Most addicts would stop if they could.

It’s been said that of all the addictions, sex is the most difficult to manage. This syndrome is a complex mixture of biological, psychological, cultural, and family-of-origin issues, the combination of which creates impulses and urges that are virtually impossible to resist despite the fact that acting them out produces considerable long-term negative consequences, the addict simply cannot resist his/her impulses. Individuals who are highly disciplined, accomplished and able to direct the force of their will in other areas of life fall prey to sexual compulsion. More importantly, people who love and cherish their partners can still be enslaved by these irresistible urges.

From a biological standpoint, research has shown that certain formations in the right temporal lobe make certain individuals more prone to sexual arousability from birth. Whether or not such an individual becomes sexually compulsive or perverse then depends on the child’s home environment.

Research has also shown that the inability to control sexual impulses is associated with neurochemical imbalances in the norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine systems. The use of certain anti-depressants (SSRI’s) has thus shown to be very effective in treating the impulse control problems of many sexual compulsives.

Biological predisposition contributes and combines with psychological factors. One of the reasons the “erotic haze” (see Chapter 2) is so compulsory is that it is an unconscious but maladaptive way to repair earlier disturbed, anxiety-laden relationships. It shores up an inadequate sense of self which results from these early-life interpersonal abandonments, and abuse.

This combination of biological and psychological factors results in an “affective disorder” in the sex addict. Feelings of depression, anxiety, boredom and emptiness are quickly alleviated by immersing oneself in an imaginary world that provides novelty, excitement, mystery and intense pleasure. Sex addiction is better than Prosac. It heals, it soothes, it contains, it provides a “safe place” free from the demands of actual performance, and it gives an illusory sense of belonging. The sense of empowerment in the illicit sex act rectifies “holes in the soul” and lifts the addict from feelings of inadequacy, insufficiency, depression and emptiness into a state of instant euphoria.

Relinquishing this very special (but delusional) mental and physical state can result in a sense of withdrawal which may include mood swings, inability to concentrate and irritability. These symptoms usually disappear in psychological therapy as the sense of self is solidified and he finds more creative ways to deal with uncomfortable feelings.

Sex addicts, as a group, are not having fun. They suffer enormously, with shame, self-hatred and humiliation the fodder in which they live.

They are consumed by an irresistible impulse to keep returning to the experience of intense, euphoric pleasure that they know will create suffering for them in the long run.

It’s hard for any of us to walk away from pleasure, even when we know it is in our best interest. For sex addicts, it’s nearly impossible. No price seems too high for them to pay because they are driven by the mirage of a beautiful, ephemeral ghost that continually promises but never delivers. And, yet, they keep returning to the empty well to quench their thirst.

Other commonalities

Immediately following orgasm, many addicts feel the familiar void which may precipitate a return to the compulsion. It’s a vicious cycle.

The pleasure of sex addiction comes in many forms. Examples of these include:
compulsive masturbation,
internet pornography,
pornographic movies, literature
sexual fetishism,
anonymous phone sex,
use of prostitutes and escorts,
multiple extra-marital affairs,
regular attendance at strip clubs,
multiple and anonymous sexual partners,
erotic e-mailing or texting,
transsexual compulsion, cross-dressing, or submission to femme dommes.

None of the above examples as a singular act defines a sex addict, however, it is can be the frequency and reliance on these activities, as well as using sexual behaviors to get non-sexual needs me which may constitute addiction.

Author's Bio: 

Dorothy Hayden, LCSW, has been treating sex addiction for 15 years. With 30 articles and one e-book, "Total Sex Addiction Recovery -- A Guide to Therapy", she is considered a "thought leader" in the field. She has been interviewed by HBO, CNN and "20/20" about cybersex and sex addiction.