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An Overview of Sex Addiction

An Overview of Sex Addiction

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Published by Dorothy Hayden

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Published by: Dorothy Hayden on Jan 20, 2012
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06/30/2015

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By DOROTHY C. HAYDEN, LCSW
Page:« 1 2 3 4View All» It is well known among people in the 12-step programs that of all the addictions, sexis the most difficult to master. Far from the notion that sex addiction is the “fun” one, the suffering of people dealing with this affliction is enormous. It is common formembers of the sex recovering groups to be unable to maintain any continuous timeof sexual sobriety, giving way to despair and hopelessness.Before treatment, sexual enactment is the addict’s only source of safety, pleasure,soothing and acceptance. It vitalizes and connects. It relieves loneliness, emptinessanddepression
 
. Sex addiction has been called the athlete’s foot of the mind: It is anitch always waiting to be scratched. The scratching, however, causes wounds andnever alleviates the itch.The percentage of people who go totherapy 
 
or a 12-step program is quite small. Themajority of sexual compulsives live in isolation, filled with feelings of shame. Almost100 percent of the people who come to me for an initial consultation — whether it befor compulsive use of prostitutes, phone sex, a fetish, cross dressing, or masochisticencounters with dominatrixes — relay that beneath the shame they feel in telling metheir story, they also experience a sense of freedom that comes from finally beingable to share with another human being the hidden, shameful, sexually compulsiveacts that imprison them.The life of a sex addict gradually becomes very small. The freedom of self isimpaired. Energies are consumed. The rapacious need for a particular kind of sexualexperience drives the addict to spend untold hours in the world of his addiction.Inexorably, the compulsion begins to exact higher and higher costs. Friends slipaway. Hobbies and activities once enjoyed are dropped. Financial security crumblesas thousands of dollars a year are spent on sex.Then there is perpetual fear of exposure. Relationships with partners are ruined. Theappeal of intimate sex with a partner pales in comparison to the intense “high” of indulging in the dark and devious world of sexual compulsion.Sex addiction, of course, has nothing to do with sex. Any sexual act or apparent “perversion” has no meaning outside of its psychological, unconscious context. Whatsets sex addiction apart from other addictions and makes it so persistent is that thesubject of sex touches on our innermost unconscious wishes and fears, our sense of self, our very identity.While the definition of sex addiction is the same as that of other addictions —recurrent failure to control the behavior and continuation of the behavior despiteincreasingly harmful consequences — sexual compulsion is set apart from otheraddictions in that sex involves our innermost unconscious wishes, fears and conflicts.Sex addiction is a symbolic enactment of deeply entrenched unconsciousdysfunctional relationships with self and others. It involves a derailed developmentalprocess that occurred as a result of inadequateparenting
 
.
 
Current treatment might include:
participating in a 12-step program;
going to an outpatient clinic;
engaging in aversion therapy; or
usingmedicationsto stave off hypersexuality.Cognitive-behavioral 
 
therapy is used to help the patient control or repress theinstinct for a period of time.Addicts usually have a dysfunctional mother-child relationship. An unempathic,narcissistic, depressed or alcoholic mother has low tolerance for the child’s stressand frustrations. Nor is she able to supply the empathy, attention, nurturing andsupport that foster healthy development. The result in later life is separationanxiety,fear of abandonment and a sense of imminent self-fragmentation.This anxiety sends the sex addict running to his eroticized, fantasy cocoon where heexperiences safety, security, and diminished anxiety as well as the quelling of anunconscious wish to establish and maintain the missing, yet essential tie to mother.There is the hope that he can find an idealized “other” who can embody and makeconcrete the longed-for nurturing parent. This approach is doomed to failure.Inevitably, the other person’s needs start to impinge on the fantasy. The result isfrustration, loneliness and disappointment.On the other hand, a mother can be overly intrusive and attentive. She may beunconsciously seductive, perhaps using the child as a replacement for an emotionallyunavailable spouse. The child perceives the mother’s inability to set appropriateboundaries as seductive and as a massive disillusionment. Later in life, the addict ishypersexual and has trouble setting boundaries. Real intimacy is experienced as anengulfing burden. The disillusionment of not experiencing appropriate parentalboundaries is acted out later in life by the addict’s unconscious belief that the rulesdon’t apply to him with regard to sex, although he may be regulated and compliantin other parts of his life.All addicts experienced profound and chronic need deprivation throughout
 
