The first three chakras in humans are survival, reproduction, and power, as they are in all living things. Sexuality follows survival and precedes power. Sexual addiction is a retarded growth of sexual energy that prevents the development of power, love, communication, intuition, and spirituality.
A sexually addicted person is unable to manage their sexual behavior. It does not mean more or less sexually activity, it means sexual injury blocks a person’s emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual development. The situation is an addiction because one’s behavior cannot be controlled. One acts compulsively.
Compulsivity is defined by actions taken in public and in private. Social norms operate in private and public realms. The notion of obsessive thoughts requires a notion of how often and how strong certain thoughts are expected to be. Social metrics are an inaccurate measure of what is healthy for any individual and are only a rough gauge of what is compulsive.
Sexual thoughts are triggered by our environment and our hormonal levels. In order to define sex addiction as excessive, it is necessary to establish what’s normal. The notion of sex addiction is contentious among academics who have a limited understanding of the breadth of the issue. Sex addiction—sometimes referred to as hyper-sexuality—is as much an issue of hypo-sexuality, or sexual anemia.
Vaguely defined as a sexually-centered maladjustment in the 1987 third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), mention of it has been removed from subsequent editions. The objection to its inclusion in the latest version of the DSM, the DSM V published in 2013, was that the idea lacked both research and definition as an addiction.
In 2016, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists, the official body for sex and relationship therapy in the United States, stated that the notion of sexual addiction lacks “empirical evidence to support the classification… as a mental health disorder” (AASECT, 2017). Those who apply the term today operate from a social bias.
A person’s sexuality is affected by age, family, culture, social role, self-image, metabolism, and past history (Hall, 2011). Any one of these could amplify or reduce desires or fixations otherwise considered normal. Disruptive developmental events include exposure to pornography, sexual abuse, religious training, a mentally disturbed environment, social or family expectations, and drugs.
Since one’s personality is created in childhood, child abuse is life-changing. Childhood sexual abuse can both amplify or reduce the future role of sexuality. It can distort sexuality into abnormal, unhealthy, self-destructive, and anti-social forms. It is interesting that sexual addiction is singled out as an excessive fixation on sexual behavior when unhealthy sexuality can manifest as either excessive or insufficient thoughts or actions.
What our society considers healthy sexuality is not healthy; our society is sexually perverted. Sexuality, a canary in the coal mine, has been sick for thousands of years. Civilization’s lack of spiritual balance has its roots in its unbalanced attitudes about sexuality.
Like all things spiritual, sexuality cannot be defined by thoughts and behaviors alone. Normal acts and ideas are insufficient to define sexuality just as they are insufficient to define psychology; one needs to understand emotions and awareness. A person can talk and behave normally and still be compromised. Without a full description of sexuality—such as what might be present in the chakra system—it’s not possible to circumscribe the normal or recognize the abnormal.
Family conditions that predispose a person to sexual maladjustment include child abuse, and compulsive or addictive family behaviors. Families that are emotionally or morally impaired can pass this impairment on to their children who will manifest these imbalances in adulthood. If a child cannot repair their damaged patterns, they will manifest them as an adult and pass them to their progeny.
There are arguments in the literature regarding the genetic factors of sexual behavior, and while behavior is not associated with one’s chromosomes, it is shaped by one’s epigenetic predispositions. A person predisposed to being sensitive and frightened will be damaged by an insensitive and exploitative family environment, and likely carry these traumas into adulthood.
Social forces mix character and family issues to amplify or degrade a person’s sexual behaviors. Sexual degradation of women, which has prevailed in Western culture for millennia, has created sexual dysfunction at all levels.
Sexual addiction is typically associated with impulsive desire, excessive engagement, and being unable to control behavior that negatively impacts one’s life. What is not recognized is what could be called sexual aversion, anxiety, phobia, or frigidity. These are widespread, almost to the point of being taken as normal. A lack of sexuality also leads to addicted, distorted, and dysregulated behaviors.
Sexual addicts are recognized by their extreme character, but the notion of extreme is relative. Some symptoms may be obviously excessive, but there are many in-obvious symptoms of sexual maladjustment that may never be noticed or recognized for the dysfunction they really represent.
