Although recent research suggests that there is a biochemical and genetic component in the genesis of sexual addiction, there are a number of family of origin variables that have been linked to its development. Sex addicts often come from families where there is a permeating emotional environment of anger or hostility. There tends to be at least one parent that is emotionally unavailable, and the rules and interactions tend to be constantly changing with chaos and unpredictability the norm. There is often a family background of sexual addiction or some other addiction. When there is no obvious sexual addiction, there is often a parental history of affairs. Adults, looking back at their families of origin often have difficulty identifying the dysfunction and may not be fully aware of parental sexual acting out or addiction. Or they may have heard of some vague family rumors.
Children may have also been exposed to inappropriate sexual images in the way of pornography or from observing adults. For the sexual addict, there is often a history of being sexually abused in one way or another. This could involve the physical sexual abuse that you normally think of, when sexual abuse is mentioned, or it could involve an emotionally or verbally sexualized relationship with significant adult (i.e. sexual innuendo).
Many people with sexual addiction discover in recovery that they have been playing out some unresolved relationship issues from their childhood. When a child does not have his or her needs met the way that they need them to be met, they tend to recreate the same interpersonal dynamics in their adult relationships. They try to solve the relationship problems in adulthood that they could not solve in childhood. This does not work in adulthood either. The child’s caregiver was unable to meet the child’s needs because of some defect or problem of his/her own, not because of something the child did or did not do. Rigidity and/or chaos, and emotional unavailability are frequent parent characteristics.
Children find ways to self-soothe. When one’s emotional needs are not met, children find ways to feel better, at least for a short while. Toddlers discover that it feels good to rub themselves and may eventually compulsively use masturbation over time.
Although there is an infinite variety of sexual behaviors that sex addicts could engage in and could come to prefer, compulsive masturbation is the common denominator. Later on in life, when someone has come to understand that their sexual behavior is causing problems in their lives, and they seek to eliminate that sexual behavior, they often try to hang onto the option of masturbation-the old stand-by. The excitement and release of sexual activity is their “drug of choice”, not just the behavior identified as the problem (i.e., voyeurism, infidelity, etc.).
Initially, the sexual activity is simply pleasurable. Then it is used to relieve pain, such as anxiety, loneliness, sadness, etc. Eventually, it becomes the “pain reliever” of choice. There are many parallels between drug addiction and sexual addiction. One is that the sexual activity that can produce a “high” to rival any external mood altering drug. The addict is chasing that “high”.
Sexual addiction, persists over time with the help of “denial”. Just like alcoholism/drug addiction, “the problem” is identified as anything but the sexual behavior. People try for years to solve the problem that has incorrectly been identified. Just like alcoholism/drug addiction, typical denial techniques include: rationalizations, intellectualization, outright denial, blaming, projection, minimization, and others.