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Is There Such A Thing As Sexual Addiction?

By Dr. Margaret Paul
May 07, 2012

Is sexual addiction a real thing, or just an excuse for bad behavior?

In a recent article in Blogs, ( psychologist David Ley states in his new book, "The Myth of Sex Addiction," that there is no such thing as sex addiction—that the term is just an excuse for bad behavior. I disagree with that position. In my view, the label of ‘addiction’ doesn’t excuse anything. That’s because my definition of addiction is anything we do to avoid taking responsibility for our feelings and the resulting behavior. Since my definition centers around choice, it is not about an illness that is ‘happening’ to you, and therefore cannot be used as an excuse.

In my experience, addictions are a result, not a cause. While they can cause many severe problems and even death, the underlying cause is the avoidance of responsibility for one’s own emotions, and sex addiction is no exception.

Let’s take an example:

Henry and Alicia have been married for 18 years. Alicia grew up in a household where looks and sexual desirability were highly admired. She learned early to attach her worth to whether a man desired her, and to try to fill her emptiness through male attention. Early in their marriage, Alicia attached her worth and happiness to whether or not Henry wanted to have sex with her. She had also learned in her family to get angry and blaming when she didn’t get what she wanted.

Henry grew up in an alcoholic home with two very controlling parents. He not only learned to turn to alcohol to avoid his feelings; he also learned to resist what Alicia wanted by shutting down. This was his way of not being controlled by her.

Both Alicia and Henry were addicted: Alicia was addicted to sex as a way of getting validated, and to anger to get her way. She was unwilling to take responsibility for defining her own worth, bringing herself joy, and learning to fill her own emptiness through her spiritual connection. Henry was addicted to alcohol to numb his feelings, and to withdrawal as his way of having control over not being controlled. Alicia was angry and hurt much of the time over Henry not wanting sex with her, and Henry was angry and hurt much of the time over Alicia wanting to use him sexually to fill her emptiness and validate her worth.

Both Alicia and Henry were addictively avoiding their deeper feelings of loneliness and heartbreak over their childhood and over their marriage with each other. By avoiding their painful feelings with their addictions, they were both abandoning themselves, and then wanting the other person to give them what they were not giving to themselves. By abandoning themselves with their various addictions, they were causing their anger, depression, anxiety, guilt, shame and emptiness, which then led to more addictive behavior.

Their addictions were not the primary cause of their pain, but the result of their self-abandonment.

SELF-ABANDONMENT is THE underlying cause of sex addiction and other addictions. Alicia and Henry’s addictions are the result of avoiding learning how to fill themselves with love from their spiritual source, so that they are not empty and needy of something external to fill them up and take away their pain.

While the above scenario is about a relationship where the woman is sexually addicted, it is far more common for the sex addict to be a man. I chose the example of the woman being the sex addict to show that both sexes can suffer from this addiction.

Addictions are not an excuse for bad behavior. Rather, addictions indicate a lack of courage to face painful feelings head on—to learn from them with love and compassion rather than avoid them with various addictions.


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