Addiction is often defined as the loss of ability to stop or control unwanted behaviors despite feelings of guilt, a desire to stop, and the reality of harmful consequences to yourself and your loved ones.
Some behaviors that are common among those with sexual addiction include:
- Viewing pornography
- Compulsive masturbation
- Sexual or emotional infidelity (sometimes with multiple partners)
- Use of electronic devices for sexual experiences
- Anonymous sexual encounters
- Paying for sexual experiences through massage parlors, strip clubs, escort services, or prostitution
- Living a double life or keeping secrets
Sexual addiction is a compulsive psychological or physiological craving for some kind of sexual gratification, which may or may not include orgasm. Those who have become sexually addicted often find themselves preoccupied with sexual thoughts and desires for sexual experiences.
Sex can become central to their life—more important than their family, friends, recreation, occupation, and health. They frequently use sexual behavior as a way to cope with distressing feeling states like pain, discomfort, depression, or anxiety. And they tend deny that they have a problem—even to themselves—which often leads to living a double life full of lies and secrecy. This usually creates more distressing feelings like shame, depression, and isolation. And their brain chemistry becomes altered by all of the hormones released during their sexual behavior.
Sexual addiction can be as severe as chemical dependencies involving Alcohol, Marijuana, Cocaine, Heroin, and LSD. It is estimated that approximately 12 million people suffer from sexual addiction in the United States alone.
How Do People Become Addicted to Sex?
Sexual addiction can begin with normal sexual curiosity or self-gratification. For many people, this kind of behavior never becomes a problem. But for others, the high of sexual behavior becomes a primary way of coping with, or escaping from, distress caused by pain, loneliness, boredom, stress, anxiety, depression, anger, abuse, neglect or other life stresses. They may find their body getting used to the high of their current behavior and so they experiment with ways of intensifying their sexual pleasure, leading to more behavior or to behavior that is more hard core.
We are hard-wired to be sexual beings. Because of powerful affects of sexual stimulation on the brain, casual sexual behavior can easily turn into a destructive addiction. Sexual arousal creates powerful chemical and neurological reactions in the brain. The neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, endogenous opiates, and oxytocin are responsible for the excitement, rush, euphoria, and feelings of connection that occur during sexual experience. The chemistry of the brain doesn’t know the difference between actual sex, pornography, and sexual chat; it’s all the same to your neurons. These experiences automatically cause the formation of new neurological pathways. When the behavior is repeated frequently and more intensely, the pathways become deeper and more lasting and a Powerful Addiction is created.
Why is Pornography Such a Problem?
Pornographic images, videos, stories, and advertisements can easily be accessed on the Internet via computers, tablets, iPods, gaming systems, and smartphones. It is also available on cable and satellite TV and in books and magazines. It is literally available anytime, and almost anywhere. Before the Internet, people had to go searching for pornography. Now, the Internet brings it directly to us without our consent.
The amount of free pornography available on the Web is staggering. Subscriptions to pay-sites are generally just a few dollars a month. Access to free or cheap pornography is virtually limitless.
The Internet can provide complete anonymity by allowing individuals to create alternate identities, personalities, and lives online. It also provides secrecy because no one else has to know what you do when you’re all alone. But secrecy and isolation actually feed addiction, which is why online pornography has become such a common and powerful addiction.
Three Styles of Addiction
The desire is for stimulation, energy, focus, excitement, and a rush—usually as a diversion from boredom, sadness, or depression. The neurotransmitter involved is adrenaline, which creates an effect similar to cocaine and amphetamines.
The desire is for calmness, relaxation, and sedation—usually as a relief from stress, anxiety, discomfort, or feeling uptight or overwhelmed. The neurotransmitters involved are endorphins, which create an effect similar to alcohol, heroin, and binge eating.
The desire is to escape into a “feel-good” world through spacing out or hallucination—usually as a distraction from stress, responsibility, and negative feelings. The neurotransmitters involved are dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which create and effect similar to marijuana, LSD, mushrooms, and peyote.