Hallmarks of Sex Addiction

While people are starting to recognize the prevalence and problems created by excessive sexualized activities and pornography, what is broadly termed “sex addiction” remains cloaked in mystery, even for many therapists. One of the challenges in defining and treating sex addiction is the fact that sex is a normal and healthy activity, much like healthy eating.

Sex plays a central role in life and is essential to sustain humanity. It is also powerful and emotional, which can make it very frightening, and a convenient means of escape when our anxieties are more than we can handle. According to Patrick Carnes, the acknowledged global expert on problematic sexual behavior, the hallmarks of sex addiction include:

  • A pattern of out of control sexual behavior
  • An inability to stop the out of control behavior despite severe consequences
  • Persistent self-destructive sexual behavior
  • Ongoing desire or effort to stop sexual behavior with no success
  • Need for increasing amounts of sexual stimulation, such as more exotic pornography or a greater number of sex partners, in order to achieve the same level of gratification
  • Severe mood changes as a result of sexual activity or the lack of sexual activity

What Causes Sex Addiction?

Loneliness is a serious undercurrent of sex and porn addiction and can lead to severe depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. People who are addicted to pornography or plagued by sexual obsessions often fall into their addiction as an escape from isolation or pain caused by an abusive past, difficulty in dealing with their emotions and feelings, or traumatic experiences.

They may have felt a pervasive sense of isolation all their lives. Often they were alienated from the world as children, either by abuse, living in chaos or neglect, early loss of an important caregiver, or any traumatic circumstance that made them feel “different.” Sex and love addicts develop problematic sexual behaviors much the same way an alcoholic or drug addict gets started: looking for an escape from negative emotions and finding some kind of affirmation without having to experience fear or discomfort.

These are the people who are indeed lonely all the time. Having always felt like outsiders, they turn to partner after partner—real or online—seeking to assuage the never ending isolation, and the comfort of connection with another human. Their behavior is rooted in fear of being alone, or fear of intimacy that feels both alien and inappropriate.

Sex Addiction Recovery and Resolving Lonely Feelings

The first step in recovery from sex addiction is the same as that of any addiction: you must confront your lack of control over the addiction. Whether or not you elect to reach out to a 12-step program for support, the initial acknowledgement that your addiction is a monster, and that it’s bigger than you are, is essential for change to begin.

While professional treatment is important, there are also some things that people can do on their own to help cope with loneliness and problematic sexual behavior. People can learn mindful ways to deal with their emotions in the present. Talking with family, friends, and a therapist can help people learn that they are never really alone. Recovery and therapy groups are also a great resource for persons suffering from pervasive loneliness. The shared experience, advice, comfort, and fellowship that comes with being part of a group can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation.