One of the definitions of sex addiction is: “a pathological relationship with a mood altering experience.” This definition comes out of an earlier formulation in alcohol and drug dependency theory, namely that addiction is “a pathological relationship with a mood altering substance”. Expanding the definition of addiction to include behaviors, sometimes called “process addictions” such as gambling, eating, and sexual addictive behaviors allows us to see the person’s relationship to the sexual behavior as problematic or pathological, rather than the behavior itself. The key point here is that the same behavior may be sexually addictive behavior for one person and not for another. Good examples of this are cyber sex and internet pornography. Someone may engage in these in an infrequent and harmless way while another person may engage in these to the point that they constitute a sexual addiction.
A pathological relationship to a sexually addictictive behavior has to do with the role it plays in our life. In the case of sexual addictions the behavior occupies a role in our lives that is unhealthy in some way, meaning that it has consequences that are destructive or dangerous to ourselves or others. In the case of sexual addiction the pathological element could have to do with
- extreme focus on the behavior, such as using internet pornography for hours every day,
- the riskiness of the behavior such as frequent anonymous sex,
- with the potential legal consequences of behaviors such as exhibitionism and voyeurism and
- the potential for the behavior to be seriously disruptive to the person’s life and functioning in relationships, career, etc whether or not the sex addiction is ever discovered.
A mood altering behavior refers to the sex addict’s reason for engaging in the behavior (or engaging in it to an excessive degree). In sex addiction, as in all other addictions, behaviors are considered potentially mood altering and therefore potentially addictive in that they can be used to “medicate” unpleasant feelings (such as fear, depression, worthlessness, rage etc.) due to the chemicals released in the brain when those behaviors are performed. See also Sex Addiction is a Drug
For many people who struggle with sex addiction, masturbation was used early in life as a self-soothing or self-medicating strategy to escape from fear, abandonment, depression and betrayal. Many sexually addictive behaviors are a reenactment of traumatic experiences from childhood. Sexual addictive behavior carried over into adulthood becomes a habitual way to deal with emotion and stress. Unfortunately sexual addiction as a way to self-medicate has far reaching and negative consequences as do all drugs. See also This is Your Brain on Cyber Porn