The causes of sex addiction in any gender have been linked to genetic predispositions and one’s environment growing up. Access to pornography and environmental factors can push a person towards sex addiction, but for men, how does one go from enjoying sex and maybe the occasional pornographic film to addiction?
Sex addiction shares characteristics of any other addiction, from alcohol to drugs to gambling. They all involve the addict’s blocking emotions and feelings they would rather not deal with and at times feelings of excitement, bliss, happiness, coupled with feelings of shame, anger, sadness, frustration, guilt, etc. Usually, the first step in becoming a sex addict is using sex to avoid feeling a negative emotion.
To illustrate the path to sex addiction, let’s envision an adult male named John. Imagine John is a hard-working, married man with no children who enjoys his job. John has also had something bad things happen to him during his adolescence. He gets a pay cut, one or both of his parents passes away, perhaps his wife is indicating she’s thinking of leaving, it could be any number of things or nothing specific, just something that makes John feel down on a regular basis.
It’s natural for people to want to escape negative emotions, especially when they cannot see or deal with the cause. Rather than confront the sources of his bad feelings or the feelings themselves, John chooses to override them with other sensations, he seeks a feel-good feeling, a pleasure he has come to know, such as the ones he gets from sex.
The most common form of sex addiction is masturbation and pornography, so that’s probably where John will start. He has easy access to pornography, and couples it with masturbation to make his brain release feel-good chemicals that blot out the bad emotions he is feeling. He genuinely believes he feels better. Technically, in the short term, he does.
It’s important to remember that John is not doing this to pass the time or because he is naturally aroused; he is doing it specifically to avoid feeling bad and to chase the feeling of feeling good. Plenty of people drink alcohol for fun without becoming addicts. More enjoy sex and masturbation without forming a sex addiction. Those people are not using sex to block a negative emotion, they are now in the first stages of sex addiction.
John will repeat this behavior many times, thinking he is coping with the negative emotions in his life, and in a sense he is. However at some point John will begin to wonder if his routine of pornography and masturbation is actually helping. Not long after he completes the act, the emotions he was trying to escape will return. He will need to increase the frequency at which he feeds his sex addiction, and this may be where the first real problems start to arise. It may begin to affect his sex life.
At first, he may use the plethora of “free” sites which give a taste of images, video, chat, live video feeds. As time goes on, he becomes hooked, addicted and needs more. Chances are he starts finding ways to pay for “premium” sites to get the fix, the high he’s looking for.
Now, he’s financially hooked and starts to figure out how to hide the charges for his pornography addiction. Of course these activities cause more than financial problems, they strengthen, rather than decrease his negative emotions, such as guilt and shame, and he will deal with them the same way he has dealt with the other negative emotions, he’ll continue to use pornography more and more.
While the fictional John is sketching a map to sex addiction, one should keep in mind things can go very differently from person to person when it comes to sex addiction. John’s issue, for now, is masturbating to porn, but later on he may begin to frequent prostitutes, or have started with them in the first place. Other men, like John, may go through a host of sexual partners or keep a number of paramours at the same time. He may confuse some of these relationships with loving ones, but the sex is the only reason he is in them; he is using them to fight off those negative emotions, which in many cases can be loneliness and low self-esteem.
Now we come to the final stage where John is fully aware he has a problem. His need to masturbate has perhaps hit the point where it is interfering with his life in a critical way. He masturbates during lunch breaks, and sometimes on the job itself. Smart phones and other mobile devices allow access to pornography from literally anywhere, so John has all the tools he needs to further develop his sex addiction. Even without them, his higher brain functions have all turned to aid his sex addiction, rationalizing risky behavior, and plotting ways and means to serve the addiction.
John may hit a “bottom” he may be discovered, he may have a close call, he may be caught in the act, some extremely negative consequence might scare him enough to know he truly has a problem.
At this point, John knows what he is risking and decides to stop. Only he can’t. This is the final stage of addiction, where the sex addict knows his behavior is causing him more problems than it’s worth. But he cannot halt the behavior. This loss of control brings on the feeling of hopelessness, which fuels the shame and more negative feelings which of course adds to to the problem and so he keeps on in his unwanted obsessive compulsive sexual behaviors.
John, like many people with sex addiction, may experience periods where he is able to stop the behavior for brief periods of time. He is using sheer willpower, hoping the addiction will quit before he does. It will not. People suffering sex addiction often report their resolve collapsing; then they fall heavily into a period of indulging the addiction, sometimes at a greater frequency than before.
To recap, John began using a form of sex to block negative emotions. The behavior continued to a point where it was a problem and John found he was unable to stop, even though he wanted to, thus becoming full sex addiction. Hopefully the next thing John does is get treatment for his sex addiction and find a way to tackle the problem itself rather than try to “tough it out,” or otherwise handle it in a way that does not work or leads to more issues.