Why is Sex Addiction Called an Intimacy Disorder?

Normally sex and intimacy should be with the same person

Sex Addiction is called an intimacy disorder because people who are sex addicts do not know how to relate in an intimate (close) relationship in an open and comfortable way.  Not only are sex and intimacy detached from one another they are not even in the same neighborhood.  Intimacy is an essential part of love relationships.  It is the ability to share all parts of ourselves (our thoughts, our bodies, our feelings), to be vulnerable, and to be honest about what is going on inside of us.  Even with someone they love, sex addicts are “intimacy disabled”, that is they are fearful of sharing their true selves with another person and are therefore unable to share one or more aspects of their true selves.  They are unhappy and lonely and desperately want to “connect”.  Like the now cliché lyric says, they are “looking for love in all the wrong places”.  But the solution to the problem does not lie outside of them.  It is more than just bad choices, poor judgment or a lack of adequate information.  It is a deeper problem and that is why it is termed and intimacy disorder.  The sex addict is literally unable to break down the wall that distorts and separates his sex life from his normal life and unable to integrate the various parts of himself in the context of a loving relationship.  See for partners of sex addicts.


Origins in Infant and childhood bonding problems

Sexual addiction as an intimacy disorder results in part from a lack of adequate bonding due to some disruption in the relationship to a primary caregiver (usually the parent).  Sex addicts were often sexually abused as children but they are more often emotionally neglected and tend to come from families that are rigid, authoritarian or sexually repressed.  This failure leads to an inability to trust and to bond normally with another and a fear of sharing all the parts of oneself with another.   In sex addicts this intimacy disorder results in the addict leading a “double life”.  Most often the addict’s sex life exists apart from his or her life with a spouse, partner, boyfriend or girlfriend.  Even when the sex addict is having sex with a partner or spouse, it is often the case that the addict is not “all there”.  He or she may be lost in fantasy or just going through the motions.  Many addicts feel they are having satisfying sex with their partners when in fact they are not really able to be present.  Even addicts who feel they really desire their partner usually have some other more compelling and highly charged experience that they revert to outside of their relationship whether it is serial seduction, hook-ups, prostitutes, chat rooms or affairs.

It’s not always the parents’ fault

Not all problems with attachment in childhood and the resulting intimacy disorders come from parental neglect.  Some attachment problems also arise through accidents of fate such as the illness, absence or death of a caregiver.  (There is also thought to be both a genetic predisposition to addictions in general which may be passed on as a predisposition to addiction in the case of sexual addiction as well.)

Intimacy disorder is curable

A person who is so-called “intimacy-abled” is able to form a healthy intimate and sexual attachment with a partner in adulthood.  That implies the ability to trust your partner, to trust your own ability to set boundaries, to communicate your feelings in the moment, to be able to commit, and to relate to a partner with all aspects of yourself and not to lead part of your life in isolation or compartmentalization, separate from the one you love.   The untreated baggage of a disordered attachment history leads to mistrust, fear, distancing, sexual conflicts, feeling unlovable, and lack of experience with healthy communication.  These are underlying problems that are effectively treated in sex addiction treatment and sex addiction therapy.  The work of recovery is not only about becoming able to abstain from compulsive sexual addictive behaviors; it is about learning to relate to others in a different way.  Tackling the intimacy disorder aspects of the sex addict psyche is fundamental to lasting recovery from sex addiction.   See also Getting Help.


10 Responses to “Why is Sex Addiction Called an Intimacy Disorder?”

  1. Roger Yonan says:

    I need to get help with my sex addition I have been seening a Therapist for two weeks now. I don’t take the right steps in dealing with my addition. For example when I get a urge I texted a person that I saw before for a picture. I did not tell my wife that I was getting a urge for sex. I don’t know why I did that. I love my wife very much, but I think I just lost my marriage. She has gone thru this with me too many times. Now I’m trying to get help with SAA, but it took a crisis to get me there and it should have taken that I should have done it on my own. I want to save my marriage and first I want to fix myself.HELP

    • Linda Hatch says:

      Roger: Thanks for your comment! You sound like you are doing all the right things and reaching out for help. Recovery takes time; as they say in the SAA program “progress, not perfection.”
      Linda Hatch

  2. Linda:
    Great post very helpful.
    I’m in SAA and have four good years of recovery from my bottom line behavior.
    I’m finding I need help now with intimacy.
    I’m in a strong honest marriage yet I get fearful of sex and intimacy to the point I break into cold sweats and lose “excitement” when doing it sometimes.
    I want full freadom and happiness and to drop the fear and despair of this.
    Do you have suggestions / direction for this? Have you heard of this before?
    Thank you.

  3. As a man who has suffered from (ebconscious) intimacyy anxuety for all my life, or at least since I started dating at age 15, I can tell you it is NOT easily cured. Granted mine was a particularly difficult case of child abuse causing me to suffer from sexual dysfunction every time a relationship began to get serious. I spent years when I was single moving from woman to woman always leaving the relationship when my intimacy alarm bells would go off usually during the first month of dating. This unconcious anxiety would shut me down sexually and I would no longer be able to perform with the woman. As long as I could keep my sex partners at arm’s length emotionally my sexual functioning would be fine. It wasn’t that I didn’t want an emotionally intimate relationship, I did, but my body would quit on me before that could ever happen. To this day I have never been in love.

    When I met someone at age 40 I finally wanted to marry and have kids with the same pattern developed except this time I didn’t leave her. We discussed it, and because neither of us knew what was wrong we decided to marry anyway and seek counseling after the wedding. 10 years later and tens of thousands of dollars spent, I was still seeking help with the problem, by that time on my 6th therapist. None were able to help and the marriage has been sexless now for almost 25 years.

    So take my word for it, often these kinds of intimacy anxiety problems simply cannot be cured.

  4. Howard N. Robin says:

    LANCASTER, PA 17601 (866)301-3297 http://www.dayseven.net
    Their vision is to become a voice of hope & a place of restoration for those in sexual and relational conflict.
    They have great support groups(both men & women’s)as well as individual counselors – ALL BIBLICAL BASED.
    JESUS can set an addict FREE !!!!!

  5. Wow, superb blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?

    you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your site
    is great, let alone the content!

  6. how do you find between boy and girlwho is responsible young couple recently married suffering from intimacy disorder ?

  7. I’m 41 and have suffered with this all my adult life although I did not realise what it was, I lost the love of my life because of this horrendous addiction only then did I start to question my actions and look for a reason for it, which I soon realised it was due to being sexually abused as a child by a family member. I never gave much thought about what had happened to me as I felt that I was as much to blame for it as he was due to me carrying on with a sexual relationship in later life with him. I never felt that I was gay it was just a compulsion that afterwards made me feel low. I also realised that these compulsions got more stronger when I was down or stressed so in the last few years of my relation ship this became more common due to the stress of life ie work kids and finances. Now that I am aware of what was going on I find it easy to control but I hurt the most precious person I’m my life and she can’t forgive me I think she believes I’m using my past as an excuse for my actions, I just wish that I could make her understand.

    • Any advice on this would be greatly appreciated cheers

      • Hi David,
        Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to repair the damage done by deception and betrayal. Making amends, as in 12 step work, can help your healing but it can’t make the other person change. Most who have dealt with these issues have had to just accept the fact that their behavior has had negative consequences and try to lead a sober and surrendered and aware life going forward.


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