The diagnosis of sex addiction is the same as every addiction: loss of control and continued behavior despite adverse consequences. Sexual addiction differs from other addictions, however. Our sexuality reflects unconscious conflicts, longings and wishes of which we are not aware.

In essence, sex addiction enacts in real life the underlying deep-rooted conflicting, and painful relationships patterns from early life that distort current views and beliefs and self, others, sexuality and intimacy. It is a symptom of a stuck developmental process that occurred as a result of some aspect of inadequate parenting or an experience of being disenfranchised from peer groups in later childhood.

Sex addicts usually have had a problematic mother-child relationship. If the mother is not empathic, she will have little tolerance for the stressors of raising a child. If she is alcoholic, depressed or narcissistic, she will be unable to supply the nurturing, empathy and attention that are needed for the healthy development of her child. This results in having generalized anxiety, fear of abandonment and a sense of insecurity and low self-worth in adult life.

The anxiety of being unable to regulate his inner life drives sex addicts to run to his only source of comfort and safety, his “Erotic Haze” where he is shrouded by sexual fantasies, isolation from real-life, and self-soothing. There is also the quelling of an unconscious wish to find the missing, yet crucial tie to the mother figure. He again, unconsciously, fantasizes that he can regain a connection with an idealized “other” who represents the all-powerful yet feared and often despised maternal object. The strategy is doomed to fail. Tragically for him, there IS a real person behind his fantasy and sooner or later other person’s needs, wants and demands start to interfere with his fantasy world. Disappointment, frustration, and loneliness are the result.

A mother may be distant and narcissistically preoccupied or she be over-protective and constantly interferring. This kind of woman may be subtlety seductive with her child, perhaps using him as a substitute for an emotionally distant husband. The child perceives the mother’s inability to set boundaries as seductive and as a immense disillusionment. In adult life, the addict is hypersexual and has trouble setting his own sexual boundaries. Closeness to another is experienced as an overwhelming burden and as dangerous to his individual development. The child has lived a life where structure and boundaries have not been set. Later in life the sex addict’s unconscious belief is that the rules don’t apply to him with regard to sex, although he may be regulated and passive in other areas of his life.

Addicts have experienced enduring and long-standing deprivation of his needs in his childhood. Anxiety and fear about being closely connected to someone in adult life is the result of these early-life parental misattunements. The sex addict is uncertain getting what he needs from real people. Rather than going to the human community to be supported, nurtured and validated, he turns within himself and determines to seek need gratification in his sexual fantasy life and real-life enactments with sex objects or to internet cybersex and pornography where he feels soothed and comforted for a brief period.

The “Erotic Haze” tells the tale of a frantic search for the fulfillment of unmet childhood needs for validation, affirmation and soothing. Activities in the “Erotic Haze” lessen anxiety about connection and intimacy as it serves as a way to achieve a sense of self-validation.

Sex, for the addict, begins to be s primary focus for a confirmation of his sense of self. Feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, and worthlessness automatically disappear while in the “Erotic Haze” while acting out or through spending untold hours on the Internet. The problem is that using sex to meet narcissistic needs for approval or validation disallows using it to meet the intimate needs and wants of a treasured, real woman.

The narcissistic elements in sex addicts cause them to view other human beings “need-satisfying objects” to bolster feeble self-esteem — not as whole human beings who have their own wants and needs. Narcissism prevents sex addicts from getting gratification from connected, give-and-take relationships in real life with real people. “Sexing” is a magic cure-all for need gratification without having to navigate the vicissitudes of real-life intimate relationships.

A patient of mine, a 50-year-old attractive unmarried man, came to therapy because he is ending yet another relationship in a long string of problematic relationships. In his early years, he lived a toxic household where he felt frightened and alone. As a result, he went into his own world of fantasizing and masturbation as a way to soothe and protect himself.

“When I was young, I would obsess about beautiful women in my father’s magazines. When I got old enough, I dated numerous woman but I never had a steady girlfriend. Later in life, I experienced a sense of sadness, emptiness, loneliness and anger that I didn’t know how to handle. To mask these feelings, I had a steady stream of women who adored me, comforted me, and tended to my needs. I visited peep shows and I went to see prostitutes. Many nights I would spend hours circling the block looking for just the right sex worker to perform fellatio in my car. Once I acted out with a transvestite. I felt dirty and bewildered. That night, I sobbed me way home.”

