As with many other “diagnoses,” there can be multiple factors that could lead to someone being sexually addicted. Here are five possible causes that I have observed in my clinical work:
1) These was early sexual, emotional or physical trauma in the addicted person’s early life. Victims of trauma adapt psychologically and neurobiologically to trauma in ways that help the person cope with the overwhelming feelings of trauma but can lead to maladaptive behaviors. In other words, in the service of emotional regulation of intense pain, the person’s brain and psyche can develop in ways that could lead to someone acting out sexually to cope.
2) I have found that sex addicts often did not have a way of being “healthily” dependent as children. We all have both independent and dependent aspects to us; it is natural and normal. Yet, for some people, especially when they were most vulnerable such as at a young age, they learned to hide their vulnerabilities because parents did not allow them to be “small” people that can depend on them emotionally. They had to be tough or “buck up” and learned not to rely on others to help them out of their emotional state. So, similar to # 1 above, these people have learned maladaptive ways to regulate their emotions, in this case to suppress those tender feelings and not count on other people. These people may grow up to be unhealthily dependent including being dependent on their sexual feelings as a way to access that dependent part. It is very limiting and people that cope this way have a hard time getting close to people. It is easier for them (in the short run) to act out sexually.
3) Some research suggests that it may be genetic. That may be one of the reasons sex addiction can run in families. Of course that is not an excuse; it just may be that if one knows that a family member already has this problem that he or she needs to be more alert to sex addiction being a possible coping mechanism or developing habit.
4) The person feels empty, has no significant purpose and/or is under stimulated. We all have a healthy impulse to feel alive and when we are not living compelling lives; lives that are stimulating and purposeful, we can be under stimulated. Some people in this circumstance can upregulate themselves, meaning increase their sense of aliveness, by looking at porn or acting out sexually in some other way that would temporarily pull them away from their emptiness and give them a sense of being more alive.
5) The person fears intimacy or has trouble initiating sexual activity in a mature relationship. This person usually avoids the possibility of being rejected, abandoned or feeling inadequate so resorts to less mature, less emotionally risky sexual acting out behaviors. (That is not to say that there may be other real significant risks in meeting one’s sexual needs in this maladaptive way!)
In upcoming blogs, I will be writing about other aspects of sex addiction including some treatment approaches and cases where individuals and couples had success dealing with this problem. Please feel free to comment or ask any questions you may have regarding the information in this article.