What is sex addiction and where does it come from?
Addiction is a pattern of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that ensnare an individual, despite his knowing that those behaviors are damaging to himself (or herself) or others, and even though he knows the consequences. Addictive behaviors become progressively worse over time. Addiction builds a prison of shame, despair, and loneliness that undermines a person’s life and his or her ability to be intimate with others or they with him. Addiction provides short term solutions to issues in the addict’s life that are being avoided. Addiction is not a problem of insufficient willpower, as many people think; rather it’s a chronic brain disease.
There is general acceptance that drugs and alcohol are addictive to some people, but behaviors can be equally addictive. A passion for sex and pornography or a passion for gambling becomes an addiction when the sex addict has lost the power of choice, when she has lost control over her sexual behavior and is unable to stop. Not only has he lost control over his sexual behaviors, but other parts of his life become unmanageable as well. She is ashamed of her behavior, keeps it secret, and lives two lives. His family is affected as he isolates into fantasy; she pulls away from friends to spend time in her addictive life; he spends money needed for rent or food on prostitutes or strip clubs, she ignores her physical needs; he violates his personal values. Her life spirals out of control.
Sex addiction takes many forms. We can be addicted to promiscuity, infidelity, pornography, masturbation, compulsive relationships, cruising, voyeurism, exhibitionism, anonymous sex, prostitution, multiple affairs, compulsive crossdressing, cybersex and phone sex, inappropriate touching, sex in public places, bestiality and many more. As the addictive behavior progressively worsens it can lead to child pornography, incest, child molestation, or rape.
Most experts now believe that addiction begins with an unhealthy belief system including, for example, beliefs such as “nobody would love me if they knew about my behavior” or “I am a bad person.” These beliefs, when triggered, lead the sex addict into a cycle that includes obsession or preoccupation with sexual fantasies. These lead to a ritual, a trance that’s so unconscious that it doesn’t interrupt the obsession. The addict turns on the computer and goes to a chat room, or drives to an adult video store, or stares lustfully at another person. Eventually the cycle leads the addict to act out – maybe she masturbates, or he has sex with a stranger, or visits a prostitute, or touches a child. Then he feels ashamed, and becomes anxious, and the fantasies begin again, and he can’t stop.
It’s important to understand that addiction is a disease. It can be treated, and that treatment can lead to long term sobriety from the addictive behavior.