Maladjusted behaviors might include an obsession with intercourse, but may also be an obsession with the inability to have intercourse. Sexual maladjustment can throw any aspect of the psyche out of balance. Ultimately it isn’t sexuality that is the problem, it is the management of the sexual energy that underpins the psyche.
Lust is a dominant theme associated with negative traits such as exploitation, anger, dominance, frustration, power, or self-worth. One’s erogenous zones can become overly sensitive, active, or responsive. They can also become deprived of sense, activity, and response so that sexual satisfaction is impossible (Mayo Clinic).
Religious traditions that eschew sexuality are dysfunctional. Sexuality is a necessary component of survival. Sex-denying traditions reveal their role as exploitative institutions. That is not to say they cannot serve a positive social role just as the military can serve a positive social role, but they cannot foster full human potential.
I recall an extreme cult I encountered years ago in New York City based on a combination of Gnosticism, asceticism, and Catholicism. The leader insisted adherents reject all sexual thoughts, divest all material attachments, and donate their money to him.
“What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.”
— Fyodor Dostoevsky
Sexual addiction emerges from inadequate rather than an excess of meaningful behavior. If the behavior is excessive, it’s excessive because it generates little meaning. Sexual addiction is related to psychotic and neurotic behaviors and cannot be understood on the basis of actions alone.
Typical addictive behaviors are compulsive stimulation, multiple affairs and hook-ups (one-night stands), uncontrollable pornography, unsafe practice, exhibitionism, voyeurism, pedophilia, and exploitative sex (sadistic or masochistic). Uncontrollable urges are closely related to how one views the world and one’s place in it (Francoeur, 1994). A person who excessively fixates on sex lacks adequate reflection rather than reflects on sex excessively. They are starving even if they don’t recognize their lack.
Typical underlying beliefs include worthlessness, seeing oneself as unlovable, inability to access deeper meaning or find it in others, and a lack of spirit in oneself. The neurochemical high of orgasm temporarily compensates for pervasive emptiness which is all a person has ever known.
One’s addiction can be rooted in anger, frustration, and traumatizing past experiences that cannot be accessed through any other means. In this world of frustrated deprivation, indulgence in sex or aversion from it is a form of gratification in the same way that taking more of a drug gets you more, even though it’s missing what you need. It’s a kind of fixation on one’s disabled self that takes you more deeply into what you don’t have. As a method of compensating, it’s similar to narcissism.
The sexual addict who seeks therapy is admitting their dissatisfaction. However, people differ on what constitutes control and satisfaction. The distinction between one’s vision of healthy and unhealthy sexual behavior is left largely up to the individual who seeks treatment. A personal balance cannot be based on social norms.
To see sexual addiction as engaging in too much sex misses the dysfunction. To think of sex only as intercourse misses the energy it can carry.
Sexuality has dramatic and distinct physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects. We are hardly able to manage these energies separately. Why do we behave as if sex is only intercourse? It reflects the shallowness of our discourse.
Given how ineffective it is to talk about things we don’t understand, it makes sense we cannot see them as parts of a whole. It makes sense that we have created spirit, emotion, and physical nature as separate and project them as separate on others.
When you separate things that have a complex relation to each other, it’s hard to put them back together. It’s like taking apart a jigsaw puzzle. It’s hard to speak of them as a unified concept using a language that castes them as different.
One way to regain unity is to invite all the voices back to the table, to engage in a comprehensive conversation. This is the aim of group encounters and group-help therapy. When insightful voices combine, a greater whole can emerge. The risk is that a voice is missing. If the group lacks a necessary voice, that voice won’t be generated through compromise.
I can envision a helpful group around the topic of alcohol addiction, but alcohol is simple compared to sex. I cannot envision the same progress from a discussion of sexual dysfunction.
The literature on sex addiction endorses 12-step programs (Griffin-Shelley, 1991). Standard addiction protocols focus on abstinence while protocols for sexual addiction focus on redefining positive sexual activity (Gold, 1998). It would be a mistake to aim for sexual abstinence, as one does with drugs and alcohol, since sex is necessary. Sexual addiction is the misuse of a necessary function.
12-step programs engage emotion and spirit, two things missing from clinical therapies of the last 50 years. Emotion and spirit are critical to one’s self-image and a balanced relationship with others. They are critical elements of balanced sexuality. There is good reason to believe such programs can help broaden a person’s awareness of deeper sexuality.
