He cheated on me …… with scores of women.” 
“She’s addicted to porn.” “I see it progressing and I’m afraid.” 

“He keeps telling me painful information and I can’t handle it but get out either.” “Her therapist says she’s working on it, but how do I know?” “There were signs all along but I didn’t want to see them. I couldn’t believe I wasn’t enough.”

Sexual co-addiction devastates the partners, parents, and children of sex addicts. Patrick Carnes’ 2001 book, Out of the Shadows, did much to increase understanding of compulsive sexual behaviors as addictive. In 2011, the movie Shame shed some light on the lot of sex addicts, as did this year’s Thanks for Sharing.

Information for the partners, relatives, and friends of sex addicts is harder to find. The Twelve Step fellowships that offer a recovery program for people affected by another person’s compulsive sexual behavior seem to be one of the country’s best kept secrets.
That’s not because sexual co-addicts and codependents aren’t out there, and it’s not because they aren’t in need of help. We saw a hint of what happens when spouses cheat when Elin Nordegren allegedly chased Tiger Woods with a golf club. When she divorced the problem, many of us assumed she was going to be fine.

People who are affected by someone else’s sexual addiction know better. Depression, obsession, rage, shame, isolation, and misery haunt codependents of sex addicts. They question their value, their attractiveness, and their intelligence. They act out with their partners to appease or control them, and they fail. They suffer from sexually transmitted diseases. They lose their jobs, self-respect, and sanity. Even after divorce or estrangement, the difficulties continue. Many people leave a sexually addicted partner only to find another, and in some cases, another, and another. Even if the next person is not an addict, the shame and fear still make it impossible to have a healthy relationship next time around.

It’s hard to find resources because no one talks about it. It’s a problem that elicits shame for the thousands of people who struggle with someone else’s sex addiction. They often come into recovery believing  the sex addict in their lives wouldn’t cheat, or rack up bills at strip clubs, or break the law if only they were smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough, whatever enough.
Sometimes a sexual codependent is the partner of a family doctor, pastor, or politician, and their fear about exposure of sex addict prevents any disclosure or recovery. They remain locked in silence.
Therapists, social workers, doctors, and clergy of people affected by someone else’s sex addiction sometimes don’t know how to help even if that person is brave enough to speak out.

Recovery from sexual codependency has been possible for many through a Twelve Step fellowship called COSA, which has supported people for 30 years.  Many newcomers find immediate relief from the awful isolation by meeting others who are facing the same problems. Often for the first time, new members get to talk to someone who understands. Many come having found it was not safe to talk to family or friends who have told them anything from “Leave the bum” to “You made your bed- lie in it.”

Everyone in COSA has a story. They come from comfortable homes, or they live in poverty. They are men or women, straight or GLBTQ,  all races  and religions. The sex addict in their life may be addicted to porn, be involved in multiple affairs, or darker behaviors. The sex addict might be their parent, partner, child, boss, employee, patient, client, or friend. Some members are sexual abuse survivors or rape victims who have no sex addiction in their family. Many sex addicts are COSAs themselves who may have been affected by someone else’s sex addiction long before their own acting out began. Anyone with significant contact with a sex addict is affected, because addiction is the only disease that so deeply affects people who don’t even have it.

All these people come into COSA and they listen to the similarities because they need the help of the people who have come in lost and broken like they are, and they see hope and help.
Members say they learn in meetings that someone else’s addiction is not about them. They can learn to trust themselves. Some leave the sex addict, and some find recovery with the sex addict.
COSA has seven meetings in Arizona, in the Phoenix and Tucson areas. The COSA Annual Convention will be held in Los Angeles from May 23 through May 26. The Convention will include meetings, workshops, and speakers.

For COSA meetings in Arizona, see http://www.cosa-recovery.org/states/Arizona.html.  All meetings are open only to those whose lives have been affected by another person’s sexual behavior.

Claudia M