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How CBT Can Help with Sex Addiction

Kathy Kinghorn

September 28, 2022


  • Sex addiction affects 3–6% of individuals in the United States, leading to behaviors that create problems at work, home, school, and elsewhere.
  • CBT is a popular form of individual therapy that may help people with sex addiction by giving them tools to reframe their thoughts and ultimately change their actions.
  • Numerous studies point to CBT’s effectiveness in helping people overcome addiction issues. Other forms of therapy that may be useful include DBT and specific types of group therapy.
  • Therapy Utah offers a unique approach to group therapy specifically for helping people overcome sex addiction issues called the LIFT Program.
Therapist and client sitting in chairs and talking
Via Pexels.

We often think about addiction in the context of substance use, most often involving drugs or alcohol. However, many people struggle with other addictions in their lifetime as well. For example, sexual behavior is a natural part of the human experience, but for some the experience can become addicting, negatively impacting their lives and the lives of those around them.

Sex addiction is said to affect 3–6% of the population in the United States. It can manifest in numerous different behaviors, including compulsively soliciting or engaging in:

  • Pornography
  • Prostitution
  • Sexual pursuits
  • Voyeurism (gaining sexual pleasure from observing others who are naked or engaging in sexual activity without their consent)

Overcoming sex addiction is no easy feat, but with the right resources and therapeutic options, people suffering from this addiction can gain skills and knowledge to help manage and control their urges or triggers. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a popular type of individual therapy for helping people who struggle with sex addiction.

Below, we’ll go over what CBT is, how it can help individuals struggling with sex addiction, and how it compares to other potential treatment methods.

What is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

CBT is a type of therapy used to improve quality of life by identifying negative patterns of behavior, then readjusting the thoughts behind them to facilitate change. A cognitive-behavioral therapist works with individuals to treat numerous issues, including, but not limited to anxiety, depression, and addiction.

Who Can Perform Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Therapists who offer CBT will have a master’s degree in psychology or another health related field, as well as a PsyD or PhD in clinical or counseling psychology with a relevant focus.

CBT therapists are required to undergo a substantial amount of supervised experience before practicing in their field. A CBT therapist will have extensive training in order to practice and treat their clients with the right knowledge and skills. At Therapy Utah, our experienced therapists use CBT to treat numerous issues, including sex addiction.

How Can CBT Help with Sex Addiction?

A person struggling with sex addiction can benefit from CBT in several important ways. Here’s a breakdown of how:

What CBT for Sex Addiction Involves

CBT therapists often assign homework to their clients, which can include journaling as a form of self-reflection. For someone dealing with sex addiction, this might involve keeping a diary of one’s sexual triggers or behaviors.

A person using CBT to overcome sex addiction might also be asked to fill out worksheets provided by their therapist that encourage them to name and think critically about their related thoughts and behaviors. This “homework” allows an individual experiencing sex addiction to reflect on their personal and environmental triggers, while developing self-awareness that may help keep them from relapsing.

What Does CBT Involve?

CBT can include a variety of homework to have the client reflect on their triggers or behaviors. Identifying the thoughts and actions that lead to sexual impulses can be a key step in recovery.

  • Journaling: a client may be asked to keep a journal of when they are experiencing negative thoughts or feelings. Clients who record daily can begin to notice patterns and connections. Gaining this awareness can lay the foundation for being able to choose thoughts and feelings more freely.
  • Stress reduction exercises: cognitive-behavioral therapists may give their client resources to reduce stressors, which can include mindfulness meditation, guided imagery, and breathing techniques. These exercises help the brain respond to situations rather than react.
  • Mental health exercises: some clients may be asked to perform mental health exercises which can include being in the present, using the wise mind approach, and cognitive reframing. These exercises help to decrease high levels of anxiety, depression, and compulsive disorders.

How Effective is CBT for Sex Addiction?

The results of using CBT to deal with sex addiction will vary according to each individual client. However, numerous studies find CBT as a comprehensive method to be an effective treatment for compulsive sexual behaviors.

By reframing the thinking patterns of clients with sex addiction issues, CBT can provide clients with the affirmations they need to make different decisions, ultimately helping them overcome their addictive behavior.

People sitting in group setting clapping for one person standing
Via Freepik.

Other Treatment Options for Sex Addiction

Below are some other common treatment options a CBT therapist may recommend for clients with an addiction to sexual thoughts or behaviors.


Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) requires the client to complete a set of modules designed to improve their mindfulness, ability to tolerate distress, interpersonal skills, and capacity for regulating difficult emotions.

This method has been shown to help certain people decrease behaviors related to substance abuse. Many of our therapists offer DBT as well as CBT for individual therapy clients.

Group Therapy

Group therapy has been shown to help people with addiction issues of all kinds, including sex addiction. There is evidence to show that group therapy improves the feeling of being connected to a community by 77% for those who attend regularly.

Therapy Utah offers a unique approach to group therapy called the LIFT Program. Our LIFT Program for Sex Addiction combines expert knowledge from some of the field’s leading therapeutic minds with a collective environment that allows people suffering from sex addiction to process their experience with others who understand where they are and what they’ve been through.

Girl sitting on the a hill overlooking mountains and reflecting
Via Unsplash.

Is it Possible to Break Out of Sex Addiction?

People can develop tools and strategies to help put sex addiction behind them. However, many factors are involved. Recovering from addiction is a life-long healing journey that requires commitment and dedication—but with the willingness to change, recovery is possible.

How Long is the Road to Recovery from Sex Addiction?

The length of time it takes someone to overcome sex addiction depends on the individual. Their willingness to change, the effort they put into recovery, the support network they have, the underlying reasons for their addiction, and whether they are seeking therapy can all affect the speed at which recovery is possible. However, with the right approach and resources, it’s often possible to make a meaningful recovery from sex addiction in two to five years.

The Six Stages of Recovery from Sex Addiction

“There is a predictable process of recovery. It has its own stages of development, milestones or progress, and tasks to accomplish.”

– Patrick Carnes, PhD (2012)

After extensive research, Dr. Carnes found that individuals with a sexual addiction went through very distinct, overlapping stages—each serving the goal of long-term change:

  • Developing Stage (up to 2 years): This stage occurs before committing to recovery from sex addiction. At this point, you realize that you are compelled to act out unwanted behaviors. This is when the first desire to change may be felt. Therapy helps in this stage by giving assignments to determine if the behavior is at an addictive level.
  • Crisis or Decision Stage (a few months): This stage is where you either get caught, or you are simply exhausted from the behavior and have decided to look for answers. Therapy helps in this stage by giving direction and hope.
  • Shock Stage (~8 months): Think of a gambling addict adding up their losses after deciding to get help. When they realize it is tens of thousands of dollars, they are in shock. An individual with a sexual addiction in this stage is also looking back over their financial, relational, emotional, and mental losses. They can stay in a state of shock for an average of 8 months. Therapy helps in this stage by giving tools and support to help with the strong emotions that are the result of these realizations.
  • Grief Stage (~1 year): By the time an individual fully steps into the grief stage, they can be a year into recovery. You run a high risk of relapse if the hard work of learning and practicing tools of recovery has not been done. The grief stage involves you exploring the losses caused by your addiction, which could include:
    Missing out on career opportunities
    Losing important relationships
    Breaking the trust of those around you
    It may sound counter-intuitive, but for someone struggling with an addiction who wants to fully step into recovery, they must grieve the loss of their addiction. Therapy, especially group therapy, helps in this stage by giving a safe space for grief, providing tools for self-compassion, and giving skills to manage the heaviness of grief.
  • Repair Stage (18 to 36 months): this is when the addict is fully stepping into recovery, able to look at truly making amends and repairing what has been broken. This repair happens with healing family relations, building back a career, and creating goals that align with healthy living. Therapy helps in this stage by guiding you through finding your true self and becoming your own advocate as you navigate the life you choose.
  • Growth Stage (2 or more years): this is when recovery work really turns into sustained healthy living. Your curiosity about yourself and others is fully present. An openness to learning and growth comes naturally. Connections feel secure, and you easily respond (rather than react) to situations. In this stage, therapy helps by being a safe space you can check in with from time to time. You’ve learned to recognize when you need a “tune-up” session and you readily make the appointment.
Two people holding each other's hands in show of support
Via Pexels.

Taking the First Step Towards Recovery

CBT is a widely used form of therapy for sex addiction and provides the fundamentals in gaining control over addictive tendencies. If you or someone you know is ready to make the first step in breaking out of their sex addiction, contact Therapy Utah to learn more about our treatment options.

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