Sexual Trauma and Sex Addiction

sexual trauma sex addict

The relationship between early sexual trauma and sex addiction is extremely complex. However, understanding the emotional, physical, and mental underpinnings of this common association can help you to better comprehend your own personal history of trauma and addiction, or the experience of your loved one.

It may seem that the development of a sexual addiction following a sexual traumatization is nothing short of counterproductive. Why would the victim of ongoing sexual abuse or a sexual assault deliberately search out the very acts that caused them so much emotional and psychological torment? While it may seem perplexing, the reality is that this connection is extremely common. In fact, ample research on the subject indicates that childhood sexual abuse is far more commonly associated with sex addiction and hypersexuality than any other potential dysfunction.

Validation and Sex Addiction

It is not uncommon for those who undergo sexual abuse in their formative years to begin fostering the belief that their sexuality is their primary worth. They may view themselves as predominantly sexual objects, and they may view others as the same. While the sexual abuse itself may have been profoundly painful, it is common for internalized mental conditioning, brought on by sustained sexual trauma, to completely warp and distort any healthy sense of self. Those who undergo sexual trauma will often come to seek validation exclusively through sexual desirability and activity. Their perception of healthy relationship dynamics will be harshly skewed, and they will come to equate feeling sexually wanted by another person as being worthy of love and attention. Being sexually desired becomes essential to self-esteem, and sex is used to gain a sense of belonging and acceptance while guarding against the pain of rejection or abandonment. In many cases of sexual abuse, the abuser will draw parallels between sex and love, affection, and desirability. These mixed messages pertaining to sex and love will frequently persist well into adulthood, carrying over into all interpersonal relationships that develop later on in life.

Regaining a Sense of Power and Control

It is not uncommon for survivors of sexual abuse to attempt and assert control over their own bodies, experiences, and emotions by acting out sexually, either engaging in promiscuous sexual activity, entertaining a sexual compulsion, or partaking in risky and self-damaging sexual behavior. For example, many rape victims will almost adopt the mentality of their abuser in attempts to regain the control they lost when they were attacked. They will act out sexually, asserting dominance and aggression in their sexual relationships. Social expectations assume that victims of sexual trauma will go out of their way to avoid sexual contact of any kind. While this is certainly true in some cases, the opposite is also often true. Some trauma survivors will spend an excessive amount of time and energy constructing elaborate systems of dysfunctional behavior, subconsciously geared towards attempting to cope with deep-seated grief, fear, and feelings of powerlessness.

Sex Addiction Recovery

It is important to note, however, that not all cases of sexual addiction and hypersexuality can be directly linked to early traumatic experiences. In some instances, a chemical reaction within the brain leads to the development of a sexual compulsion. Just like drugs and alcohol, sex can offer intense neurochemical rewards, allowing for the temporary escape of any potentially looming issues, insecurities, or internal struggles. When we prepare to engage in a consensual sexual activity, our brains are flooded with dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline. This pleasurable chemical cocktail increases general feelings of well-being and self-confidence, and may even lead to fleeting feelings of euphoria. For some, this neurological high becomes addictive, either because it makes underlying emotional pain more bearable, or simply because it produces an intoxicating feeling of elation.

No matter what the cause, the consequences of sex addiction are typically quite detrimental in the life of the sufferer. Interpersonal relationships are harshly compromised, physical and emotional health will likely suffer greatly, and legal consequences may even be accrued. Engaging in compulsive sexual behaviors in response to unresolved sexual trauma is unproductive, and leads to a greater amount of emotional, psychological, and physical turmoil in the long-run – inevitably. In order for sex addiction to be properly treated, and in order for long-term recovery to be maintained, underlying and causal issues must be adequately addressed and resolved.

That is our job. We at Next Chapter treat sex addiction as a primary disorder, and focus our therapeutic attention on resolving core issues, such as those that stem from unresolved childhood trauma, attachment, and codependency. For more information, please feel free to contact us today.