Sex addicts use sex in the same way an alcoholic uses alcohol. Sex is used to numb and medicate feelings and escape from the painful aspects of their lives. The sexual experience becomes mood altering and in time becomes central to the sex addict’s life.
It is important to understand that addiction is a “solution” to pain, past trauma, and anxiety of potential further hurt – addiction literally becomes a coping mechanism. If somebody starts doing something to cope, and if they do it long enough, the body adjusts to the point that it needs that level of activity just in order to feel balanced.
Typically what happens is that an addict responds to stress by using sex, alcohol, food, drugs, etc. and when the stress goes away the behavior is reinforced. Overtime, the behaviors become addictive and the addict cannot stop. In the above drawing, addiction really isn’t about alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex – it’s about a solution to pain. It is a maladaptive response that has become part of the system and has reached the point where it has become pathological. The addict will use whatever works to take away the pain.
The addictive behaviors produce guilt, shame, self-hatred, remorse, emptiness, and more pain in the addict and he is driven to more isolation, ever inward, away from reality, away from relationship with others, lost to a world of loneliness. The compulsive behaviors make true relationship and intimacy impossible for the addict. True connection with another becomes impossible because addicts become addicted to the unreal.
“Addiction is an illness of escape. Its goal is to obliterate, medicate, or ignore reality. It is an alternative to letting oneself feel hurt, betrayal, worry, and—most painful of all—loneliness.” (Carnes, 2001)
“The sex addict has removed himself out of the whole context of what is right or wrong. He has lost control, no longer has the power of choice, and is not free to stop.” (SA, p.3). The addiction eventually takes priority over everything else and it now brings more pain than pleasure into our lives.
A person who is addicted to sex is living in an imaginary, self-created world that avoids the possibility of experiencing rejection or the risk of pain that a real relationship can offer. It is a person’s attempt to avoid the pain often caused by real intimacy. The sex addict is essentially creating a pseudo-relationship with someone/something that can be controlled and manipulated; such as a picture, a video, or a prostitute.
The main issue of sexual addiction is not the need for more sex, rather, it is to control and avoid relational pain. This is similar to how an alcoholic or drug addict uses alcohol or drugs to avoid their pain.