Sex addiction parallels other addictions. Like other addicts, sex addicts are unable to stop their destructive behavior despite its negative consequences. The addict will risk his/her family, friends, careers, finances and freedom, just to continue doing what he/she is ashamed of doing. Sex addiction transcends socio-economic status, gender, personality, and sexual orientation.
There is general agreement in psychotherapy literature that the roots of sexual addiction can be found in the family of origin. These are families in which the needs of the children aren’t sufficiently met. When children cannot count on their parents for basic care taking and emotional support, they come to doubt that anyone will care for them. Children from dysfunctional families grow into adulthood feeling bad and unlovable, without value or worth. A dysfunctional family system leaves all children vulnerable to addictions, depression, anxiety, and low self esteem. Sex addicts commonly believe that sex is their most important need. However, despite this belief, the sex addict’s behavior is often a response to feelings that have nothing to do with sex.
Sex addiction can start out as a means to cope, overcome boredom, relieve anxiety, indirectly act out anger and resentment, and to feel empowered. However, the shame that the addict feels progressively decreases self worth and leads to more of the same behavior. This is a vicious cycle which can go on for years. A common consequence is that the addict eventually loses the ability to become stimulated in ways that don’t require “bells and whistles” to achieve sexual arousal. This reinforces the addiction. Although there are various types of addictions involving sex, all involve a similar mindset and have the same dynamic and negative consequences.
According to Dr. Patrick Carnes,* there are three levels of sex addiction:
- Level One – Includes many forms of acting out such as pornography, prostitution, affairs. There is much denial among these addicts and few social/legal consequences. Level one is characterized by increased pain, loneliness, desperation, endless bouts of obsessiveness, and shame.
- Level Two – Behaviors that warrant legal sanctions such as voyeurism, indecent phone calls, internet intrusion, taking liberties (sexually touching in crowds), exhibitionism.
- Level Three – Significant boundary violations such as incest, rape, molestation of children, child pornography, solicitation of minors. These addictions have serious legal and social consequences.
Since sex addiction is considered a family disease, it is important to try to treat all members of the family, not just the addict. This can be uncomfortable for the sex addict, who feels shame and humiliation, and fears complete rejection if others learn the truth. Nevertheless, there is professional agreement that the family needs to be involved in the treatment at some point.
The main differences in this form of sexual acting out is that it is accessible 24 hours a day in an endless supply of every fantasy known to human-kind. It can result in the same consequences as traditional sex addiction including separation and divorce. Cybersex addiction is a form of sexual acting out that presents unique issues such as 24 hour accessibility and an endless supply of fantasy sex scenarios. It can result in the same consequences as traditional sex addiction. The treatment of choice involves the family or significant other who is affected by the addicts obsession and behavior.
To see the books I recommend on sex addiction, please go here.
If you or a loved one is struggling with a sex addiction, please feel free to contact me by phone or e-mail to discuss an appropriate treatment plan.
*See reference in Recommended Books section for Out of The Shadows:Understanding Sexual Addiction