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Sex, Shame, and Suicide

The relationship between suicide and compulsive sexual behaviors.

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

It's not uncommon in the field of compulsive sexual behaviors to hear of people wanting to kill themselves due to the problems associated with their behaviors. The shame of hiding their problem and the fear of either revealing it to their partners or having their partners discover their affairs, use of prostitutes, hook-ups, or other problematic sexual behaviors may leave some feeling that there's no way out.

The general public is often unaware of the link between shameful sexual behaviors and suicide. Dr. Patrick Carnes wrote Out of the Shadows, a book dedicated to helping people understand sex addiction (currently not a DSM diagnosis). According to Carnes, 17% of sex addicts have attempted suicide; 72% have thought about it. “To preserve his integrity, Dr. Jekyll has to kill Mr. Hyde,” he writes.

To put this in perspective, the 17% attempted suicide rate is nearly four times the rate for the general population of 4.6%. And unfortunately, in the instances where the attempt leads to a fatality, the wreckage is multifold. A spouse is both devastated by the sexual betrayal as well as the loss of a partner to suicide. For spouses who may have suspected cheating or other wayward sexual behaviors, there's even guilt and regret that they were suspicious in the first place. In other words, they may blame themselves for their partner's suicide thinking if they could have just kept it a non-issue ("ignorance is bliss"), maybe their loved one would still be alive today.

Furthermore, children are impacted as younger ones may have no idea why a parent died by suicide and question if they were to blame. Older children or adult children who are privy to the information struggle with the incongruent message of now knowing one parent was betraying the other parent.

The betrayal cuts deep. As a specialist in problematic sexual behaviors, I have seen the generational grief as well as the real-life impact of a parents' suicide on a family. Some struggle financially trying to find a means to make enough income to support a family. All struggle relationally to make sense of what happened, leading to feelings of anger, resentment, and deep sorrow knowing their lives will never be the same again. Every facet of life is impacted from birthdays to holidays to the mundane moments of life, knowing they no longer have this person to share it with.

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

If you're someone struggling with thoughts of suicide due to your sexual behaviors; whether it's compulsively watching pornography, risking arrest to hire prostitutes, or jeopardizing your marriage with an affair, recognize that hope is available. There is a way out besides suicide. Forgiveness, restoration, and freedom from those behaviors are possible. You can be healed. Relationships can be saved. At the very least, your loved ones, especially if you have children, want to still see you alive despite what you have done.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, there are resources available: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK, or Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


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