Who are sex addicts and what are they hoping to find through their compulsive sexual behavior?

Sex addicts are people who, afraid of real, intimate relationships, repeatedly and compulsively try to connect with others through highly impersonal, non intimate behaviors: masturbation, empty affairs, frequent visits to prostitutes, voyeurism, and the like.

Sex addicts -- numbering in the millions -- become intoxicated with the euphoria and rush of their own brain chemicals, particularly dopamine. Their addiction is not really to sex, but rather to the intense state of sexual arousal ("The Erotic Haze") that is a instant mood changer. They achieve entry into the erotic haze through obsessive, highly ritualized sexual behavior.

Anyone who has ever experienced an orgasm knows the tremendous power of sex. The incredible rush of sexual pleasure a person feels during orgasm is indeed intoxicating. However, a person who is not addicted to sex, no matter how much or how often he enjoys sex, can have fun and find pleasure engaging in other relationships and activities.

The sex addict, however, finds little pleasure or gratification in doing anything else. He sees the world through a sexualized lens. For sex addicts, the quest to duplicate this "rush", this sexual euphoria, over and over becomes an obsession.
The price of this intense preoccupation with sex is often marital strife or loss of a partner, decreased productivity on the job, and emotional abandonment of his children. Jobs, family, friends and personal wellness are sacrificed as the addict ritualistically endeavors to recapture the erotic haze again and again.

Sex addicts feel compelled by their sexual ritual to inexorably act out, no matter how much it betrays their values and standards of acceptable behavior.

How Much Sex is Too Much Sex?

Sex addiction is not defined by the amount or type of sexual activity involved, but on the particular relationship the person has to compulsive sexual experiences.
It is a pathological relationship because it is a misguided substitute for healthy relationships, because it is designed to get meets met that CANNOT GET MET through sexual behavior, and because it is a coping mechanism that has increasingly severe negative consequences. A person can masturbate three times a day or have sex with his partner three times daily and still not be a sex addict.
When a sex addict masturbates, masturbation becomes the focus of their lives and is their primary, or exclusive, coping mechanism. The only way they know to soothe themselves is through masturbation or other forms of ritualized sex. The sex addict thinks about sex almost all the time and compulsively masturbates whenever he get the chance.

Uncontrolled lust is a powerful force that changes behaviors, values, thoughts and feelings, eventually becoming the main focus of life. However, the intense pleasure of the erotic haze makes it impossible to stop his behavior, despite increasingly negative consequences.

Obsession with immediate gratification through intense sexual arousal blinds them to the consequences of their actions and compels them to act in ways that conflict with their essential values.

Sex Addiction Parallels Alcoholism

Sex addicts use sex just as alcoholics use alcohol: as an anesthetizer that allows them to escape painful realities and as a way to regulate their moods. Like alcoholics, sex addicts turn to sex whenever they feel stress or anxiety. As dependence on the behavior progresses, the sex addicts come to therapy, the present with feeling states that duplicate the feelings of alcoholics who first come to treatment.

I words I hear are: loss of self-esteem, despair, loneliness, frustration, guilt, anger and self-hatred. Sex addicts new to treatment often feel their sexual behaviors involve immoral, weird, disgusting actions that fill them with shame and self contempt.

Yet, in the grip of compulsion, they cannot stop their behavior without help. If you have only one way of dealing with internal, unwanted feelings, and that way has destructive consequences, it stunts your growth and development as an evolving individual. Sex addicts keep going to the source of their supply, painful as it may be, because it's what they know how to do.

Recovery is a process of learning new ways, of having more freedom of choice, of becoming mature in the way you deal with life's stressors.

There is a Way Out

The endless cycle of sex addiction can be stopped. Hanging out the white flag, going to 12-step meetings or group therapy and having the willingness to begin a curative, nurturing, non-judgmental relationship with a therapist is the beginning of the end and the entrance to freedom from compulsion.

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.