A sex addiction is a habitual response and a source of sexual gratification or emotional security. It is a way of coping with internal feelings and external pressures that provides the Addict” as “Not You””>addict with predictable and consistent immediate gratification, but that has concomitant costs. Eventually these costs may outweigh the subjective benefits the addiction offers. Nevertheless, people continue in their addiction as long as they believe it continues to do something for them.
An addiction to sex may involve any attachment that grows in importance so that it damages a person’s inner and external worlds. All addictions follow certain patterns. For one, the relentless acquisitiveness of a magical seeming object or involvement as well as loss of control, perspective and priorities. Addiction, as we know, is not limited to alcohol and drugs. When someone becomes addicted, it is not to a chemical or a person but to a particular subjective experience. Anything that a person finds sufficiently absorbing and that seems to remedy deficiencies in the person’s life can become an addiction. The addictive potential of sex lies not in the sex-act itself or in the viewing of Internet porn, but in the meaning the sexual experience has for a person.
A person is vulnerable to addiction when he feels a lack of self-worth that is buoyed by sexual fantasies and enactments or when he experiences a lack of satisfaction in life, an absence of intimate connections to other people, a lack of compelling interests, or a loss of hope.
The “hook” of the addiction – the thing that keeps people coming back for more, despite considerable costs – is that it gives people feelings and gratifying sensations that they are not able to get in other ways. It may block out sensations of pain, uncertainty, discomfort, or of distressing emotions. It may create powerfully distracting sensations that focus and absorb attention. It may enable a person to forget seemingly insurmountable problems. It may provide illusory, temporary feelings of calm, self-worth, accomplishment, of power or control, of intimacy or belonging. These are the alluring benefits that explain why a person keeps going back to the “Erotic Haze.” It is a state of mind that accomplishes something for that person, or that he anticipates will do so, however fantasy-based and illusory these benefits may,in fact, be.
For all the discussion of “powerlessness”, addiction always involves and is fueled by value choices. People who enjoy strong emotional bonds with other people, productive work, feelings of competence and fun, a sense of responsibility towards others, engagement in interesting activities or community service, are not people who tend towards addiction. If you have better things to do with your time and energy and value certain activities and people more than you value escape into sexual intoxication, then you wouldn’t make sexual intoxication the epicenter of your life.
And if you are addicted to sex, wouldn’t it make sense to revivify or create those personal strengths and values as an antidote to your addiction?
However much sexual gratification and other benefits are experienced in the addiction, the person pays a considerable price for his addictive involvement. Addiction makes people live less consciously with less awareness of important people, events and activities. It reinforces the problems the person was trying to avoid in the first place. The sex addict may have an inner experience that seems to be a cure-all and makes everything better. In reality, it makes things worse. Jobs and relationships suffer or fall away, chronic sleeplessness damages health, debts may increase, marital conflict ensues, once-valued career opportunities disappear, the ongoing business of living is neglected. The person is increasingly “out of touch” with nourishing contacts and essential responsibilities.
Increased disengagement from reality is a set-up for the discomfort of withdrawal. Removed from the cushion of living a fantasy-based life, the sex addict is now deprived of his primary source of comfort and gratification. He “crash-lands” into an inhospitable world, a world from which the person has been using the addiction to escape.
When do sexual addicts seek help for their condition? When the pain of the “crash-landings” exceeds the benefits of the addiction.