Sex addiction is a complex issue to resolve. The path to healthy sobriety and recovery is well trodden and we understand how to help you or your addicted spouse/partner move from addiction to recovery. This post is about one way that we conceptualize the etiology, or “birthplace,” of someone’s addiction.
Over 40 years ago the idea of “attachment theory” came into being when John Bowlby began theorizing and studying the connection between a child and their primary caregiver. This relationship can be healthy (secure) or unhealthy (insecure). Bowlby’s work helped to launch other works and theorized that one’s attachment style is formed int he first 2 years of life.
For about 1/2 the population, we function in our close personal relationships with an insecure attachment style. There are 3 ways in which we are insecure – 2 of which I’ll talk about here. Some of us are “anxiously attached” meaning that we are anxious or preoccupied with primary relationships – worried that something might happen and that the connection (relationship) will end.
Others are avoidant (dismissive) in those primary relationships. For those of us who are avoidant, we don’t put a lot of value in relationships and we don’t work that hard at them – we are avoidant of close personal relationships.
The challenge for both of these styles is that, as human beings, we are “wired for connection” – we’re social creatures and find comfort and calm in healthy relationships. When someone has an insecure attachment style they have probably never used a relationship as a tool for comfort, but more often have found relationships to create additional stress in their lives.
When life feels stressful, many people look for ways to relieve the stress. Some of us talk it out; some of us exercise; some of us use drugs; and some people turn to compulsive sexuality or sexual addiction.
What the sex addict is seeking when life feels unbearable and they turn to sex is not orgasm or sexual release – it’s connection. So, rather than use their current relationships, because they feel some sense of uneasiness or insecurity in those relationships, they turn to fantasy relationships (porn, online chat rooms, cam sites) or people who are unattainable or undesirable long term (prostitution, affair partners who are married or unattractive, etc.) or some other acting out behavior which feels intimate at the time (substituting physical intimacy for emotional intimacy and acceptance) but is really fleeting.
And, because the behaviors have no residual or lasting value, the cycle begins anew with the next set of life stressors.
But, be careful with that last statement – it’s not about living a life free of stress. Recovery is about living life on life’s terms and managing the stresses that come up in more healthy ways.