How Does Someone Become a Sex Addict?
No one says to themselves “When I grow up, I want to become an addict.”
99.9% of the time what happens is that the seeking of attention, validation or sex, starts out as a way to feel better from some form of not feeling okay. All types of trauma, including relational trauma, leave a child feeling unlovable, broken, and not knowing how to deal with those feelings. That place is an unbearably painful and lonely place to be so the child adapts by finding a way to feel better. For some, that can be excelling in school or at home and gaining worth through the recognition that comes with that. For others, it can be other adaptations which help soothe or distract them from those painful feelings. Sex is one of those things that can be soothing or a means of gaining esteem that people turn to as a way to adapt from feeling painful feelings.
Unfortunately, what starts out as an adaptive response to feel okay, gradually becomes maladaptive because dependency on it grows stronger as more is needed to feel okay. A tolerance builds up followed by an escalation in the behavior, its risk or its frequency. This is why addiction is referred to as “a progressive disease.”
Another cost of using sex, romance or anything else for that matter, is intimacy. Seeking out sex or romance in a compulsive way may seem like intimacy but ultimately it is a misguided attempt to achieve the intimacy that is longed for. However what is being sought out is not true intimacy, it may be intensity or it may be a watered down version of intimacy. If intensity is being sought out, the feeling of a dopamine hit becomes the "norm" and the person seeks out this simultaneous feeling again and again instead of true intimacy and closeness. The brain becomes wired to believe that that is how connection is made and it validates the person with their deepest desire, to avoid pain and to be validated and wanted by others.
A person with sex addiction significantly alters their life and the lives of others in order to perform sexual acts and are reportedly unable to control their behavior, despite severe negative consequences. Patrick Carnes defines sex addiction as an intimacy disorder defined as “Sexually related compulsive behavior which interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, loved ones, and one’s work environment." So, sexual addiction is based on compulsivity and not defined by the type of sexual behavior but rather by the inability to stop despite the high risk or potential for negative consequences.
If you or someone you know is affected by sex addiction, help is possible.
To learn more about Seen Therapy or receive immediate support email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-607-7922 to speak with a therapist who specializes in sex addiction and co-occuring disorders.