Ten Characteristics of a Healthy Sexual Relationship
Recognizing Healthy Intimacy After s*x Addiction
It can be difficult for recovering s*x addicts to know what a healthy intimate relationship feels like. Maureen Canning, MA, LMFT, herself a child abuse survivor, recovered s*x addict and relationship therapist, identifies 10 key characteristics of a healthy s*xual relationship after s*x addiction treatment in her book, “Lust, Anger, Love: Understanding s*xual Addiction and the Road to Healthy Intimacy.”
1 s*x provides a feeling of well-being
man kissing smiling woman on cheek in bed
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Feelings of safety, connection and affirmation occur in a healthy s*xual relationship. It may take some time to move away from feelings of danger, disconnection and shame, but it is worth the patience and perseverance.
2 Emotional and physical sensations are felt
In a healthy intimate relationship, both partners are aware of their own emotional vulnerability and physical sensations. These are experienced positively with no need for numbing or “chasing the climax.”
3 Creativity and passion are rediscovered
This is not limited to s*xual activity, but could be a rediscovery of an authentic creative activity, such as playing music, painting or writing. s*x no longer needs to be the only outlet for emotional expression.
4 You nurture yourself in non-private part ways
Healthy se*uality is not the exclusive channel for self-nurturance and is experienced more authentically if you regularly and deliberately experience pleasure in other ways. Find joy in physical and sensual activities like taking a hot bubble bath, enjoying a warm cup of tea or dancing in the rain.
5 Suffering and stress are tolerated as a part of life
Being able to cope with disappointment, tiredness and difficulty without resorting to s*xual relief is an important part of recovery. Other ways to cope include writing, listening to music, exercising, calling a friend and relaxation exercises.
6 You can be emotionally vulnerable
Whereas s*x addicts fear betrayal and sexualize their feelings to protect themselves from vulnerability, in a healthy intimate relationship you realize that vulnerability is central to relating honestly with others.
7 You develop and maintain healthy boundaries with others
s*x addicts have difficulty with healthy boundaries, either being too rigid, or not recognizing the importance of boundaries in keeping both people in the relationship safe. Developing healthy boundaries allows you to be vulnerable and safe at the same time.
8 se*uality is well-balanced and moderate
While s*x addicts live in extremes of s*xual energy, experiencing either full-on excessive s*xual tension or repressed, walled-off s*xual feelings, when you develop s*xual maturity, you can control an appropriate flow of s*xual energy.
9 You are curious and caring about other people’s reactions to you
Instead of taking what people say personally and reacting emotionally, healthy intimacy allows you to try to understand what is going on for them. We all think and act differently, so open communication between you and others is the key to learning to empathize and understand others.
10 You learn to trust others
In overcoming a s*xual addiction, you must first focus on trusting yourself and learn to recognize your own truth. Then you can use healthy boundaries to keep yourself safe while trusting others’ truths as you move through the stages of relationships.