When Your Heart Doesn’t Matter… The Tragedy of Sexual Addiction
Have you or your partner experienced the upheavals of sex addiction, emotional or sexual trauma, or a troubled marriage? If so, the seasoned veterans of Heart Matters would love to help you. With an empathic blend of professionally trained skills and life experience Heart Matters Counselors, led by Mike and Patti Pinkston, shine light into the darkness of otherwise bright, aware and motivated people and expose surprising pockets of meaning and hope.
Sex addiction can be broadly divided into two major categories:
- An addiction to disconnected sexual experiences with another person through affairs, prostitution, massage parlors etc. and,
- An addiction to pornography in which a person masturbates to pornographic images or fantasies about pornographic images.
Sex addiction is a way some people compulsively medicate their feelings or life’s stresses to the degree that their sexual behavior becomes their major coping mechanism. The individual often has lost the ability to choose whether they can or cannot do their sexual behaviors although they may be in denial about their loss of choice. They often cannot stop this sexual behavior for any great length of time by themselves. Sex addicts spend a lot of time in the pursuit of his or her sexual behavior or fantasy. They may also have a binge of sexual behaviors. In many cases, the addict has not been able to stop their sexual behaviors regardless of the consequences, value systems, belief systems or faith systems. As one addict reported, “I didn’t let anything get in the way of my addiction- my wife, my kids, my friends, my job, my relationship with God. I pursued my secret life of addiction in spite of these things.” Sex addicts can be both male and female. Sex addiction is not about having a high libido.
At Heart Matters, LLC we believe there are six factors or categories that contribute to a person becoming sexually addicted. The contributing factors are as follows: biological, psychological, chemical, the presence of sexual trauma, spiritual, and sexual anorexia. Although each individual is different, most of the clients we see exhibit two or 3 of these factors.
BIOLOGICAL SEX ADDICTS
The biological oriented addict is someone who has conditioned their brain to receive certain pleasure producing chemicals primarily by repeated pairing of a fantasy state with an orgasm. An orgasm produces a massive amount of pleasure chemistry into the body. It is roughly four times the strength of heroin. The portion of the brain that creates the sensations produced from an orgasm, the amygdala, doesn’t know reality from fantasy. It only knows to respond to the pairing of a given stimulus. To get better, this type of sex addict has to modify his personal behavior and thought life. He has to learn to set limits and protection boundaries around the things he regularly entertains in his thoughts and the things he views. He also has to stop masturbating to fantasy or imagery that drives his addiction and begin to have orgasms only around connected sex with his spouse or significant other. There are various very helpful tools that will help the addict change his biological orientation towards a healthy and fulfilling sex life.
PSYCHOLOGICAL SEX ADDICTS
The psychological factors leading to sex addiction can be complex. Essentially, the psychological factors contributing to addiction can come from the modeling in dysfunctional family relationships and the essential self-care skills the sex addict doesn’t learn because he has substituted his addiction for those life skills. All addictions are about pain relief and the inability to cope with present life situations. The sex addict learns to do his addiction as a coping mechanism. His addiction acts as the “magic” answer to various forms of pain- anxiety, depression, hurt, shame, anger, frustration, fear, guilt, loneliness, hopelessness, powerlessness, and relationship difficulties. This handicaps him in the area of personal growth. Instead of dealing with the various challenges life presents, he controls the negative impact of those challenges with an artificial mechanism- his addiction. The psychological addict has to learn new health life skills- self-care, boundaries, personal esteem building and others to replace the needs and wants formerly controlled by his addiction.
