What is sexual addiction or sexual compulsivity?
Most addiction therapists and researchers believe that trauma is at the root of most addictions.
There are two basic types of trauma. The first is developmental trauma. This is where crucial
developmental needs are not met or are thwarted so that crucial development does not happen, or
happens in a skewed way. The second type of trauma is event trauma or shock trauma. One
example of this kind of trauma is sexual abuse, which usually causes a state of traumatic shock
within a person. This type of trauma can cause many problems - such as unhealthy sexual
development, symptoms of unregulated emotions, or over stimulation of the nervous system.
Trauma interferes dramatically with normal healthy functioning. It can be disruptive in many ways to
a person's physical, emotional and psychological processes.
Addiction is a maladaptive coping mechanism that a person adopts in response to the trauma in
an effort to deal with the challenges of life. Patrick Carnes coined the term sexual addiction in his
book Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, where he defines sexual addiction as
the process of substituting a pathological relationship with sexual behaviors for a healthy
relationship with other people (Carnes, 2001). Felix's mentor, Joe Kort, defines addiction as “any
activity that interferes in a client’s life in some way, but which he continues to partake of despite the
negative consequences (Kort, 2008).”
Sex addicts view the world through a sexual filter. In an attempt to cope with stress, sexual
obsession/preoccupation and fantasy become primary strategies. The sex addict will allow his
thought to focus on sexual fantasies and sexualize most of his experiences, to relieve himself of
the tension he is experiencing.
A sex addict will use fantasy and behavior to modify his mood state. That's the essence of any
addiction: an attempt to reduce anxiety, depression and other unwanted feelings and thoughts.
During any addictive behavior, biological chemicals are released, making these actions even more
compelling. Natural chemicals such as endorphins and adrenaline give the addict their "high." The
sex addict's behavior causes chemical changes in his brain, which promote a mood- and mind-
altering experience. Then there's a natural drug in our bodies called phenylethylamine (PEA). It's
an essential chemical for those who are addicted to inherently risky behaviors like gambling,
shoplifting, bungee jumping, and sex. PEA's molecular structure parallels amphetamine, and is
strongest when first released. This explains why so many people with addictions say they're
always seeking the feeling they had during their first high, and want to re-experience it over and
over (Kort, 2002).
The psychological self-soothing hit of PEA and other internal chemicals lets the sex addict feel
temporary relief. His mood will elevate. But when the sexual behavior is over, he will drop into
shame, despair, depression, remorse and guilt for having engaged in his obsessions and
compulsions. "Sexual acting out" behaviors are a way of acting out feelings about whoever we're
with, and about ourselves. For the sex addict, the goal is to identify the difference between what
behavior's healthy, and what's not (Kort, 2002).
Do I need to seek help for my sexual behaviors?
There are some basic questions (adapted from sash.net) you can ask yourself to help determine if
you want to seek professional help:
Do I feel like I've lost the ability to control my sexual behavior (e.g., crossed lines I didn't think I
would cross, set limits that I have failed to meet, made promises to stop a behavior and then
Do I experience consequences because of my sexual behavior (e.g., miss work or call in late
because of acting out, risk my relationships, loss of spirituality, legal consequences)?
Do I constantly think about sexual activity even when I don't want to (e.g., spend hours cruising for
sexual experiences, dream about sexual behavior regularly, spend time preparing for sexual
behaviors, dwell on sexual experiences long after they are over)?
If you answered yes to any of these questions or are still concerned about your sexual thoughts,
feelings, fantasies or behaviors, we recommend that you speak to a professional who
understands the issues involved in sexual addiction.
If you have additional questions or would like to schedule an appointment please contact us.
Sex Addicts Anonymous®
Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH)
Life Learning Center
Copyright © 2007
Felix Paulick and