addictions are among the least talked about and probably the
least understood of all addictions.
Sexual addiction has been around apparently going back
as far as we have recorded history.
The lack of knowledge and understanding about it comes
from our society’s unwillingness to take an honest and open
look at sexuality. However,
it has only been in the last two or three decades that a
clearer understanding of it is being reached.
Sexual addiction is rapidly becoming recognized as a
major social problem with similarities more well-known to
alcohol and drug addiction or compulsive gambling.
Today, the concept that a person could be hooked on sex
is unsettling to most people.
People are more able to admit to have bad habits, but
shy away from saying that they are hooked on someone or
something. This fear comes from society’s stereotype of addicts (Book,
1997, pp 14).
addicts are those who engage in persistent and escalating
patterns of sexual behavior acted out despite increasingly
negative consequences to self and to others. They become
addicted to the neuro-chemical changes that take place in the
body during sexual behavior.
To be seen as addict is to be seen as being inferior or
an addicted person is considered “weak” or lazy (Knauer,
2002, pp183). In
the late 1970’s, Patrick Carnes, a psychologist and
researcher, was instrumental in the initial identification and
treatment of sexual addiction as a condition.
After a ten year research, Carnes estimated about 8% of
the total population of men and 3%of women are sexually
addicted. That adds up to 15 million people who suffer from
this problem. Sexual addiction has many different forms:
compulsive masturbation, sex with prostitutes, anonymous sex
with multiple partners, multiple affairs outside a committed
relationship, habitual exhibitionism, habitual voyeurism,
inappropriate sexual touching, repeated sexual abuse of
children, and episodes of rape (Book, 1997).
Of all forms of sexual addiction, none is more harmful
to both the addict and the victim than childhood sexual abuse.
beginnings of sexual addiction are usually rooted up in
adolescence or childhood.
It is found that 60% of sexual addicts were abused by
someone in their childhood (Book, 1997,pp 52).
The child may have grown up in a hostile, chaotic or
neglectful home, or the family may have been very normal but
the child grows up emotionally starved for love because
affection is rarely expressed.
Gradually sex becomes a replacement act to turn to in
times of any kind of need, from escaping boredom, to feeling
anxious, to being able to sleep at night. The child may
to masturbation for escape. Masturbation can be a normal and
natural part of childhood.
In other cases, the child maybe introduced to sex in
inappropriate ways. Instead
of the normal sexual experimentation that often takes place
out of curiosity between similar aged children at some point
growing up, some are brought to it by some adult who uses them
instead of another adult for their own sexual pleasure.
It may even be another child who is five or more years
older where the sexual experience doesn’t feel mutual.
In these experiences, there often is a combination of
natural curiosity, newfound pleasurable feelings and even the
feelings of fear or shame (Carnes, 1991 pp 31-40).
addicts don’t necessarily enjoy sex more than other people.
In all reality, the sex addict is compelled to act out
addicts themselves may not be able to understand why they are
acting out sexually or why constant thoughts either of having
sex with someone or compulsively masturbating fill their
minds, and push out other avenues of interest.
The addiction is often mistaken by the sex addict as
“love”, but love really has nothing to do with it.
What passes for love, is really a progressively
negative and intrusive behavior that takes away all of the
addict’s self-esteem. It
has little to do with true intimacy, but more so involves
exploration and use of power or manipulation.
Sex addicts have no comprehension of the risks they are
taking. They feel
their life is out of control.
To deal with the pain, the addict may resort to other
addictions such as alcoholism, eating disorders, and abusive
drugs. Many times suicide is also a constant thought.
Or the addicts will punish themselves by engaging in
sexual acts that are degrading.
Sometimes so degrading that the addicts can’t share
what is happening with anyone else in their lives.
“Contrary to enjoying sex as a self affirming source
of physical pleasure, the addict has learned to rely on sex
for comfort from pain for nurturing or relief from stress”
(Carnes, 1991, pp 34). The
constant need for excitement and conquest takes the focus off
addict’s internal pain and sense of being unconnected to
what should have been meaning in the addict’s life. The addict maybe addicted primarily to one behavior, but the
forms of sexual addiction would be exhaustive and increases
with the addicts needing to find new ways of sexual thrillers.
