If you talk about sex addiction much, whether with recovering alcoholics, other addicts or “normal” folks, you will frequently hear the same question: How can sex be an addiction? It’s a normal part of life, God’s plan, necessary for good mental health, central to relationships, built into our genes, etc.
These are all valid objections, and all of the statements are true. But, like so many things that are “good for us,” we can abuse sex just as we would any other drug — and, for sex addicts, it’s a drug just as surely as meth or alcohol.
Let’s look at a different example, to remove the denial a step or two. Clearly, there is nothing wrong with dopamine, serotonin and similar brain chemicals. They occur naturally in our bodies to achieve a variety of purposes, but one major one: when they exist in the pleasure center of the brain, we feel good.
The pleasure center exists to reward us for doing things that have survival value, such as eating, sleeping, winning and — yes — making babies. Dopamine, in particular, is a “feel good” chemical. If it were not for it and similar neurotransmitters, we would have little incentive to do the things necessary for the survival of ourselves and the human race. Among other things, having sex would be no fun and we most likely wouldn’t do it much, if at all.
Now let’s look at heroin. There’s nothing intrinsically bad about heroin; it’s just a collection of chemicals. But because it stimulates the pleasure center by increasing the levels of the “feel good” chemicals, people who use it once often want to use it again. Eventually, if they continue using, their brains adjust to the high levels of stimulation in the pleasure center and it takes more of the drug to get high. (Tolerance) As tolerance increases, users find that when they stop using the drug they not only don’t feel high, they suffer a rebound effect that makes them feel lousy. (Withdrawal) They can no longer function without their drug, and getting through the withdrawal stage and back to “normal” is an arduous process.
The same thing can — and does — happen with other drugs and other pleasurable activities. If we over-indulge long enough, we develop a tolerance and we have to step up the consumption or participation in order to reach the same levels of pleasure. Eventually we reach a point where the pleasure is mostly gone, but we have to keep on doing whatever it is in order to avoid the withdrawal.
Since sexual activity increases levels of stimulation in the pleasure center the same as drugs do, it is entirely possible to become physically addicted to sex. The reasons that we over-indulge to begin with involve psychological components that we’ll get to later, but for now, just be assured that there is such a thing as overdoing sex, and there is such a thing as physical addiction and withdrawal from it, whether it be intercourse, “massages,” masturbation, fantasy, porn or combinations thereof.
Thank you for the kind words. Sexuality is such a basic part of human relations that when it gets twisted it’s incredibly hard on everyone concerned. It strikes at our desirability, our adequacy, and totally trashes our self-esteem — on both sides of the equation. In my personal opionion, it’s a far greater problem than anyone wants to admit (denial being what it is) and I think it’s at the root of a great many other addictive behaviors.
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The damage my estranged husbands sex addiction has done to my life and the lives of my children is absolutely unbelievable. You wake up one day to discover the addiction and your life is never the same. I am so glad you are addressing it in such a way that others might be encouraged to get help.
Well written. I admit that I get frustrated when I face this question and I often have a hard time getting others to understand.