Compulsive gambling, overeating, shopping, exercise, internet use, and even TV watching all offer opportunities for individuals to develop addictive behaviours. This also applies to those who compulsively engage in repetitive sexual activities.
The hallmark of impulse control disorders, including sexual compulsions, is a failure to resist an impulse that is harmful to the individual or others but often starts out as pleasurable. This also involves an increasing sense of tension or arousal before actually undertaking the behaviour, often followed by gratification, pleasure, relief, and then remorse and guilt over the consequences of the act.
Addictive behaviours alter brain chemistry in much the same way as psychoactive drugs do. And the reasons that people engage in compulsive behaviour are the same reasons that they engage in compulsive drug use: to get an instant rush, to forget problems, to control anxiety, to oblige friends, to alter consciousness, to self-medicate, and so forth.
Those described as Sex Addicts generally become focused on sexual experiences in this compulsive manner. They pursue sexual experiences like others pursue drugs and, in fact, this addiction often co-exists with an addiction to drugs, usually cocaine. While only 13% of sex addicts don’t have some other addiction, 50-70% of cocaine addicts are also sexually compulsive; sex and cocaine become a stimulating package.
There is an abundance of easily available sexual material on both TV and the internet. On-line sexual addictions that develop through compulsively viewing pornography or engaging in sexual chat sites are becoming more common. Unfortunately, participation in these compulsive sexual activities can result in him/her avoiding normal relationships.
Many people who become sex addicts are victims of trauma, usually physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse. If a person gets treatment for the abuse, then his/her vulnerability to sexual addiction will often decrease.
There are various extreme measures people may undertake in response to trauma. One is to seek massive amounts of pleasure-thus sexual and cocaine addictions. Others may try to block all feeling, using substances like food, alcohol or drugs. Yet others use extreme abstinence as a way to keep distance from painful emotions and memories. Such are the anorexics, and some who engage in lifestyles where the body’s pleasures are denied.
Others may deal with trauma by locking the memories into a mental compartment, and splitting up the personality into parts, as in multiple personality. Sexual abuse victims often report that while the abuse was happening, they separated from themselves and felt they were watching from the ceiling, or that their real self was somewhere far away from the actual events.
It has become known that people can have cross addictions, and that what ultimately counts is not what the person is addicted to but rather the intensity of the addiction. As an example, a man who was a severe sex addict discovered cocaine and in ten days stopped his sexual addiction. Unfortunately, he had become just as strongly addicted to the cocaine.
Another reaction to trauma is for the person to re-create the traumatic situation from the past, even though this can be destructive. The mind does this as a way of trying to understand and master what happened. This is how sexual abuse victims can become sexual victimizers, or they may again enter the victim role. The sexual zone is a world they understand.
Research indicates that 87 percent of all addicts have other family members who are also addicts. A common pattern in such families is that they are very rigid and only allow certain realities to be recognized. To protect appearances, addictive behaviors are often done in secret, which ultimately reduces trust, communication and honesty.
There are two organizations in Vancouver which follow the 12-step model in trying to work with sexual addiction: Sex Addicts Anonymous and Sexaholics Anonymous. They are both in the white pages. There is also Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. This organization also helps people who are addicted to romance and love, the perpetual honeymooners who like the high of new love, with sex being secondary. Their problem is they cannot confront the challenges of ordinary long term relationships. Online, www.ncsac.org/main.html, www.sex-centre.com, and http://onlinesexaddict.org are available to help sex addicts.