Sex addiction is defined as any compulsive or maladaptive sexually-related, behavior that over time creates pre-occupation with and dependency on sexual expression. This compulsive behavior causes increasing distress to one’s life, work, relationships or overall functioning until such time that the sexual behavior becomes the overriding obsession. There is a cyclical pattern of behavior, involving urges and cravings wherein the sexual behavior becomes unmanageable and eventually becomes the defining behavior in the individual’s life.
No single behavior pattern defines sexual addiction but usually involves out-of-control or compulsive masturbation, compulsive heterosexual and homosexual relationships (regardless of an individual’s sexual orientation), pornography, compulsive internet pornography sites, voyeurism, and/or indecent phone calls and prostitution. More serious behavior includes child molesting, incest, rape and violence. While not all sexual expression is compulsive, when one’s attention and preoccupation with sexual expression becomes the defining behavior in one’s life, it is time to seek the help of a professional.
Sex Addiction / Compulsivity is a compulsive behavior that prioritizes sexual activity which becomes the organizing principle in one’s life. It interferes with otherwise normal daily living and can take many forms. This is including but not limited to: internet pornography, pornography, compulsive sexual hook-ups, compulsive masturbation, prostitution and chronic infidelity. Sexually addictive behavior is defined much like any other addiction or addictive process as it becomes the organizing principle of one’s life. Its progression can affect all areas of living including family, friends, and one’s work life. Left untreated this addiction can result in physical, emotional, and financial distress; even death due to increased risk taking behaviors.
Masturbation is defined as the pleasuring of one's self in a sexual way. A behavior, much like a substance, can be performed (or consumed) to excess. In healthy child development, masturbation is a part of sexual exploration. In the presence of childhood abuse and/or trauma, masturbation can be used as a way for a child to alleviate loneliness, fear, pain, anger, guilt and shame. Masturbation becomes a way to attain internal calm and self soothing in the midst of overwhelming stress.
What is important to recognize is that compulsive masturbation is a solitary pursuit outside the realm of emotional connection and intimacy. With or without the use of internet porn, videos, chat rooms, or fantasy, compulsive masturbation is often associated with other negative behaviors that can lead to legal, social, or familial ramifications. Left untreated, compulsive masturbation will worsen and potentially cause significant injury.
Denial keeps most people from seeking treatment because they rationalize to themselves that masturbation is healthy. Shame and denial become the organizing factors in an individual’s life which helps perpetuate the negative and escalating consequences that further trap an individual in the addictive downward cycle.
What makes masturbation unhealthy and potentially compulsive is the individual’s core belief about what masturbation is, what purpose masturbation serves in his or her life, and the extent to which an individual begins to lose control over the behavior. Some individuals masturbate on a regular basis and engage in fantasy to such an extent that they lose the ability to walk away from the behavior. The degree to which masturbation controls one’s thoughts and actions also helps to define masturbation as being compulsive.
Further, when the act of masturbation takes control over an individual’s otherwise healthy life pursuits, it is considered compulsive or addictive. As a result of that out-of-control behavior, the individual creates a cycle of isolation, secrecy and shame. Many individuals engage in masturbation on a daily basis and in so doing engage in fantasy, obsession, preoccupation and ritualization. While this form of compulsive “escape” helps alleviate internal psychic distress it alters neurochemicals known as body chemistry and serves to fuel an ongoing cycle of heightened sex hormones which, in turn, feed an increasing cycle of out-of-control sexual behavior. This is then followed by increasing shame, despair and perhaps, suicidality.
Often, an individual will masturbate to the point of injury which is a real and dangerous consequence of compulsive sexual behavior. Treatment should include medical and therapeutic interventions for self regulation and de-escalation of this maladaptive form of self medication for distress.
You’re correct. Whether it is a spouse who is being unfaithful in the marriage by engaging in online pornography, chat rooms, or a physical or emotional affair, it is important to have support for yourself so as to process what has occurred. Regardless of the circumstances involved, you will experience a degree of shock, surprise, anger and sadness that is inherent in this betrayal.
Further, the marriage has likely been under duress for some time as the spouse involved has become more lost in the addiction or compulsive behavior and has been pulling away from intimacy. The spouse that has experienced the betrayal will question her/his attractiveness, self worth and value. Therefore, the situation will necessitate an impartial and professional individual to help you handle the wave of emotions and reactions that may surface.
Unfortunately, it is very common that the significant other or spouse stumbles upon the evidence of online pornography. If you find images on your computer or other electronic device, confront your loved one with the evidence and listen to what s/he has to say. It is all too common that strong denial will surface in those situations and the individual involved will vehemently deny wrong doing. However, holding or showing the hard evidence in the face of outright denials is difficult to evade — even if you want to believe that he or she did not do this. It is important to ascertain whether the pornography sites visited involve children or under age images as this behavior carries risk of legal implications.
Further, if the images are under age and not videos or pictures of people who look young, assess risk or danger to any children who may reside in the home with your significant other or spouse. Regardless of the images or sites visited it is important to reach out for professional help to quickly and therapeutically address the underlying issues that are currently affecting your loved one and/or infidelity in the relationship.
