The Sex Addict
While no single behavioral pattern constitutes a sexual addiction, a prevailing characteristic of sexual dependency is its ability to dominate one’s life. The sex addict places sex above all, including family, friends and career. In an effort to preserve and continue their compulsive behavior, an addict will sacrifice meaningful relationships and opportunities, giving more and more power to their obsession. Caught up in the whirlwind of ‘acting out’ behaviors such as compulsive masturbation, anonymous sex, pornography, prostitution, exhibitionism, voyeurism, indecent phone calls, massage parlors and strip clubs, the lives of sexual addicts become consumed and unmanageable. While less common, some acting out behaviors can evolve into offending behavior, such as child molestation, incest, rape or other forms of sexual violence.
Obsessive sexual behaviors wreak havoc on marital and other relationships, often leading to the loss of a partner/spouse, loss of work opportunities, unwanted pregnancies, suicide obsession/attempts, exposure to AIDS, STDs or even legal risks. Many addicts try to cope with their feelings by diving deeper into self-destructive sexual behaviors such as “bingeing” to the point of emotional exhaustion. With excessive amounts of time seeking sexual fulfillment and recovering from sexual experiences, the social, occupational and recreational life of an addict becomes neglected.
Yet, not all sex addicts engage in the same behaviors. The concept of “sexual anorexia,” or the avoidance of sexual nourishment and intimacy, was coined by author Patrick Carnes. Also a pioneer in the arena of sex addiction treatment, Carnes included this concept in many of his books. In essence, sexual anorexics deprive themselves of the emotional and sensual sustenance of sex as a mechanism of control, keeping chaotic feelings, anxiety and fear of rejection at bay. Thus, sexual anorexics do not “act out”—they “act in” by denying themselves the pleasure found in relationships.
Even so, some sexual anorectics engage in sex-addiction behaviors from time to time. In this case, a cycle of bingeing and purging often takes place. An example is sexual bulimia, in which it becomes easy for sex anorectics to experience sex with strangers or a one-night stand.
Whatever the case, those suffering from compulsive behaviors, sexual dependencies or sexual addiction most likely have a history of unmet needs. As such, they seek ways to soothe themselves, express feelings, or to feel validated. While some needs are self-managed, individuals (particularly children) often look to others to meet their emotional needs. If these needs are not met within families, children are more likely to either suppress their emotions or ignore them altogether. Both responses can prove destructive, setting the stage for the emergence of the addict.
Whether due to a genetic predisposition, environmental deprivation or inadequate caregiving, children whose needs are consistently not being met may engage in sexual behaviors to soothe, manage and ease their emotional suffering. As they give themselves more and more to their obsession, they might develop unique routines (ritualization) to seek feelings of arousal, excitement and control. Meanwhile, for some, the sense of powerlessness causes tremendous shame and despair, as their sense of integrity is lost. Some dissociate and ignore these feelings, while others throw themselves into the vicious cycle of sexual compulsion and acting out, including desperate attempts to keep their behaviors secret. Akin to a “high,” the fantasy, obsession and compulsiveness of sex addicts trigger the brain activity in the same way as a drug or stimulant. Because the human brain (and particularly the teenage brain) remembers and repeats activities that reward it, the sexual and pleasure-seeking behaviors can become physically addicting.
Similarly, for those that are ‘in love with love,’ the continuous quest for the idyllic, perfect, fantasy-like experience of love is the mark of a love addict. Under the premise that an individual is “the one,” love addicts disregard red flags and faults, as they form a toxic attachment to the other person. Ultimately, the love addict will look to the other person for their self-worth, and live in fear of abandonment. As such, they may remain in a relationship, even if it is abusive.
The Addict Personality
The following behaviors are strong indicators of addiction:
- Mood Swings
- Inability to complete projects
- Strong primitive defense mechanisms such as denial, rationalization, minimization, projection, justification, blaming and gaslighting
- Unexpressed resentment
- Chronic depression
- Risky sexual behavior
- Difficulty paying bills/Financial problems
- Difficulty in intimate or interpersonal relationships
- Difficulty keeping a job, excessive absences from work or strained relationships at work
- Participation in illegal or immoral activities in order to meet sexual needs
A critical component of recovery from sexual addiction is getting honest, which frees one to ask for help and seek treatment. Restoring trust in relationships and beginning to live a life of integrity is the cornerstone of recovery.
With a multi-faceted approach, Triune Therapy Group works with individuals, couples and families that are struggling to break addictions. For sexual dependency, compulsions and other maladaptive relationship issues, call our Los Angeles based practice today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with our expert team.
Posted on behalf of Triune Therapy Group