He had met a girl whom he described as “perfect” — a “10″ – the ONE for me. They became engaged but he quickly lost interest in having sex with her. He described sex with a real, loving, available woman as “boring.” While still engaged, he started seeing prostitutes for oral sex in the car and once again started using phone sex to compulsively masturbate. The reality of having to tend to someone else’s sexual needs couldn’t live up to his self-centered, deviant sex.

He is now in a another shaky relationship. He had been smitten with the woman’s youth and beauty. Unconsciously, he thought a relationship with her would allow him to stand-out in his social environment. Men would envy him and he would consider himself a cut-above. Again, his goal was to fortify his shaky sense of himself.

The rest of the story is predictable. They moved in together and the beautiful, young, sexy female goddess started to make demands and have needs of her own. He admits he never felt warmth or love for her; she was merely a supplier of his narcissistic needs. As the relationship deteriorated, he fought the impulse to have anonymous sex with people who wouldn’t make demands on him.

Defense Mechanisms Ward off Unwanted, Threatening Feelings

The use of sexualization as a defense is written about in the psychoanalytic literature. A defense mechanism is a strategy a child devises to psychologically survive a noxious family environment. While this way of protecting himself may work for a period of time, the continual use of the same defense mechanism in adulthood can have devastating consequences to ongoing functioning in work and love. Living in the “Erotic Haze” — losing himself in sexual feelings and relentlessly viewing other people as potential sex partners, or by spending excessive periods of time on the internet with porn or cybersex, the sex addict is able to mask and control. threatening and uncomfortable feelings

Another patient demonstrates a narcissistic personality that uses sexualization as a defense. He is a 42-year old attractive, unmarried man.

“The other nigh I went on a date. After the third date, she wanted to have sex. Predictably, I didn’t. I don’t know I can maintain an erection with a woman anymore. I spend endless hours looking and porn and flirting with girls in chat rooms to live in my erotic fantasies, when it sex becomes real, sexual interest soon withers away as her wants and needs become apparent to me. Sometimes, I don’t even engage in pursuing real women, because I know the result is a painful let down. Quite frankly, I have no interest in really getting to know someone or in extending myself to satisfy her needs and wants.

“My life, however, is still absorbed with sex and sexuality. Sex is the lens through which I see the world. If I go to a family function, I get lost in sexual fantasies about my young niece. The fear of being found out to be “deviant” devours me. If I see a woman on street who’s dressed in just such a way, I’m worthless for the rest of the day. Vanilla sex with a regular gal just doesn’t turn me on anymore. Sex needs to be bizarre, novel, taboo or forbidden for me to be interested.

“Sometimes when I get to work in the morning, I’m already in an “erotic haze”. Female colleagues are all objects for sexual fantasy. I’m always distracted; not able to focus. If work needs my attention, when reality impinges and pulls me out of sexual preoccupation, I’m angry. Reality is boring. Regular sex with a girlfriend is just not interesting to me.”

This is a person who uses sexualization as a defense mechanism. He uses sexual daydreaming as a way to mask unrelenting, pre-conscious feelings of loneliness, inadequacy and boredom stemming from a childhood that involved always making effort to get love and nurturing from an emotionally distant, depressed mother. When stress or anxiety begins to make him feel paralyzed, he is experiences powerful cravings to enter t he “Erotic Haze” to indulge in his secret, sexual world. Sexualization thus becomes his customary manner of dealing with emotions that he experiences as overwhelming as well as a way of stabilizing a precarious sense of self-worth.

Author's Bio: 

Dorothy C. Hayden, LCSW, MBA, CAC is a Manhattan-based analytic therapist who specializes in sex therapy and sex addiction. Having received her MSW from New York University, she studied psychoanalysis at the Post Graduate Center For Mental Health and The Object Relations Institute. After studying hypnotherapy at the Milton Erickson Society for Psychotherapy and Hypnosis, she became a certified NLP practitioner. She is currently studying couples counseling at The Training Institute for Mental Health.

SKYPE sessions are available and Paypal is accepted.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.