Why Do I Do What I Do? Sex Addiction
Help For Sexual Behaviours
If you are reading this it is possible that you feel that your sexual behaviours, whatever they might be, seem as if they are taking over your life. Despite many attempts to stop and broken promises to yourself you find yourself returning time and again to sexually acting out.
This is often the most confusing part for addicts, you will be aware of the destruction if you are caught, you feel the shame and remorse after sexually acting out. But why, why do you keep on going back time and time again?
This is also the first question often posed by partners once they have discovered the secret lives that their loved ones have been living. Why? What is wrong with me? What didn’t I give/do that meant you had to find sexual gratification elsewhere?
They are desperate to want to know. They do not believe their partners when they tell them they don’t know. They just think this is another lie, like, as is often the case, so many times before. But often they really don’t know and are just as confused as their partners.
Addiction of any nature is often thought of as an anaesthetic; a coping mechanism to manage feelings that are too difficult to deal with.
Often from an early age, in the form of masturbation, we use sex to comfort ourselves, it can provide us with an escape from the reality of the real world. But this in itself is not the problem, sex or masturbation is not the problem, in the same way, that alcohol in itself is not the problem, it is our dependency and feeling out of control that needs to be addressed.
Take the word ‘sex’ out of the equation and you are left with addiction and the answer isn’t straightforward.
Some argue that it is simply a moral issue and men (and women) should just stop using the addiction label as an excuse for philandering and being unfaithful and just need to ‘get a grip’.
There is more and more compelling research to suggest otherwise. Growing consensus is that problems are multidimensional and addiction is a mixture of biopsychosocial conditions, a notion first articulated by George Engel in 1977
The term “biopsychosocial” comes from combining the individual factors that contribute to the model; biological, psychological (thoughts, feelings, behaviours), and social.
Seeing addiction holistically can reduce shame and help the addict to consider the problem in relation to the whole ‘system’ of their lives. There are multiple pathways to addiction the significance of these individual pathways depends on the individual.
It is difficult and unnecessary to distinguish clear lines between the three elements of the model; our biology, including the neurobiology of our brain, is inseparable from psychosocial aspects.
Our brain is known for its neuroplasticity or ability to change in light of new experiences. Therefore, experience impacts our brain and our brain in turn influences our behaviours and experiences.
When we consider biological perspectives during therapy, a common denominator in all addiction is the role of dopamine; the neurochemical responsible for reward and pleasure seeking in our brains. Such is its importance to our survival that it is naturally stimulated by eating, drinking and having sex.
When this complex reward system is overpowered by super-normal stimuli such as watching pornography our brains seek these pleasures to the detriment of all other activities.
In addition, when our brains are developing as children the lack of attention, soothing and affection can have the consequences hard wired into our brains. When children have experienced trauma, the addiction is not necessarily pleasure seeking but a survival strategy.
In our experience, understanding the neurobiology of addiction helps clients to reduce shame and confusion.
This does not diminish the responsibility for the behaviour but can act as an education in understanding why they feel compelled to repeat the same destructive behaviours over and over. With this understanding different more informed choices can be made.
Clients become aware that, difficult as it is, the neurochemical ‘urge’ will pass.
From a psychological perspective time is spent understanding the clients background and history, where often stories of trauma and attachment injuries can be found. Attachment is a widely know psychological term for how we were nurtured and cared for as a child.
It is now widely understood that our formative attachments to our caregivers shapes how we are able to make adult attachments with our own loved ones.
Attachment refers to the level of anxiety and avoidance that we are able to tolerate in our relationships. Of course, not everyone who has experienced trauma or attachment difficulties will go on to be an addict, but evidence suggests that sexual trauma is more prevalent amongst the sex addiction population.
Therapy can also help to focus on the thoughts, feelings and behaviours triggered by sex addiction, controlling impulse, triggers, urges and negative thinking patterns. All of which help clients to feel more confident in managing urges enabling them to make conscious choices about how they wish to feel, think and behave.
From a social perspective the environment and culture that we grew up in can greatly influence our values and beliefs around sex and sexuality.
The current sexualisation of our culture can impact on our lives. For someone who might be pre-disposed to sexual addiction from their unique biological and psychological makeup, a sexualised environment is one in which they can flourish.
This is also compelled by our differing cultural expectations and messages about sex and sexuality, the world of work that we inhabit and our friendship and family relationships.
Needless to say, there are many different ways to explore addiction with clients. However, this “client-centred” approach of considering the whole person contrasts the “one-size-fits-all” approach.
And finally, when partners are aware of the complex and diverse possibilities of why their partners act as they do they are less inclined to judge. Often their anger softens as they realise that traumatic as it is for them, their partners feel powerless over their biological processes and destructive thinking patterns that previous life experiences have created.
But they can learn to bring the awareness into consciousness and face it head on.