Sex Addiction – What Would Freud Say?


Recently I have been getting a lot of calls from men wanting to get in counseling to address their sex addiction. So what is sex addiction really?

Sex addiction, like other addictions, is a maladaptive pattern of behavior, which involves persistent dependence on various forms of sexual expression, often in order to cope with the stresses of life but not necessarily. Like other addictions, there is a cyclical pattern of behavior, involving urges and cravings to engage in the behavior, a ritualistic way of planning and acting out the behavior, and a sense of relief and elation on engaging in the behavior, followed by a period of withdrawal and repeated cravings.

What makes sex addiction an addiction, as opposed to some other sexual problem, is this repetitive pattern of thought processes and behaviors, which continues despite negative consequences for the addict, and in some cases, for other people. The addictive behavior continues over an extended period of time, and once consequences become obvious and the addicted person is unable to stop the behavior, they feel they are losing control.

Here’s one definition I particularly like “Sexual addiction is best described as a progressive intimacy disorder characterized by compulsive sexual thoughts and acts.”

In the words of one of my clients “The thought of spending the rest of my life with only one person scares me to death.”

Maybe these men are simply afraid of intimacy.

According to Dr. Kal Heller “Intimacy is very risky because it requires making such a serious commitment to the relationship that each person will experience a sense of dependency on the other. To admit to needing someone else is to risk loss and deep hurt. This is difficult for all of us. Dependency is a negative concept in our society. Men, especially, are taught to strive for independence. The joke about men not asking for directions is not really very funny when you realize it is imbedded into the training of most males not to admit to needing help. Dependency has been feminized over the years and inappropriately labeled as a weakness. This is part of how society’s messages affects its members.

Intimacy is more than admitting to needing others. It also requires a sharing of one’s fears and dreams, a process that contributes to a strong feeling of vulnerability. Each of us carries enough self-doubt, guilt, and shame to make the process of sharing our private worlds scary. It is hard for most of us to believe that if someone else REALLY knows us, they will still love us. The very nature of falling in love contributes significantly to this problem. We idealize our partner when our hearts shape our visions and expectations of this special person. Ultimately we become trapped in the curse of not being able to live up to those unrealistic expectations. In this context, it is even more difficult to admit to our failings and fears.”

This makes sense. But I’m not fully convinced.

In fact, I’ve been thinking, is monogomay really natural? Peggy Vaughan in The Mongamy Myth said “The Monogamy Myth is the belief that monogamy is the norm in our society and that it is supported by society as a whole. The effect of believing that most marriages or committed relationships are monogamous is that if an affair happens, it’s seen strictly as a personal failure of the people involved. This leads to personal blame, personal shame, wounded pride, and almost universal feelings of devastation. The reality is that monogamy is not the norm, not by today’s standards, anyway.”

What if Peggy’s husband had a sex addiction problem?

In a previous post, I talk about addictions as humans way of cheating death. I say “Addictive behaviors are human’s way of cheating death. And not just because they satisfy our innermost primitive pleasure instinct (also known as the life instinct) but also because every time we pick up after we quit we exercise a superhuman power of reviving our love (our addiction) from the dead. And isn’t that the oldest, most universal fantasy of our species? When we lose someone in our life to death we know they are not coming back. Death is irreversible and leaves us powerless in despair. A lot of our behaviors go back to our attempts to deal with the permanency of our mortality and addiction can be a very effective cheating system for a while.”

I wonder, what would Freud say?

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