I often have people ask me “Are people really addicted to sex (pornography)? Is that even possible?” Or, another comment I often hear when people learn the specialty of my practice is, “If you have to be addicted to something, that’s the one I want.” Talk to anyone struggling with sexual addiction and you’d get a different response…
First things first. Is there really such a thing as sexual addiction? Aside from the relevant research – of which there is plenty – I have seen clients who use pornography or sexual encounters as a way to escape the difficulties of every-day lives. Some people have a drink, some people go for a run, some people take pills or smoke pot. Some people describe the same feelings of preoccupation, a “need” for their addiction, a singular focus, being in a fog, avoiding their life in pursuit of their addiction – they talk about sex or pornography as other people do when they talk about substances.
There are other behavioral addictions that have parallels to sex addiction. Eating, gambling, hoarding, gaming, shopping and others are all ways to avoid life; to focus on something besides life’s problems. Some of these are recognized as addictions by the medical community. The difficulty with sex addiction, I believe, is that the subject matter is more difficult to talk about. So, we assume people are just acting out sexually because they enjoy it, not because it is addictive.
I have met so many people who, after acting out, feel immense shame and guilt. They aren’t proud of what they’ve done. They didn’t “enjoy” it, they escaped their problems only to realize they’ve added to their problems. And, many people do this time and time again.
Is it really an addiction? Consider this – when you are struggling with depression, anxiety, stress or other negative emotions (fear, for example) your brain chemicals represent the negative emotions. When you engage in sex or view pornography (even when you start thinking about either one) your brain is wired to start releasing the opposite, feel good brain chemicals. This is the natural way of encouraging the animal to procreate and continue to evolve the species. Are these brain chemicals addictive? Yes they are. These are the same chemicals your brain releases when you exercise or eat, only in greater quantities with sex. They are also the same chemicals released with meth, but only in smaller quantities.
There could be pages and pages written about sex addiction being real. Suffice it to say that sex and pornography create preoccupation in the lives of more than 10% of the population and they pay a dear price in their personal and professional lives, in their relationships, in their own inner world.