An Overview of Sex Addiction

By Dorothy C. Hayden, LCSW

This man uses sexualization as a defense. His sexual preoccupation is a way to ward off chronic feelings of loneliness, inadequacy and emptiness born of a childhood trying to get nurturing from a withdrawn, depressed mother. When stress or anxiety begins to overwhelm him, he is beset by intense urges to indulge in his fantasies and enactments. Sexualization thus becomes his standard way of managing feelings that he perceives to be intolerable as well as a way of stabilizing a crumbling sense of self-worth.

Some contemporary psychoanalysts use the concept of a vertical split in treating the addict. The split exists from inadequate parenting which results in structural deficits in the personality. Patients often report that they feel fraudulent, living two separate lives with two different sets of values and goals. They feel they’re acting out a version of “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekell and Mr. Hyde.”

One sector of the personality, the one anchored in reality, is the responsible husband and father. This part of the person is conscious, adaptive, and often successful in business. This is also the sector that experiences guilt and shame about his sexual behaviors and ultimately drives him to seek therapy to ameliorate his misery.

The “Mr. Hyde” side of the vertical split has a completely different set of values and seems to be impervious to his own moral injunctions. “Mr. Hyde” represents the unconscious, split-off part of the personality. It is impulse-ridden, lives in erotic fantasy, and is sexualized, unstructured and unregulated. This side of the vertical split seems to be incapable of thinking impulses through, and thus is oblivious to the consequences of his behavior. This is the part of the self that is hidden, dark, driven and enslaved.

Treatment bridges the gap of the split. Its aim is the establishment of a therapeutic relationship that regulates emotional states. It is used as a “laboratory” to bring to consciousness maladaptive relationship patterns. The therapist provides empathy and understanding and reconstructs the childhood origin of the addiction. The goal is an integrated self that is able merely to experience a sexual fantasy without being preoccupied with it and without acting out a damaging sexual scenario. The patient achieves some ability to self-regulate moods, and to seek out adequate and sustaining available supportive relationships both in and out of treatment. He is then free to put sexuality in its proper place and free up energies to gain satisfaction from real relationships, pursue creative or intellectual goals, obtain pleasure from hobbies and activities, and have a heightened sense of self-esteem, thus enabling him to end his isolation. He is then free to love, to have deeply satisfying, self-affirming sex, work to his potential, and experience being a valued member of the human community.

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APA Reference
Hayden, D. (2006). An Overview of Sex Addiction. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/an-overview-of-sex-addiction/000521
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