CHEMICAL SEX ADDICT
The chemical factors are usually experienced by sex addicts who also suffer from psychological disorders- Depression Disorder, Bi-polar I & II Disorders, and various Anxiety Disorders. These disorders impact the chemistry of the impulse control centers of the brain. The addict uses his addiction to medicate the impact of these disorders. During the addiction assessment phase of treatment at Heart Matters, either in individual therapy or during an intensive, we often find the addict has an un-diagnosed psychological disorder that he has unknowingly attempted to treat with his addiction. Again an orgasm is a powerful release of pleasure producing and pain reducing chemicals. Often times, when the Heart Matters client is appropriately diagnosed and placed on the appropriate medication for his disorder, his addictive tendencies are significantly reduced allowing him to be, in essence, on a level playing field in dealing with his addiction. Although we at Heart Matters are not physicians, we offer the chemical addict tools to find appropriate medical help.
Like the chemical sex addict, the addict that has endured sexual trauma has a decided disadvantage against addiction. Besides dealing with the emotional and mental impact of the trauma, the addict often has to deal with unconscious compulsions and adaptations to the trauma. Since sexual trauma is not really a sexual experience for the victim, but an experience of intense pain, confusion, and powerlessness, the victim often adapts to their trauma by making it a “sexual” experience as a way of having a sense of control over what has happened to them. This can impact the addict by either sexualizing them or creating a sexual anorexic response. Furthermore, the trauma has a compelling impact on the individual by often creating a compulsion to re-enact the traumatic events (van der Kolk, “The Compulsion to Repeat the Trauma”). We at Heart Matters see this compulsion as a trauma victim’s unconscious attempt to heal from the trauma; however, it rarely works and only increases the pain and shame for the addict. Heart Matters therapists have vast experience with effective trauma resolution. Utilizing effective trauma reduction tools and methods, such as, EMDR and CBT, the trauma related addict, like the chemical related addict, is essentially placed on a level playing field to deal with his addiction, as well as, resolving the pain and shame created by their trauma.
It has been stated that all addiction is an artificial attempt to find a spiritual solution. The addiction itself becomes the substitute for spiritual needs. We at Heart Matters believe that there is no true healing from addiction apart from a healthy spiritual process. We believe that utilizing processes like the 12 Steps and other spiritual tools, we can help the addict find freedom and a truly healthy and satisfying spiritual path.
As stated in the trauma section, one possible adaptation to being sexually victimized can be the absence of sexual interaction; however, this is not the only factor that can create the sexual anorexic. The essential pattern surrounding sexual anorexia is a profound sense of withholding and withdrawal from intimate relationships in nine different areas (see further the Sexual Anorexia check list). This can be created in the addict from various sources other than sexual trauma. Sexual Anorexia is also not only the absence of sexual intimacy in a relationship.
Sexual Anorexics can be very sexual; however, their sexual encounters are not “connected” intimate experiences. They often are either role playing sexual fantasy or experienced through pornography addiction. In both cases, the sexual anorexic sees themselves and their sexual partners as objects. They lack the skills and abilities to connect effectively and intimately. We at Heart Matters believe that this is often a result of feeling shame or fear when confronted with real intimacy. The dynamics created by the anorexic are often more frustrating and disturbing to the partner of the addict than the addict. The partner often questions themselves about what has happened to the sexual and emotional relationship with their spouse. After trying everything under the sun to revitalize the relationship, the partner often begins to become angry and frustrated, as well as, hopeless in the relationship. The anorexic uses this as a justification to continue withdrawal and secretly act out in their addiction.
At Heart Matters, we believe Sexual Anorexia is often the most difficult aspect of addiction to treat because this type of addict is well accustomed to defending himself from feelings of rejection and shame by hiding in their internal shell. To get better the sexual anorexic has to learn how to create an effective internal boundary system so that they can come out of their shell and risk having a truly intimate relationship. However, Heart Matters therapists are adept in teaching the anorexic and their partners the much needed skills to create a satisfying and healthy intimate relationship.
Heart Matters offers the sexual addict and their partners a tried and true individualized plan to find freedom from sexual addiction and to build healthy intimate relationships. We offer individual, group and intensive solutions to help the sexual addict and their partner find an effective and safe environment to heal.