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Sex and Pornography Addictions

Sex and Pornography Addictions 

 

by Blair Schulze

 
In the past few decades the idea that sex or pornography can become addictive is becoming a more accepted concept. With high speed internet and smart phones now being widespread, access to sex, cybersex, hook-up sites and pornography is easy and sexually addictive behaviour is on the increase. Sex and pornography addictions are thought to affect approximately 6% of adults and 20% of those affected are thought to be women.

Recent brain imaging research shows that the same parts of the brain over-activated by substance addictions are also over-stimulated by people with excessive sexual behaviour. People with sexually addictive behaviour run the risk of many negative consequences, including broken relationships and lost employment. Sex and pornography addicts feel compelled to obtain the ‘fix’ or ‘high’ that sexual behaviour gives them, and are unable to simply stop the behaviours even if it is causing themselves or others distress.

With excessive sexual behaviour, addict’s minds become ‘hypersexualised’ and sex becomes highly prioritised. They may find themselves spending long periods of time viewing online sexual material, seeking out sexual experiences or frequently looking at others in a sexual manner.
 

Definition

Typical symptoms of sex or pornography addiction are:
  • Preoccupation with viewing pornography or sexual behaviour.
  • Loss of control of using pornography or sexual activity. Users have usually unsuccessfully tried to quit or reduce their use. Users can experience distress, restlessness, anxiety, or anger if unable to engage in the behavior.
  • Negative consequences have occurred due to out of control pornography use or sexual activity. Some consequences could be; strained or broken relationships, employment issues, erectile dysfunction, loss of interest in sex with their partner, social isolation, financial struggles.

Causes

My experience of treating sex addicts is that the cause of sex & pornography addicitons involves many factors but can include a childhood that lacked enough emotional warmth. For some people there are more obvious childhood factors such as emotional neglect, rejection, parental conflict or abuse. Early exposure to sexual material can also play a role. Often addicts have a desire to feel wanted and may not feel emotionally fulfilled in their relationships. It is not uncommon for sex addicts to also have had issues with other addictions such as cigarettes, alcohol, drugs or gambling.

One of the pioneers in the field, Patrick Carnes states "When a child's exploration of sexuality goes beyond discovery to routine self-comforting because of the lack of human care, there is potential for addiction. Sex or masturbation becomes confused with comforting and nurturing”.

Sex and pornography addicts often do not realise it, but they are frequently seeking to fill some inner void or escape difficult emotions such as boredom or loneliness. Some addicts can also have undiagnosed attentional difficulties and find the buzz/stimulation they get from sexual arousal too much to resist. This can sometimes result in the need for more and more stimuli to feel the same levels of stimulation and users may begin engaging in more risky behaviour.
 

Treatment

Being ready to seek help is the first big step for people suffering from any addiction. With sex or pornography addiction, readiness may be when their partner threatens to leave them or there is another big consequence they are facing. Some people just reach a point where they want to change. They may feel very guilty about their behaviour and don’t want to hurt the close people around them or they just become tired of the amount of time, money and energy their addiction is taking up. Others are struggling to reconcile their behaviour with their values and who they see themselves as.

Once a person is ready, treatment is available. They may initially feel ashamed or embarrassed to seek help, but once they begin talking to a supportive therapist, people find they are able to move through the difficult feelings and begin the process of change.

 

References

Robert Weiss. (2015). Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction - Health Communications Inc. Florida: USA.
Robert Weiss. (2017). Out of the Doghouse: A Step-by-Step Relationship-Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating - Health Communications Inc. Florida: USA.
Patrick Carnes (2001). Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction - Hazelden. Minnesota: USA.

Article posted 8 October 2019
 
Photo of Blair Schulze sex addictions therapist
Blair Schulze is a Registered Psychotherapist who specialises in sex and pornography addictions. He works in private practice in Ponsonby, Auckland.
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