An Overview of Sex Addiction

By Dorothy C. Hayden, LCSW

This anxiety sends the sex addict running to his eroticized, fantasy cocoon where he experiences safety, security, and diminished anxiety as well as the quelling of an unconscious 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 make concrete 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 is frustration, loneliness and disappointment.

On the other hand, a mother can be overly intrusive and attentive. She may be unconsciously seductive, perhaps using the child as a replacement for an emotionally unavailable spouse. The child perceives the mother’s inability to set appropriate boundaries as seductive and as a massive disillusionment. Later in life, the addict is hypersexual and has trouble setting boundaries. Real intimacy is experienced as an engulfing burden. The disillusionment of not experiencing appropriate parental boundaries is acted out later in life by the addict’s unconscious belief that the rules don’t apply to him with regard to sex, although he may be regulated and compliant in 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-infant interaction as well as with other relationships. Intense interpersonal anxiety is the result of this early-life emotional need deprivation. In later life, the person experiences anxiety in all intimate relationships.

The sex addict has anxiety about being unable to get what he needs from real people. His desperate search for the fulfillment of unmet childhood needs inevitably ends in disillusionment. So he returns to his reliance on sexual fantasies and enactments to lessen anxiety about connection and intimacy and as a way to achieve a 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 while sexually preoccupied, through acting out or through spending untold hours on the Internet. However, the use of sex to meet self-centered needs for approval or validation 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 whole people who have their own feelings, wants and needs. This narcissism prevents addicts from deriving satisfaction from mutual, reciprocal relationships in real life. Sexualizing is used as a magical elixir to meet needs without having to negotiate the ups and downs of intimate relationships.

A client of mine, a 48-year-old attractive single man, is in the process of the breaking up of yet another relationship. After spending years of living a noxious childhood household, he went into his own world of fantasizing and masturbation as a way to soothe and protect himself.

“When I was a kid, I was obsessed with beautiful women in the magazines. When I was able to date, I went through one woman after another. In adulthood, I knew there was sadness and anger I didn’t want to face. To evade them, I had a steady stream of women who worshipped me, soothed me, paid attention to my needs. I went to peep shows and I visited prostitutes. Many a night I would spend hours in my car circling the block looking for just the right street-walker to give me oral sex in 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.” He became 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 began compulsively using phone sex.

His current relationship is breaking up because he picked a woman for her youth and beauty (which reflected well on his narcissistic self). The rest of the story is predictable. They moved in together and the beautiful, young, sexy female started become real and having needs of her own. He admits he never felt warmth or love for her; she was merely a supplier of his narcissistic needs. As the relationship deteriorated, he fought the impulse to return to sex with strangers who don’t make demand on him.

 

APA Reference
Hayden, D. (2006). An Overview of Sex Addiction. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/an-overview-of-sex-addiction/000521
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    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
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