Sex addiction is not a symptom of a moral or religious failing, or a symptom of an underlying mental health illness such as ADD, Mania or OCD. It is not based on fun or related to a same-sex interest or activity. It is also not related to sex offending, fetishes or paraphilias and is NOT the end of a relationship! You cannot be a sex addict if you have never had sex.
Now that we have explored the many myths on sex addiction, it is important to understand where it may stem from.
Family origin. The building of self-esteem for children is especially important, and here is why. When we cry, our caregivers pick us up and provide that soothing and that love. We know that when we cry our caregivers will give us that much-needed love and reassurance consistently, and this builds our self-esteem, which impacts on our self-worth. Conversely, if we cry and our caregivers do not provide any soothing, care, or ignore us when we cry; we grow up feeling and knowing that there is something wrong with us and that we are not worthy of soothing, care, reassurance, and love. Our fantasies and desires to feel love is what drives our addictive behaviour and usually by age 5, our attachment styles have formed. This has a bearing on how our caregivers respond to our attachment style. In this case, we may experience attachment losses and may end up disassociating from our caregivers, finding ways of depending on ourselves, by self -soothing. If you read my article on addiction being a barrier to intimacy, this is another way that a mood-altering behaviour (such as abusing drugs) can disconnect us from those we love and care about.
Sex addiction is, therefore, the desperation to self soothe by acting out because of trauma and/or abuse. Sex addiction is obsessive, compulsive, out of control (loss of control) behaviour that has a negative impact on yourself and others (despite adverse negative consequences). This criterion is used to diagnose addictions to substances (like alcohol/drugs) and other behaviours such as gambling. It is an illness, and CAN be treated. Sex addicts can stay sober and be in active recovery. Now let us talk through technology/porn addiction.
Technology or porn addiction is a super stimulus; meaning that it is not naturally occurring and causes strong excitatory pleasurable responses that lead to addiction via fantasy and disassociation. This is like when a synthetic drug, like cocaine, that causes us to get hooked quickly, after which a naturally occurring stimulus (coca leaves) will not work or give us the same desired effect and boost of dopamine in our brain. So, let us now explore some types of behaviours that sex addicts may engage in. Please remember that it does not have to lead to having sex to qualify.
Here are some types of sex addict behaviours: compulsive use of porn (with or without masturbation), engaging in anonymous sex, visiting adult bookstores and strip clubs, sexual exchanges (drugs or favours for sex), visiting massage parlours or sex workers, violating boundaries and sexually harassing others, objectifying people, cruising and seducing others, having multiple affairs, and engaging in anonymous infidelity and abusing power and relationships for sex (predatory). Please remember that these behaviours need to be obsessive, compulsive, out of control (loss of control) behaviour that has a negative impact on yourself and others (despite adverse negative consequences).
A word of caution here. Porn can reveal previously repressed or unconscious arousal patterns that once awoken, may not necessarily go away by avoiding porn. In this revelation, discovering something about yourself that you do not like (for example your sexual orientation, gender arousal or gender preferences) and then wanting it to go away by calling this an addiction, does not work and leads to great emotional pain. It is important to seek a Certified Sex Therapist’s help in finding ways to acknowledge, accept and be comfortable with who you are, if this is the case.
Treatment is best done with a specialist who understands sex, sexuality, and addiction – please ask your sex therapist if they are certified in treating addictions. Connection is the key to treating addiction, as sex/tech addicts can spend 90% of their time on their own. Having individual therapy, attending support group meetings, 12 step recovery meetings (SAA, SA, SLA), psychoeducation and doing the inner work through healing are ways for sex addicts to connect. It enables the addict to take personal responsibility, have healthy relationships, and engage in healthy sexual behaviour. Like any addiction treatment, the longer you are in a treatment program, the higher the duration is of life-long recovery.
If you have been triggered by any information in this article, please reach out to a therapist to discuss your concerns. Be in the know, stay safe, Connected (with a capital C!), and present with those you love and care about.
After reading this, do you think you know someone who is addicted to pornography?