“Addiction is an illness of escape. Its goal is to obliterate, medicate, or ignore reality. It is an alternative to letting oneself feel hurt, betrayal, worry, and—most painful of all—loneliness.”
- Patrick Carnes
Sex addiction is a very real and very destructive problem. Similar to other addictions, it affects our brains, neuropathways, and coping mechanisms in significant and harmful ways. Left untreated, sex addiction can destroy relationships, careers, self-esteem, and even physical health. While this disease is often masked in secrecy, we know that many millions of individuals are affected by this very issue.
Sex addiction affects all members of families. Partners of sex addicts can be significantly traumatized by the discovery of the addiction as well as the confusion ("gas lighting") of not knowing what is real and can be trusted.
Sex addiction thrives on isolation, denial, and continuous lying to self that everything is still under control.
So many individuals are overwhelmed by the shame of repeated acting out cycles. They think something must be wrong with them internally or morally. It is important to realize that sex and porn addiction is not a moral problem - it's a disease of the brain and nervous system.
Hope is possible. Recovery is available. You are not alone.
Fortunately, there is a way out for those affected with sex and pornography addiction. As we gradually face reality and realize our increasing powerlessness, different and more effective solutions can be sought.
What does sex addiction look like?
Sex addiction can often begin with compulsive masturbation and extensive use of pornography. Many individuals can trace this back to childhood roots. Because addiction is a progressive disease, this cycle tends to increase over time and with increasing risk. Eventually sex addiction can take the form of multiple other behaviors:
- Escorts and prostitution
- Multiple secret affairs - in person or online
- Excessive and risky sex
- Anonymous partners
- Sexual massage parlors
Pornography and sex become reliable, trusted relationships that alter our mood. They are there when we need them, and they never fail us.
We have a relationship with a compulsive behavior that makes us feel better. It alters our mood because it affects the neurchemicals in our brain. Over time we need more and more of the chemical boost just to feel balanced and "normal." Our brains are constantly seeking a state of balance and as we introduce more of an external drug or behavior, it will scale back on its own receptors and chemical production.
Pornography has been called the "crack cocaine" of the internet due to its widespread availability, anonymous nature, and easy ability to increase arousal. In many ways, it's the perfect drug!
The pornography addiction cycle is deeply lonely. Addicts often feel profound shame and loss from their inability to stop the behavior.
Pornography can also be a "gateway drug" to other behaviors. As the addiction progresses, many porn addicts will begin to engage in webcams, online chat/affairs, casual sex, and other forms of hypersexual behavior.
The goal of therapy and recovery is to replace these "flawed solutions" of addiction with different behaviors and rituals that will actually enhance our lives and relationships.
Whether in individual or group therapy, we will immediately work to reduce the shame and isolation that can be so debilitating. You will work to understand how your addiction cycle works and why you are drawn to to the behaviors you engage in. You will create an abstinence plan with documented boundaries around your danger zones.
Additionally, clients will work to understand why addiction started in the first place. Many clients can point to patterns and belief systems in their families of origin that taught them it was not safe to go to people to get their needs met. So, as children, they learned early on to look to substances and our bodies to find relief. This is the beginning of isolation and compartmentalization in our lives.