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What is Sex/Pornography Addiction Continued

A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D. , edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

As sexual addiction progresses a shift begins to occur. At this point, the compulsive aspect of addiction takes hold. Compulsivity is a behavior that an individual feels driven to perform to relieve anxiety. Once a person performs the compulsive behavior, the anxiety goes away and comfort is restored. When this shift occurs, people are no longer pursuing sexual activity for pleasure alone. The compulsions compel them to participate in these activities to relieve anxious, uncomfortable feelings. These may arise at the mere thought of anything that might interfere with the addiction. For example, suppose a man views pornography after his wife goes to bed every night. If she were to decide to stay up later than usual, her husband may become irritable and anxious because she is interfering with his addiction. At this later compulsive stage, "pleasure" comes in the form of relief from these anxious, uncomfortable feelings. Thus, despite the negative consequences of sexual activity, the addictive behavior continues in a compulsive manner.

Unlike alcohol or drugs, sexual activity is a normal healthy activity. Therefore, it is sensible to wonder when this activity crosses the line from normal and healthy, to addiction. Because addiction is defined by continued use despite substantial harm, it is useful to review these harmful consequences of addiction. This list may help someone recognize if s/he may be developing an addiction to sex or pornography:

a) Emotional costs of sexual addiction: living with daily feelings of fear; anger; sadness; shame; guilt; paranoia; loss of pleasure; boredom; emotional instability; self-loathing (disgust with oneself); loneliness and isolation; and feelings worthlessness.

b) Social costs of sexual addiction: disruption or damage to important relationships; decreased ability or interest in forming meaningful connections with others; and limiting one's social sphere to other unhealthy, addicted persons.

c) Physical and health costs of sexual addiction: poor general health; poor personal hygiene; lowered energy and endurance; diminished enjoyment of healthy sexual activity and/or sexual dysfunction; poor sleep.

d) Intellectual costs of sexual addiction: loss of creative pursuits; decreased ability to solve problems; and poor memory.

e) Work and productivity costs of sexual addiction: decreased productivity in all aspects of life; missing important deadlines; and, failing to meet obligations.

f) Financial costs of sexual addiction: money spent on the addiction itself (e.g., pornography, prostitutes); money spent dealing with the consequences of addiction (healthcare costs, legal costs, etc.).

g) Legal costs of sexual addiction: legal costs because of what someone did while engaging in their addiction (sexual assault, engaging in sex with a child, domestic violence, divorce); or did not do (failing to care for children properly).

h) Lost time due to sexual addiction: Time is a limited resource. Time spent while pursuing addiction is no longer available to spend in meaningful, life-enriching activities. Meaningful, life-enriching activities are of two basic types: 1) love - time spent in relationships with others, and 2) work - time spent being productive including employment, learning, working on personal projects, volunteering, and helping others.

i) Diminished personal integrity due to sexual addiction: Most people have a strong sense of morality. This includes: 1) a sense of what is right and wrong; 2) what one ought to do (and not do); 3) how others should be treated; and, 4) a sense of responsibility to one's family, community, employer, and to society as a whole. However, a tiny percentage of people (roughly 1%) seem to be missing this sense of morality. Such people are often termed sociopathic, psychopathic, or antisocially disordered. Although the terms are not identical, they are similar enough for our purposes. This sociopathic 1% of the population will commonly develop addictions. Unfortunately, if someone in the other 99% of the population develops an addiction they will begin to behave in a manner similar to sociopaths. As their addiction progresses, they begin to lose their morality.

As addicted people gradually lose their moral compass, they begin to disrespect the rights and needs of other people. They even mistreat the people that matter to them most. This initially begins by failing to meet certain responsibilities, commitments, or obligations. Examples of these failures might be, failing to show up for things; becoming dishonest by failing to disclose information; or making excuses rather than making a sincere apology. As addiction progresses, this type of disregard will evolve into more obvious forms of disrespect and mistreatment. This progression might include flat-out lying and deception; stealing from loved ones; and, threatening these same people if they do not meet the addicted person's demands. Unlike their sociopathic counterparts, people who once had a moral compass experience tremendous feelings of guilt and self-loathing as they break their own moral code. Addiction can only relieve these feelings temporarily.

j) A life that is absent of meaning and purpose due to sexual addiction: This cost is perhaps the ultimate one. For some, this loss takes the form of experiencing a separation and estrangement from God. It might be a feeling that one has disappointed God by not fulfilling God's higher purpose. For others, it means living a life without meaning or purpose. This meaning and purpose is ordinarily derived from two sources. First, our loving involvement with other people enriches our life. Second, we derive a sense of purpose from productive activities (work, learning, achievement, contribution to others, etc.) In either case, addicted persons have traded away these essential ingredients to life satisfaction for the sake of pursuing momentary pleasures. Momentary relief eventually gives way to further suffering.