Sexual Addiction, also known as Sex Addiction, is a compulsive disorder associated with continuing to participate in sexual behaviors despite negative consequences.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine characterizes addiction as a chronic brain disorder. It involves a failure of the motivation and reward system that includes an impaired ability to link behavior with associated problems caused by those behaviors.
Clinicians recognize two distinct types of addictions. The most commonly recognized are addictions associated with the use of brain altering substances.
Less commonly recognized are process addictions (also called behavioral addictions). These include eating disorders like Obsessive Eating Disorder, Bulimia, and Anorexia Nervosa and gambling addiction.
Sexual addiction is a process addiction.
The Addiction Process
A process addiction involves a cycle of behavior that is appropriately described as a ritual specific to the experience of each person. Eating disorders, gambling addiction and sexual addiction follow a similar process from the perspective of neurobiology.
Certain brain chemicals are released in the brain (Dopamine, Endorphins, Serotonin, Oxytocin and others) that cause a person to anticipate with euphoric recall sexual behavior. Excessive and repeated exposure to the behavior —especially when divorced from relationships of authentic intimacy—results in the loss of receptors that require more and more frequent neurochemical release.
This in turn leads to the loss of more receptors that in turn creates a demand for acting out the behaviors—cravings, urges and obsessions—that have trained to the brain to expect satisfaction from a natural brain processes that now no longer works.
The brain expects satisfaction from a natural brain process that now no longer works.
One myth many people hold about sexual compulsivity is that the person struggling with the addiction is a “pleasure seeker”. The opposite is true.
A person struggling with addiction no longer experiences healthy intimacy and relational sexual pleasure. The person is trapped in a cold, grey world of unending longing more intense satisfaction, risk taking and ultimately a deep sense of shame and isolation.
The loss of the ability to regulate sexual behavior reinforces a negative belief about oneself.
- “I don’t deserve to be healthy.”
- “I am fundamentally unworthy.”
- “No one can ever love me.”
This false perspective of one’s basic value drives a person deeper into the addictive process. One no longer feels confident to offer oneself to another in the hope of developing appropriate, multidimensional human intimacy.
Shaming a person struggling with sexual addiction has no place in the work of recovery. A person needs to understand the addiction process. A person needs to feel understood.