Frances Cohen Praver Ph.D.
What Drives a Sex Addict?
Is sex addiction about love or an insatitiable craving?
Posted Oct 07, 2009
No matter the quality or quantity of sex, some people remain hungry for more and more sex. It's as though they are sexually insatiable. Most often, their insatiable sexual hunger is related to deep-rooted psychological factors. Toxic early childhood relationships can influence their sexual hunger in adulthood.
Although sex addicts can be male or female, for discussion purposes, I will use the female pronouns here.
Insatiable sexual hunger is not really a desire ─an act of will─ but rather a desperate need, a compulsion that is experienced as a craving. The need is pursued like a drug. Although sex addicts are enslaved to sex, it is far from their goal. Rather, the pursuit of sex is in service of a different goal─ to dispel feelings of inadequacy, depression, anxiety, rage or other feelings that the sex addict experiences as unbearable. Like a drug addict or alcoholic, the sex addict relentlessly seeks satisfaction from an external source to palliate an internal pain.
One way this begins in early childhood features a needy mother─ who suffers from unbearable emotional distress. Rather than soothe the infant's distress or excessive stimulation, the mother uses the infant to soothe her. own distress. The infant then is deprived of a soothing mother to calm her distress. Without a calming and soothing mother, the infant does not develop her own internal sources for dealing with internal pain. She cannot be alone and is constantly seeking her mother.
As an adolescent or an adult, she is unable to self-soothe and can no longer find mother. So she seeks another solution in the external world to palliate her internal pain, as she did earlier with her mother. Sex is a transitory fix; it provides instant gratification for psychic pain, rather than lasting psychological coping mechanisms.
Here's a little of what goes on in the brain of sex addicts. The brain's dopamine receptors ─ the pleasure-reward system─ is activated during sex, drugs, alcohol, or gambling. In the case of sex addicts who quickly slide down into despair after the sex act, their dopamine receptors are left hungry for more sex. These primed dopamine receptor, thus, crave more sex. A craving is, thus, set up biologically and psychologically.
Fixes provide a state of ecstasy, calm, nirvana. Alas the shot of nirvana during the sex act lasts only as long as the magic of sex wears off. Result? The sex addict is rendered emptier, distressed, and fragmented. To quell these painful feelings, she is compelled to resume her pursuit for her next fix.
As you can see, the sex act is not borne out of love, but performs the function of a drug to satisfy the primed dopamine receptors. Of no consequence other than to provide the sex addict with a fix, the sex object is indispensible. Rather than desiring a sexual partner, the sex addict craves the sexual object─ her fix. She is constantly seeking to repair early deprivations and to palliate depression, anxiety, self-esteem blows.
How do sex addicts recover? Twelve step programs work for some people. For others, I recommend deep analytic therapy that focuses on visiting the past, but living in the moment, learning coping skills, finding internal satisfaction, pursuing healthy passions that fulfill the emptiness.