On the other hand, the standard presentation of 12-step programs is formulaic. This is both a strength and a weakness. Whether one needs more of what these programs offer, or one needs more of what they fail to offer, depends on the person and the program. Joan Zweben (White, 2014) makes the point that 12-step programs have a much greater variety than is supposed, and because of their variety, they should not be dismissed.
Experts, evidence, and standard protocols don’t make a theory credible. What is needed is efficacious understanding. In order to draw a line separating normal from obsessive behavior, consider human sexuality in both its social and personal senses. There is no physiologically clear line in diagnosing sexual addiction (Goodman, 1993).
In applying the label of addiction to sexuality there is the danger of making sexual abstinence a goal. To accept abstinence from sex as a path to recovery is ludicrous. The 2015 film “The Lobster” and the 1990 film “The Handmaid’s Tale” are dark explorations of social control of sexual behavior. In both of these, normality is a nightmare, and medicine “normalizes” people to a degraded level.
Freud put forward a theory of psychological imbalance due to sexual repression. His star pupil Wilhelm Reich said psychological balance was based on sexual expression. Both are out of favor these days, but I find great insight in both of them.
Reich was particularly ahead of his time in recognizing sexuality as psychologically fundamental (Reich, 1974). This is developed further in Tantric yoga, which has a variant in Western Tantra (Hyatt, 2012).
It is not surprising that Western culture has smeared Western Tantra as anti-Christ occultism, and Reich as being insane. Academic sexology has avoided this modern witch-burning by casting itself as an eviscerated, objective science thereby returning sex to a mechanical act. Reich recognized this as dead sexuality, so his insights continue to be condemned.
“The goal of sexual suppression is that of producing an individual who is adjusted to
the authoritarian order and who will submit to it in spite of all misery and degradation.”
— Wilhelm Reich
Abstinence-based and redirection-based programs have different ends. These programs conceive of “sexual sobriety” as a form of control (Griffin-Shelley, 1991) but sexual sobriety is actually a lack of control, it is a frigidity. I am reminded of the 1952 chemical castration of Alan Turing in an attempt by the state to stop the crime homosexuality. Until sexual addiction is seen for the sexual dysfunction it is, there is little hope of balance.
We live in a society that celebrates sexual sobriety, indulges in sexual excess, and endorses sexual perversity. Reich’s endorsement of spiritual sexuality has always made good sense to me. Combining Reich’s theory of psychopathy’s origin in sexual perversion with Alice Miller’s view of psychopathy’s origins in childhood abuse (Miller, 1998) creates an accurate picture of our perverted society.
AASECT (2017, Dec). AASECT Position on Sex Addiction, American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists”. Aasect.org. Retrieved from: https://www.aasect.org/position-sex-addiction
Bramwell, D. (2018, Oct).The godfather of the sexual revolution? The Psychologist, 32, pp. 84-87. https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-31/october/godfather-sexual-revolution
Gold, S. N., Heffner, C. (1998). Sexual addiction: Many conceptions, minimal data, Clinical Psych Rev. 18, pp. 367-381.
Goodman, A. (1993). Diagnosis and Treatment of Sex Addiction, J. of Sex & Marital Therapy, 3, pp. 225-251.
Griffin-Shelley, E. (1991). Sex and love: Addiction, treatment, and recovery. Praeger Publishers.
Francoeur, R. T., Traverner, W. J. (1994). Taking sides: Clashing views on controversial issues in human sexuality, p. 25. Mcgraw-Hill College.
Hall, P (2010, Aug). A biopsychosocial view of sex addiction, Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 26(3):217-228. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233377619_A_biopsychosocial_view_of_sex_addiction
Hyatt, C. S. (2012). Secrets of Western Tantra: The Sexuality of the Middle Path, The Original Falcon Press.
Mayo Clinic (undated). Compulsive sexual behavior. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/compulsive-sexual-behavior/symptoms-causes/syc-20360434
Miller, A. (1998). Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society’s Betrayal of the Child, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York.
Reich, W. (1974). The Sexual Revolution, Toward a Self-Regulating Character Structure, Farrar, Straus and Girous, New York.
White, W. (2014). Clinical leadership in addiction treatment: An interview with Dr. Joan Zweben. Retrieved from: http://www.williamwhitepapers.com/pr/2014%20Dr.%20Joan%20Zweben.pdf
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