My first introduction to sex addiction was watching Sam Rockwell in the on-screen adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s Choke. Rockwell sits in a Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous group, surrounded by seedy-looking characters (and several beautiful women). He makes eyes with a particularly stunning woman, who later leads him into the bathroom. While they are having sex on the bathroom floor, you find out – through some pretty raunchy dialogue – that he is, in fact, her sponsor. They finish fooling around and return to the group, seemingly unfazed… one might even go so far as to say satisfied. Proud and fulfilled.
Emotions that the authentic sex addict will likely never experience directly following a submission to his or her powerlessness.
As the movie progresses, the viewer finds that Rockwell’s character comes from a harshly dysfunctional family, and that he does feel a fair amount of guilt, shame, and self-loathing as a direct result of his unmanageable promiscuity. As a young viewer (I know, I know… where were my parents), I certainly didn’t pick up on his traumatic background or underlying sense of shame. I saw him engaging in unabashed intimate relations with his sponsee on the bathroom floor, and thought to myself, “Oh, so that’s what sex addiction is. You just can’t stop having sex. Probably because… well, because you don’t want to stop.”
Sex Addiction – How it Really Feels
This is how sex addiction is typically portrayed in mainstream media, which is why this psychologically and emotionally devastating addictive disorder is so widely misunderstood and stigmatized. In reality, sex addiction is often grounded in a deep sense of self-hatred, which often stems from early trauma – sexual or otherwise. Like other addictive disorders, sex addiction often stems from a deep-seated need to self-medicate unresolved emotional pain.
It is also believed that sex addiction may sometimes be the product of biochemical abnormalities. The root cause of sex addiction is not fully understood, though it does inevitably vary from person-to-person. It is understood, however, that sex addiction – just like chemical dependency and compulsive overeating – affects the survival and reward systems within the brain. Just as the mind of an alcoholic will tell him he needs to continue pounding vodka in order to survive, the mind of a sex addict will convince him that he needs to continue engaging in sexually aberrant activity. The addicted mind will trick the afflicted into believing that compulsive sexual behavior is necessity, despite the inescapable accumulation of personal consequences. The mind successfully tricks the body by producing biochemical rewards for self-destructive behavior.
A Progressive Disorder
For the sex addict, sexual behavior is not about connection, intimacy, or romantic pursuit. Those who are addicted to sex experience a great sense of euphoria when engaging in sexual activity – a sense of euphoria that goes far beyond what the average person feels. However, this sense of pleasure is wholly detached from any emotional fulfillment. It is purely chemical. Eventually, this exhilaration begins to fade. More of the activity is required to produce the same psychological results. Perhaps an individual will begin masturbating 10 times per day rather than 5 or 6 times per day, or switch to a more graphic variety of pornography. Perhaps an individual will begin picking up prostitutes, rather than trying his luck at local bars, or grazing breasts on the subway rather than looking at them in magazines. Sexual addiction takes many different forms, though one characteristic is common across the board – like all other addictive disorders, sex addiction is a progressive disease. Without professional treatment, it will only get worse over time… symptoms will not resolve on their own, and personal consequences will only continue to pile up.
Am I Dating a Sex Addict?
While it may be relatively easily for one to diagnose him or herself as a sex addict, it may be more difficult for the partner of a sex addict to understand the reasoning behind atypical sexual behavior. Being romantically involved with a sex addict can be traumatizing in and of itself. The behaviors of the sex addict may leave his or her partner feeling inadequate, hopeless, and deeply wounded. In many cases, they will adopt the misguided belief that it is them who is doing something wrong. “Why am I not good enough? What am I lacking?” Take a look at some of the common characteristics of sex addicted individuals, and if you believe your partner may be struggling with this devastating and progressive disorder, reach out to an addiction specialist or professional and experienced therapist.
Common Signs of Sex Addiction
- Your significant other is extremely secretive.
Because those struggling with sex addiction are so ashamed of their powerlessness and deviancy, they will go to great lengths to keep their behaviors secret. Sex addicts may be especially secretive about their cell phone and computer use.
- Your significant other has never been involved in a long-term relationship.
Most sex addicts harbor a deep-seated fear of true intimacy, and are unable to develop or maintain emotionally involved relationships as a result. If your partner has never been in a committed relationship, it may be an indication of underlying issues.
- Your significant other is consistently dishonest.
Those who are struggling with addiction of any kind will often resort to manipulation, deceit, and incessant dishonesty as a means of keeping their symptoms hidden and uninterrupted. Despite the accumulation of worsening personal consequences, the addicted individual will go to great lengths to continue engaging in self-destructive behaviors.
- Your significant other has been unfaithful.
Not everyone who engages in adultery is a sex addict, but ongoing infidelity could be a major red flag. Sex addicted individuals have an extremely hard time committing to one partner.
- Your significant other likes to be in control when it comes to sex.
If your partner demands sex regularly and gets angry or exceedingly upset when you deny his or her advances, there may be an underlying, sex-related issue. Sex addicted individuals are often extremely confident – even cocky – when it comes to sexual advancements. If you withhold sex when your partner demands it, his or her frustration will usually be quite apparent.
- Your significant other masturbates excessively – even after sex.
Just as an alcoholic may sneak drinks after coming home from the bar, and just as the compulsive overeater may indulge in a secret stash of sweets after finishing dinner, the sex addict will possess an insatiable sexual appetite. You may catch him or her masturbating an excessive amount, even right after you have had sex.
If you believe that your partner is struggling with sex addiction, there are several steps that you can take in order to make the process of recovery easier. First of all, get to a sex addiction specialist. Explain the specifics of your situation, and inquire as to what your next move should be. Seeking the help of a licensed professional is crucial – not only because you will not inherently know how to handle the situation yourself, but also because you have likely suffered some degree of emotional trauma.
Sex addiction is treatable – of course, in order for treatment to be successful, the afflicted individual must want to get well. For more information on our male-specific program of sex addiction recovery, please contact us today. One of our qualified and experienced addiction specialists will answer any and all of your questions.