Sexual addiction is still a difficult concept for many people to grasp. The fact that much of the behavior typical of people with sexual addiction is socially taboo makes it easy for others to suspect that the disorder is really a convenient excuse for people who want to redirect the blame when they have been caught engaging in such behavior. It can also, at times, be difficult to distinguish the behavior of a sexually addicted person from hypersexual people who also tend to escalate their sexual pursuits over time in order to be able to achieve the same level of gratification. Understanding sexual addiction is not about knowing how people with this disorder behave, but rather why they behave in this way. And what sexual addiction is really about is a painful struggle with intimacy. In fact, despite its name, sexual addiction is truly an intimacy disorder.
Early Attachment Failure in Childhood
The compulsive sexual behavior that sexually addicted individuals engage in is a way to compensate for failure to form adequate bonds and attachments in childhood. For many people living with sexual addiction, early attachment failure goes back to a history of abuse—emotional, physical or sexual. Some research suggests that the percentage of sexual addiction sufferers who were abused during childhood or some other period during their past may be as high as 80% or 90%. People with early attachment failure struggle to form strong and healthy bonds and attachments in their intimate relationships as adults. Those who develop sexual addiction act out because they are seeking to compensate for their history of dysfunctional interpersonal relationships. Unfortunately, they lack the skills to form healthy connections and continue to act out in destructive patterns. Sexual addiction involves a strong desire to form attachments in order to compensate for the lack of healthy relationships and low feelings of self-worth. This leads sexually addicted individuals to seek very frequent sexual encounters in search of validation and intimacy. As a result, people with sexual addiction will often have few or sometimes no serious relationships. And those who do develop serious relationships will typically cheat on their partners, usually multiple times.
Seeking Intimacy Through Sex
People with sex addiction seek intimacy through sex, but while sex can be an important part of romantic intimacy, it is not the same thing. People with sex addiction may find it easy to create sexual encounters, but they are not comfortable or capable when it comes to sharing the intimate parts of themselves that are necessary for establishing true emotional intimacy with another person. People who struggle to create intimacy are often fearful of sharing too much of themselves, and for those with sexual addiction that fear is increased as the number of things that they are ashamed to reveal about themselves increases. They tend to be secretive and evasive, and often detach themselves emotionally even from the sexual encounters that they crave—remaining focused on their internal fantasies rather than what is happening in real life. Eventually, people with sexual addiction will lie more and more frequently in their efforts to keep the truth about their sexual activities hidden from their partners, family, friends or even coworkers. Their unwillingness to share the more private aspects of themselves frequently inspires their early lies, but eventually shame leads to many more lies as their compulsive sexual activities snowball. Fortunately, sexual addiction treatment can help these individuals to overcome their intimacy issues, which will eventually allow them to form solid and healthy attachments and to engage in healthy sexual activity.