Recovery from Sex Addiction: Suzie Le Brocq at Aurora

Aurora’s candid interview on recovery from sex addiction with Suzie Le Brocq, PhD, MPhil, CCPCPR, CCS-AC, CSAT-S

Let’s Talk About Sex. No, seriously. Let’s really talk about it.

When Salt-N-Pepa released their Grammy-nominated soul/hip hop classic in 1991, they probably had no idea just how much their song would resonate with listeners. Bouncy, fun, risqué by even including the word in the title.

Sex is so important to us. Yet, rarely do we hear sex brought up as a topic in a meeting or at the dinner table – even though research shows men think about it at least 19 times a day, right ahead of food at 18 times. For women, it is 10 and 15.

Aurora Recovery Centre thinks it is high time to make intimacy and sex addiction part of the recovery conversation, and is doing all it can to make sure members feel welcome to join in. Because, when you are talking about addiction and recovery, sex and unhealthy substance use often go hand in hand.

For the past year, one of the most respected Sex Addiction Therapists in the country has been working with Aurora members who, during assessments, may have sex and intimacy issues.

Is Sex Addiction Really a Thing?

The Canadian Mental Health Association warns that “relapse rates for substance use are higher for people with a concurrent mental disorder, as are the chances that symptoms of mental illness will return for those with a concurrent substance use problem. Depending on the setting, prevalence rates for concurrent disorders have been found to range from 20 to 80 percent,” the CMHA points out on its site.

So, yes, sex addiction is a thing. It is an issue from which experts like Dr. Suzie Le Brocq help people recover.

With over 30 years working in treatment centres from Samoa to Hawaii, Oklahoma to Vancouver Island, Lloydminster to a booming private practice in Calgary, Le Brocq’s work as a Sex Addiction Therapist puts her on the thin, sharp edge of advances in the world of sex addiction recovery. 

“I would say it is one of the more difficult things to treat. [It is] like eating disorders, because sex is a basic human need. It is learning to do it all over again in a healthy way,” says Le Brocq.

Aurora president Steve Low has been shifting focus of the Centre to a recovery-oriented system of care, a modern model offering an umbrella of care for people who need help with a wide variety of mental health issues. Engaging Le Brocq was a natural fit.

“Having a PhD in sexology on the team cannot be captured in words. I have seen the relationship issue take more people out of recovery than anything else. Someone who specializes in sex and love addiction, intimacy disorders and teaching about healthy intimacy is paramount to recovery at Aurora.”

What began with a few ARC members seeing Dr. Le Brocq, 48, occasionally during their stay in Gimli has grown into staff training and a regular weekly group, a psycho-educational opportunity, complete with plenty of feedback and assignments specific to the issues with which participants are dealing.

Overcoming The Stigma of Sex Addiction

With decades of research showing how often problematic substance users have comorbidity or concurrent disorders also in play, sex addiction is a frontier rife with stigma. 

Patrick Carnes, one of the world’s top experts in the field, says that 87 percent of sex addicts deal with other addictions.

Though it is a controversial field, Le Brocq says the bottom line is people are hurting and she and her colleagues are trying to make a difference.

“I avoid the politics. I just want to support people and I see the suffering. It is fascinating because, when you actually work with these people, [they] are in so much pain. They are so damaged.  By the time you really break it down, there are very few people that are truly narcissistic, entitled, and incapable of empathy or showing compassion for their partner.”

If sex is still a rare topic, and researchers are convinced that 60 to 80 per cent of people with addiction have concurrent disorders, then Salt-N-Pepa’s callout to the masses to talk about sex was way ahead of its time. Le Brocq says Aurora is on the right track when it comes to addressing the latest and best practices in the field.

“They are taking a much more holistic view of addiction. They are looking at the trauma piece, which has been hugely missing in most addiction treatment centres. They are looking at how addiction manifests in multiple areas of people’s lives, be that relationships or sex or food and different things,” she said.

“They are really trying to meet people where they are at. They are not afraid to bring in outside experts.”

Trauma and Sex Addiction

Johanna O’Flaherty, Gabor Maté and others view trauma as a root cause of substance use addiction. The trauma piece is huge in the world of sex addiction therapy, as well. Trauma re-enactment and trauma repetition are terms often used in Le Brocq’s field. 

“If you think about trauma, if you have a Big T trauma for example, the brain gets stuck. So, if we have a Big T sexual trauma, for instance, rape, we know that some people become sexually aroused when they are abused or when they are raped. That can imprint on the brain. That can become a part of their arousal template,” she says.

“With trauma, the brain gets stuck on an experience. It will recreate it over and over again trying to change the outcome. People will keep doing the same thing because they are hoping for the ending to be different. They don’t know it. It is on a subconscious level.”

Sex Addiction, Porn Addiction and Criminal Offending

To get your head around the concept, it can be helpful to separate the components into sex addiction, porn addiction, and criminal offending.

“Sex addicts are normally men. I hate to say it. More affluent, slightly narcissistic, entitled, powerful, bright, controlling men who have had trauma in their life, very often sexual trauma. Some of their acting out is a way of regaining control and power back in their lives.”

Typical sex addict behaviors can include frequenting bathhouses or hooking up with random strangers. Using prostitutes.

“For them, very often, the addiction is in the money. It’s in the transaction of money. The power is in the money piece rather than the sex itself,” she says.

Porn addiction is different, in that “they have an intimacy disorder, but they are looking for something, typically, to numb their brain.”

“They probably started looking at porn like anybody else, and didn’t realize the damaging effect. People just have no idea how the brain gets changed when it looks at porn often,” she says.

The arousal template is a baseline level for a person’s arousal, generally formed before the age of 10. If someone starts looking at porn young, the brain can, in essence, become saturated with sex hormones and chemicals.

“You build a tolerance, just like you would with alcohol or drugs. Your arousal template starts to shift or change, and it gets higher. So, what you used to do is no longer arousing.”

Criminal offending involves illegal acts based on sex or porn addiction. However, not every addict is an offender, and not every offender is an addict. 

With situations like the shooting in the Georgia massage parlors in March, 2021, Harvey Weinstein’s conviction, and so many others, sex addiction remains high on the radar of stigmatized mental conditions.

For Le Brocq and Aurora, helping people look at their behaviours and make changes that can lead to healthy, happy, productive lives remains the goal. 

Sex addiction is real and, at Aurora, so is recovery from it.

By Jeff Vircoe