How Is Healthy Sex Defined?  

(The following section is partially excerpted from Pia Mellody, “Facing Love Addiction”)  

Sex is healthy when partners are aware of and respect each other’s vulnerabilities and limits, which  can differ greatly between people. For this to happen each partner must be willing to be vulnerable  and willing to develop an awareness of and communicate their boundaries and motivations to their  partner. Communication is essential to healthy sex. Healthy sex between partners does not exploit  the other person’s weaknesses and/or past trauma. Before, during and after healthy sex, feelings  are shared and the experience of healthy sex fosters a deepening of the relationship; Spirituality,  self-worth and sexual joy are all enriched as a result of a genuinely shared sexual experience.  

In unhealthy relationships, there are barriers instead of trust and intimacy, where people are often  fearful of self-disclosure. These barriers between partners:  

• Indicates distrust  

• Lowers self-worth  

• Builds defensiveness  

• Increases isolation within the relationship  

• Denies personal responsibility  

• Prevents efforts to work on common problems  

• Intensifies an addictive system  

In healthy relationships, intimacy is possible when people accept the risk of rejection and reveal their  internal struggles. Self-disclosure between partners:  

• Indicates trust  

• Builds self-worth  

• Affirms the other person  

• Increases connectedness within the relationship  

• Takes responsibility for one’s own actions and feelings  

• Shares common problems  

• Interrupts unhealthy behaviors  

A healthy relationship is not based on obsessions and compulsions; it does not thrive on positive and  negative intensity. In healthy relationships, you are able to nurture others in a way that promotes  responsibility for themselves, thereby increasing their self-esteem. When you love yourself, you are  able to nurture yourself, focus on your own emotional and spiritual growth, and take responsibility for  yourself, thereby increasing your own sense of self-esteem. When one partner is asked for acts of  intimacy or support by the other, each person can say yes or no in a healthy way, without either  partner being diminished. The self-esteem of each individual blossoms when nurtured within a  healthy relationship.  

How Do I Distinguish Healthy Sex From Unhealthy Sex?  

Sexual expression can be healthy across a wide range of activities. Distinguishing healthy sex from  unhealthy sex (such as sexual addiction and sexual anorexia) depends more on the person’s  motivation and the consequences of the behavior than on the actual sexual behavior. Similar to  eating disorders, sexual disorders can manifest as both sexual aversion (anorexia) and sexual  addiction (compulsion). At one end of the continuum is sexual anorexia, which is compulsive sexual  disengagement or aversion. This is essentially sexual starvation. At the other end is sexual addiction,  which is compulsive sexual engagement. Both aversion and compulsion are non-relational  manifestations of an intimacy problem, underpinned by a fear of emotional injury and abandonment.  

A sexually anorexic person is terrified of sexual experiences and will go to tremendous lengths to  control, limit or avoid sex altogether. For this person, sex has been targeted as the source of their  pain and is to be tempered in spite of personal and relational costs. The sexual addict, on the other  hand, is charged by sexual experiences and will go to tremendous lengths to engage in sexual  behavior. For this person, sex provides relief from their pain and is to be engaged in regardless of  personal and relational costs. Addictive sexuality and sexual aversion are like most other compulsive  behaviors: a destructive twist on a normal life-enhancing activity. Both behaviors erode self-worth  and lead to sexual despair, although both compulsions were functional in the early stages of their  development. This is because the behavior not only alleviates pain, but also serves to protect the  individual from further hurt and abandonment, which was experienced at an earlier time in their life

As the sexual anorexic and sexual addict recover from their respective compulsive activities, healthy  sexual behavior is introduced through guidelines delineating healthy from unhealthy, with a  designated “gray area” in between, meaning those activities that are either questionable or simply  neutral. By redirecting sexual behavior, the anorexic and addict are challenged to confront their fears  of intimacy, to step outside their comfort zone and experience healthy relational sex. Healthy  relational sex can be a powerful vehicle to personal growth, sharing feelings, increasing self-esteem  and healing from the hurt and abandonment the anorexic and addict experienced earlier in life.

The Sexual Helathy Continuum

Aaron was featured on Going Deep: A Gay Guide to Reality – Mike Gerle’s Podcast on 6/12/20 episode

Healthy Sex with Aaron Ferrante-Alan listen here…