Note: This entry is by guest blogger Alexandra Katehakis, M.F.T., from Los Angeles. For more information about her click here.
Sex addiction is known for its repetitious pattern of out-of-control sexual behavior. In this post we’ll take a look at how that pattern begins and what keeps it going.
At some point in their childhood someone who has become addicted to sex was most likely faced with an unmet need which left them yearning. Regardless of whether it was a yearning for support, validation, love, or human connection, the yearning most likely left them with a deep, empty feeling within. When a child grows up in a family that doesn’t attend to their needs at some point in their life sexual behaviors provide a sense of relief from and control over the emptiness. These sexual behaviors become their coping mechanism to fill the discomfort of the deep void within.
The cycle of sex addiction typically begins with this desire for control as a means of coping. When an uncomfortable feeling surfaces, control is sought in an effort to make the feelings ultimately go away. Sex addicts turn to fantasy and preoccupation in avoidance of these feelings, and this “trance-like” state sets in motion the addictive cycle. The person becomes a prisoner of his own thoughts as he tries to avoid the pain and discomfort of feelings, seeking refuge in the trance which then leads to ritualization.
In the ritualization phase of the addictive cycle, special routines, which have been created to intensify the preoccupation, add to arousal, excitement and a sense of control. In terms of the arousal it creates this could even be considered a sort of ‘foreplay’ for the addict. The rituals generally encompass, but are not limited to: choice of clothing and/or music, scrolling through their ‘little black book’, going to the ATM to get cash for a prostitute, putting fresh sheets on the bed, lighting candles to set the mood, etc. The rituals often provide further distraction from feelings of unloveability and worthlessness.
The actual acting-out phase is the shortest in the cycle. The behaviors include, but are not limited to: sex, cybersex, affairs, compulsive masturbation, pornography addiction, secrecy, exhibitionism, voyeurism, indecent calls or touch, strip clubs, and anonymous sex.
The brief acting out phase is then followed by an even briefer period of numbness. All feelings, both good and bad, are anesthetized, offering momentary relief from discomfort. But the numbness is fleeting, and addicts report that shortly after the sexual act occurred, feelings of despair begin to set in. This despair is characterized by utter hopelessness, sadness, desperation and fear over one’s powerlessness. Feelings of shame and guilt abound.
One can imagine where this leaves the addict—right back where he or she started, in a state of sheer discomfort. Feelings of failing oneself and others, and not keeping promises, begin to erode and further damage the person’s integrity and self-esteem. Feelings which can only be escaped by returning to the fantasy and preoccupation phase, thus setting in motion a repetition of the cycle.
While often times this cycle can feel like a life-sentence of pain, guilt, shame, and despair, it doesn’t have to be. Attending 12-step meetings for sexual addiction and working with a therapist trained in the treatment of sexual addiction can help stop the Cycle of Sex Addiction, and ultimately assist sex addicts in obtaining healthy relationships with themselves, their partners, and their sexuality. For more information see below.
Alexandra Katehakis, MFT, CSAT-S, CST-S
Note: To locate a therapist who specializes in treating sex addiction see the membership list for the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health, the main professional organization for therapists who treat sex addiction (SASH.net). To read further about sex addiction, you can go to Ms. Katehakis’ website at TheCenterForHealthySex.com and Dr. Bissette’s website at HealthyMind.com.