David, a recovering sex addict, said the following: “If there was a sexual thing that you could pay for, I bought it. Normal people don’t get triggered to do immoral things 20 different times on a 5-mile trip to work. That’s not normal, but that was my life. Some people think that sex addiction isn’t real, but I ran my life into the ground because I couldn’t stop.” David’s story does not need to be your story. Help is available for you today.
We typically correlate addiction to harmful substances, alcohol, or drugs. The truth is that we can be addicted to a plethora of things–ranging from certain behaviors, to food, our phones, and even sex. As I stated in my first blog on addiction, addiction is defined as having a dependence on, obsession with, or enslavement to something. Most activities, especially those that are innate–like eating, having sex, and exercising–are healthy and rewarding in moderation. But when participating in them becomes the sole way you cope, your relationship with those activities turns addictive.
What is sex addiction?
Although the “drug” in sex addiction is sex, sex addiction is not about sex. It is about emotional mismanagement. It occurs when an individual uses sex to minimize pain and painful emotions or to augment pleasure. Sex addiction, like any other type of addiction, hijacks the reward pathways in the brain and damages brain circuits. Like other addicts, sex addicts’ lives become out of control and unmanageable. Sex addiction harms the addict’s ability to make choices and the addict’s ability to maintain loving relationships. The prefrontal cortex can shrink over time with sex addiction.
How does it start?
Sexual addiction begins the same way as any other addiction–it serves as an escape mechanism that feels good, and feeds on underlying issues of the addict. Untreated addiction is considered to be a progressive disease that only gets worse with time. Studies have shown that about 80% of sex addicts suffered some kind of sexual abuse or emotional trauma in their past. Trauma is a major cause of addiction. Sex addiction can happen at any age, but often begins in early adolescence. Although sex addiction was once thought to be mainly a male struggle, it is now being recognized societally as something that females struggle with it too.
The sex addiction cycle
Just as with any form of addiction, there is a cycle that the addict rotates through.
- Pain. Whether it was caused by a past trauma, stress, anxiety, etc, pain is often at the root of sexual addiction. This leads to the desire to escape.
- Fantasy. This is where the individual will fantasize about acting out sexually. This leads to a disconnect in reality.
- Ritual. This is the beginning of acting out physically. Some will drive around aimlessly, read adult magazines, or view pornographic movies or content online.
- Acting out. This is where the individual actually participates in the sexual act in order to fulfill sexual desires. These sexual acts will vary from person to person and can be anything, ranging from picking up prostitutes, to chronic masturbation, exhibition, and anonymous sex.
- Shame and guilt. Actually fulfilling their sexual desires leaves addicts satisfied for only a brief moment before shame and guilt set in. They feel remorse for their actions and recognize the possibility of severely negative consequences, which takes them back to step one: pain. The cycle will repeat itself over and over again until it can be broken.
Paula Hall said the concept of sexual addiction is contentious. For years, there has been a debate about whether sexual addiction is a real problem or just an excuse for irresponsible sexual behavior. I am here to tell you that I have seen many patients battling this addiction. It is real. I empathize with those battling sex addiction; its consequences can be far-reaching and long-lasting. But help is available. As a trained and experienced therapist, I can help you or your loved one break the cycle of sexual addiction. It will not be easy, but it is absolutely possible. Just as an alcoholic can fight for years of life alcohol-free, you, too, can regain control in your life and create healthy boundaries around your sexual behaviors. Contact me today to schedule your first appointment.
Melissa Cluff is a licensed therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.
A Forever Recovery: “Sexual Addiction”
Cluff Counseling: “Addiction 101:Analogy of the Driver’s Seat”
Cluff Counseling: “Are You Addicted to Your Phone?”
Counselor: “Sex and the Cycle of Addiction”
LDS.org: Addiction Recovery Program
Mormon Channel: “Step 1: Honesty – David’s Story on Sex Addiction Recovery”
Paula Hall: “Sex addiction – an extraordinarily contentious problem”
PsychCentral: “What is Sexual Addiction?”
PsychGuides: “Sex Addiction Symptoms, Causes and Effects”
Psychology Today: “How does it all start? My thoughts on addiction causes, sex addiction, and substance abuse”
Wikipedia: “Sexual Addiction”
Wikipedia: “Sexual Desire”