another important reason for not attempting to address sexual compulsion in isolation from other people.  Counseling and 12-step support groups can help disrupt the many examples of "stinking thinking" which are common to all addictive thought processes.

(5) Biological triggers -- Basic physiological influences can trigger sexual impulses.  Awakening with an erection or simply going for periods of time without sexual release can serve as seemingly compelling reasons to engage in sexual behavior.  The ability to engage in healthy sexual partnering (which is an entire topic by itself) is of great value in channeling biologically driven sexual drives.  Any effort to avoid masturbation or engage in a period of constructive celibacy is more likely to succeed when a person is engaging in healthy self-care.  This is where the acronym "H.A.L.T" can be so useful.  It stands for "hungry, angry, lonely, tired" and warns that basic human needs for sustenance, rest, companionship and emotional balance are crucial to keep from falling into unhealthy behaviors that can result in dire, unintended consequences.

Triggers are an inevitable part of both addiction and the recovery process, and the ability to deal with each of these types is essential to the goal of maintaining lifelong sexual integrity.  A person who truly has this type of sexual disorder is rarely able to accomplish this alone, making the task of learning these skills a developmental process that must occur over time in collaboration with others.  Untold thousands of people will attest that the goal is well worth the effort required to reach it.