Sexual Dependency

Sex addiction is a controversial topic and there is disagreement among many experts as to whether or not it even exists.  In his book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Gabor Mate defines addiction as “any repeated behaviour, substance-related or not, in which a person feels compelled to persist, regardless of its negative impact on his (her) life and the lives of others. Compulsion, impaired control, persistence, irritability, relapse and craving - these are the hallmarks of any addiction."

Sexual dependency is one of the more complicated addictions. When does ’normal’ sexual behaviour cross the line to being a problem and then an addiction? How much of a behaviour - for example masturbation or looking at pornography - is too much? While each of us has our own value system, society also defines some sexual behaviours as unacceptable or illegal.

What is sexual dependence or addiction?

While most people find that their sexuality is a positive and enjoyable part of their lives, others find themselves drawn into compulsive sexual relationships or patterns of behaviour that gradually control their lives and cause them serious difficulties. 

These patterns lead to ‘out of control’ behaviour because they are used as a means to relieve some kind of emotional pain or feelings the person doesn’t know how to handle.  The person becomes dependent on the emotional release provided by the sexual encounter.  They may say that they are addicted to sex.  Many experts and addicts, alike, talk about the fact that addictive sex is shameful or secret and sometimes abusive.  Often these behaviour or relationship patterns exist alongside other addictions to alcohol or drugs.

Sexual dependency can involve a wide variety of behaviours. Sometimes a person has difficulty with one behaviour, sometimes with many. Often the dependency starts with one behaviour or relationship and then progresses over time to increasingly hazardous and/or unsafe behaviours. The result is that the addict’s life becomes unmanageable – with consequences like lost relationships, difficulties with work, arrests, financial troubles etc.

When a person uses love and sexuality as a way to cope, rather than as a way to grow and share, their reasons for choosing someone as a partner are often questionable.  Rather than looking for someone who might become a friend or companion, choices are based on how intense the sex life is or how one partner can hook the other into staying in the relationship.  A love and sex addict will use seduction, guilt, control and manipulation to attract and keep romantic partners.

It is important to note that many people have been involved in a difficult situation or a relationship with a difficult person at some time in their life.  For the love and sex addict, however, these situations become the norm. Describing their situation in terms of addictive patterns can help a person see that there are other options.