Each new sexual adventure gives meaning to the sex
addict’s life, for a short time.
The relief that the sex addict gets from each new
sexual conquest is temporary and must be repeated with new
partners over and over again when any sense of boredom or
routine begins in the relationship.
Sexual addiction, by contrast, usually is a
preoccupation with sexual arousal and sexual release which
often has little to do with who the person is and requires no
addict feels shame about what he or she is doing or has done
usually immediately after engaging in sex acts that violate
some of the person’s standards, sometimes even denying the
shame, which causes the addict to live a double life. Well-known,
respected, and admired in his visible life, but secretly
engaging regularly in sexual acts that would be shocking to
those who know him. The
addiction doesn’t make a person worthless, it just hides the
addict’s true personality and positive qualities.
addicts, however, are not involved in any public activities
that would enhance their level of arousal.
Instead they spend hours reading or watching
pornography, with eventually masturbation as part
of their activity.
The internet has become the newest, most rapidly
growing form of sexual acting out for many sexual
A lot of sexual addicts have added computer
sex to their repertoire.
They spend increasingly amounts of time surfing
the net, downloading and reading information on sex
bulletin boards, and exchanging sexual information
with others in sexual chat rooms or directing their
own live sex shows on interactive sites.
The internet just happens to provide many of
the things sex addicts seek all in one place; isolation,
secrecy, fantasy material, endless varieties, around
the clock availability, and instant accessibility.
Sex addicts on the internet often experience
a rapid progression of their addiction.
They eventually move to more extreme behavior
with taking greater risks, and even getting caught
In some cases the sped up progression of the
addict’s problem via the internet can turn into a
blessing, since it can move the addict into the consequences
more quickly, which can cause him to get help.
addiction is progressive and it rarely gets better. Over time it gets more frequent and more extreme.
At other times when it seems under control, the addict
is merely engaging in one of the common traits of the disease
process in which he switches from sexual release to the
control of it. The
control phase inevitably breaks down over time and the addict
is back in the behavior again, despite his promise to himself
or others never to do it again.
When the ecstasy of the release is spent, the addict
will feel remorse at his failure and will switch back to
another “white knuckle” period of abstaining from the
behavior until his resolve weakens again. Besides being
addicted to sexual behavior, some sex addicts are also
sexually codependent. These
are the addicts who don’t really enjoy sex, but are involved
in the sexual acts just to please their partners.
They fear abandonment, so they don’t tell their
partners that they are not enjoying the sex. Without help,
this is the way the sexually addictive person lives life.
Many addicts seek help but discontinue it or find it
not helpful. They
have a growing appreciation of the reality of the problem but
tend to counter this realization by minimizing the problem or
thinking they can handle it by themselves. Most fear that letting go of the addiction would mean giving
up sex completely.
can be a positive factor on one’s life, if we realize that
it may be the one thing that enables one to endure the very
worst situations and go on to live a life that can later be
full and rewarding. It
is how the addiction is addressed and dealt with that will
determine how the addict will fare later life.
Addiction may have been the tool that has kept the
survivor’s feelings and memories at bay.
Recovery is not a straight incline leading directly to
a desired goal, but it does follow a somewhat predictable
path. To get on
this path, the addict must first recognize his or her problem
and be able to address their addictive behavior, then must
understand the role that the addiction has served.
The addict must learn the value of his self as a whole
person, rather than as a sexual object.
By doing this, the addict will understand that recovery
is not possible without abstaining from it.
By doing this they are able to develop a new sense of
begin to appreciate their sense of strength and purpose. They begin to take responsibility for their own lives and
happiness. Then a
new way of looking at life emerges.
Book, Praeger. (1997). Sex
& Love Addiction, Treatment & Recovery. New York:
Knauer, Sandra. (2002). Recovering
from Sexual Abuse, Addictions, & Compulsive Behaviors.
New York: Haworth Press.
Carnes, Patrick. (1997). Don’t
Call it Love. Minnesota: Gentle Press.
Sue. (2001). Love Sick. New York: Norton & Company.