Sharing emotional intimacies with an individual outside of a committed relationship may not always signal trouble. However, if the intimacies are being disclosed without the consent or knowledge of the partner involved; in secrecy via email, text, or exclusively at work, and with an individual who may share romantic feelings, the lines in having an emotional affair have been crossed. The risk to any relationship is breach of trust and dishonest behavior and that is what is problematic.
Relationships or marriages that do not directly address current or past unresolved issues will ultimately experience erosion in solid lines of commitment and trust. Emotional and/or sexual affairs, fantasies or workplace “friendships” can become the crutch or distraction by which an individual avoids confronting real problems within his or her marriage and/or relationship.
There are various reasons for which an individual may have a stronger sexual desire than their partner. In fact, it is common that there exist sexual discrepancies within marriages. Hormones, drugs (both prescribed and/or abused), and mood disorders can all play a singular or collective role in one’s level of sexual arousal. The issue at hand is not the reasons for which an individual has heightened (or diminished) needs but what the couple does to rectify the issue in the marriage.
A sexual disconnect in a relationship often indicates deeper significant relational issues. Should one or both individuals choose to ignore the issue(s), they run the risk that one or both will seek sexual gratification outside of the partnership which will only further erode intimacy and emotional connection between them. Compulsive masturbation, internet porn, chat rooms hook-ups, and affairs, and or divorce are soon to follow if communication and treatment is not sought.
This behavior speaks directly to evidence of an addiction, similar to other addictions or compulsions. Despite increasing and negative consequences, an individual will engage in an addiction to a chemical or process (sex, food, gambling). As a result their lives, relationships, work, and/or personal values are at stake. Common in sex addiction is the evidence of old and unprocessed sexual abuse, childhood trauma and/or neglect that is carried seemingly unrelated and later reenacted in adulthood in the form of a sexual compulsion or addiction. For this reason it is important to reach out to a professional who is trained in sexual trauma and addiction. With the help of therapy an individual can overcome underlying trauma and go on to experience happier and healthier sexual intimacy.
If you, or someone you love is struggling with sex and/or love addiction, please contact Debra to schedule an appointment. Sexual compulsivity and relationship addiction may have its roots in unresolved early childhood sexual trauma and abuse and must be taken seriously. When addressed, individuals, couples and families go on to live sexually happy and healthy lives.
Love and Relationship Addiction is characterized by an individual’s (both men and women) unhealthy dependency on a specific relationship or a pattern of relationships. As a result of one’s poor self esteem and lack of self-worth, the relationship, over time, becomes a prevailing presence that can result in abuse, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.
Internet Pornography is referred to as the “crack cocaine” of sex addiction. That is because pornography delivered by way of the internet, offers a quick, often private, and ever increasingly high-speed dose of stimulation to the brain. During the viewing of pornography the brain experiences a released tidal wave of endorphins and other neurochemicals; dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin and serotonin.
These neurochemicals produce a “natural high” which in turn, induces strong emotional, biological and chemical connections. With breakthroughs in medicine and Single photon emission computed tomography SPECT it has been proven that pornography addiction changes the “wiring and firing” of the brain and is akin to a “chemical addiction” because of the dopamine surge in our neurochemistry. When brains are exposed to internet pornography at an early age, the response in the brain is detrimental to growth and developing neuropathways.
Affairs and Infidelity remains a serious threat to a romantic relationship. An emotional affair can be as serious if not more so than a sexual affair because it is a breach to the very intimate foundation of an enduring union. That betrayal to a couple’s intimacy and connection speaks to the heart of what needs to be repaired in order for a couple to heal and grow from such an infidelity. A skilled therapist can help a couple heal, speak constructively as to the occurrences and begin to make the relational journey back to intimacy if so desired.
Emotional Incest/Sexual Abuse speaks to a relationship between a parent and child that becomes sexualized through covert or overt measures. In the process a parent uses the child and expects the child to fulfill their adult emotional needs. This dynamic causes underlying anger, guilt towards the parents and issues with self-esteem, addiction and sexual and emotional intimacy.
By contrast, covert sexual abuse involves the indirect yet sexualized, emotional abuse of a child or dependent. While no physical boundaries have been crossed and no direct sexual contact has been perpetrated, the parent or parents willingly enlist the emotional support of the child in healing his/her own unmet adult needs. In turn, the child becomes the confidant or emotional spouse of a same- sex or opposite sex parent.
Covert sexual abuse is devastating largely in part due to the indirect and insidious nature of the abuse. Caving to emotional demands that are too burdensome, the abused may experience some or all of the following symptoms as a result:
- Codependent behavior (inappropriate boundaries or no boundaries at all)
- Guilt about practicing self care especially when the offending parent is concerned (an unrealistic sense of obligation to that parent)
- Difficulties related to sexual identity or gender
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Love/hate relationship with offending parent
- Difficulty in maintaining relationships due to abused individual’s idealization and devaluation of others and an inappropriate expectations placed on partners
- Compulsivity that can include sex, substances, alcohol, work, food
- Patterns of triangulation (indirect communication) in work, family or romantic relationships
- Issues related to sex addiction/avoidance or love addiction/avoidance
In many cases individuals are not aware that their relationship is being negatively impacted by the underlying issues related to emotional incest. Finding a trained therapist in the underlying dynamics of emotional incest will be the first step in healing the relationship from negative and dysfunctional patterns of emotional incest and covert sexual abuse. For more information see "Emotional Incest" in Articles.