childhood.Addicts in general sustain emotional injury within the realm of the mother-infantinteraction as well as with other relationships. Intense interpersonal anxiety is theresult of this early-life emotional need deprivation. In later life, the personexperiences anxiety in all intimate relationships.The sex addict has anxiety about being unable to get what he needs from realpeople. His desperate search for the fulfillment of unmet childhood needs inevitablyends in disillusionment. So he returns to his reliance on sexual fantasies andenactments to lessen anxiety about connection and intimacy and as a way to achievea sense of self-affirmation.Sex, for the addict, begins to be his primary value and a confirmation of his sense of self. Feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, and worthlessness magically disappear whilesexually preoccupied, through acting out or through spending untold hours on the
 
Internet. However, the use of sex to meet self-centered needs for approval orvalidation precludes using it to meet the intimacy needs of a cherished other.People with this kind of narcissism view other human beings as deliverers of desperately needed satisfaction that shores up a fragile sense of self — not as wholepeople who have their own feelings, wants and needs. This narcissism preventsaddicts from deriving satisfaction from mutual, reciprocal relationships in real life.Sexualizing is used as a magical elixir to meet needs without having to negotiate theups and downs of intimate relationships.A client of mine, a 48-year-old attractive single man, is in the process of thebreaking up of yet another relationship. After spending years of living a noxiouschildhood household, he went into his own world of fantasizing and masturbation asa way to soothe and protect himself. “When I was a kid, I was obsessed with beautifulwomenin the magazines. When Iwas able to date, I went through one woman after another. In adulthood, I knewthere was sadness and anger I didn’t want to face. To evade them, I had a steadystream of women who worshipped me, soothed me, paid attention to my needs. Iwent to peep shows and I visited prostitutes. Many a night I would spend hours inmy car circling the block looking for just the right street-walker to give me oral sexin my car. One night I had sex with a transvestite. I cried all the way home.” He met a girl whom he designated as “perfect — my redemption, my salvation.” Hebecame engaged but soon lost interest in the sex, which he described as “boring.” While still engaged, he started picking up hookers for oral sex in the car and begancompulsively using phone sex.His current relationship is breaking up because he picked a woman for her youth andbeauty (which reflected well on his narcissistic self). The rest of the story ispredictable. They moved in together and the beautiful, young, sexy female startedbecome real and having needs of her own. He admits he never felt warmth or lovefor her; she was merely a supplier of his narcissistic needs. As the relationshipdeteriorated, he fought the impulse to return to sex with strangers who don’t makedemand on him.Another client, a 38-year-old married man, has a compulsion to visit prostitutes.Three years into the treatment, he was finally able to talk about his anger toward hismother for depriving him emotionally through neglect and for never touching orcaressing him. He can now make a connection between visits to the prostitutes andhis hostility against mother for depriving him of sensual pleasure. He got lost in themire of his parents’ constant feuding. “When I was very young I would put a blanket on my genitals as a kind of soothingwhich I wasn’t getting from my parents. The rest of my life was a struggle to findother ways to soothe myself. When I discovered prostitutes, I thought I was inheaven. I can get sex now and be in total control. I can have it immediately, anyway I want it, whenever I want it. I don’t have to concern myself with the girl, aslong as I pay her. I don’t have to concern myself with vulnerability and rejection.This is my controlled pleasure world. This is the ultimate antithesis of the deprivationof my childhood.” 

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