There’s nothing wrong with the question, as long as you’re willing to sit tight for the answer. Almost every true sex addict that I’ve encountered over the years has had two historical factors that I believe explain why they have become sex addicts instead of say an alcoholic, a cocaine addict or for that matter a world-class painter as a way of coping.
Those two things are:
1. A dysfunctional family environment where
a.) there’s a parent viewed as controlling, chaotic, angry or aggressive whose emotional needs are met at the expense of the child, and
b.) where the second parent has a limited ability to express emotion and is distant within the family; and
2. A critical event where the child, usually between the ages of 10 and 15, is exposed to inappropriate sexual material It’s hard to believe that the years of turmoil that follow later in life can be traced back to these two elements, but it’s true. The Dysfunctional Childhood Family The controlling, chaotic, angry, aggressive style of parenting is important because it robs the child of a sense of self that is acknowledged by others. When you’re born, you don’t really have a sense of yourself as being separate from your mother.
Think about it. For about nine months while in your mother’s womb, you are magically fed without asking for it. You’re able to play and sleep whenever you wish. Life is solitary and self-sustaining. Once born this mindset persists until taught otherwise by your parents. In the ideal scenario a primary caregiver becomes a mind reader who mirrors the process within the womb by figuring out when you’re hungry, when you’re cold, and when you need a diaper change. So, the magic continues. The infant thinks it and it happens.
Later, the primary caregiver’s duty shifts to one where this magical spell is broken as they purposely frustrate the child to begin his socialization process. We can’t all have what we want when we want it. We have to learn to wait, to share, to do without. How do we solve the fall from grace? Well, communication is the answer. We may no longer be picked up as soon as we cry, but the caregivers strike a bargain. They stay there and verbalize that there’s no need to worry. They tell us that everything will be ok. And, in the process we learn that there’s someone who keeps watch. We also discover communication. Our screams, our terror have brought the most important person in our world to us. There’s a me. There’s a them. And, my words and cries connect us forever.
The sex addict has a much different experience. Don’t get me wrong, the sex addict’s primary caregiver loves him, but it’s on the caregiver’s terms. So, when he cries because he’s hungry sometimes he’s fed right away and sometimes he’s not. Sometimes he’s fed his favorite food and sometimes he’s fed what’s most convenient to serve. Sometimes he’s fed when it’s convenient for his aregiver’s schedule instead of when he is truly hungry. So, he learns to make do with what’s offered and ends up with a much less secure sense of self because his ability to influence the world through communication is less from day one.
As we age, the situation gets worse as the increased emotional capacity that develops naturally is coopted by the controlling, unresponsive caregiver. For example, the child may be there to listen to the caregiver’s worries about problems with relationships, concerns for the child’s future, or the general pressures of life. These are things that are withheld or meted out in smaller, safer doses in more responsible parenting.
Where is the caregiver’s partner in this scenario (the secondary caregiver)? The secondary caregiver is usually there but both physically and emotionally distant from the proceedings. They work long hours at work or travel a great deal so that they are not there to witness the damaging parenting of the child. When present, the secondary caregiver refuses to intervene to protect the child from the controlling, excessive emotion and chaotic relating style of their partner.
Scenario 2 In the second scenario, the secondary caregiver is often the more problematic parent by expressing inappropriate levels of or frequency of anger and aggression. The child experiences a feeling of being unsafe with little control over his environment as it is unclear what causes the secondary caregiver’s anger, or perhaps the anger and aggression appear to be caused by a never-ending list of causes. The primary caregiver in this scenario is often loving but perceived by the child as meek or timid. The primary caregiver is unable to manage or control the aggressive behavior of the secondary caregiver.
The Inappropriate Sexual Exposure Most commonly, the clients I’ve worked with have reported uncovering a family member’s pornography in the home in either pre-adolescence or early adolescence. Other examples of inappropriate sexual exposure include the witnessing of relatives having sex, being pressured into sex before ready, or in rare cases the visiting of sex workers as part of a premature initiation into adulthood.
The surprising inappropriate sexual exposure leaves an emotional memory of pleasure and excitement that is reawakened later in life and used to neutralize negative feelings like, stress, anger, depression, anxiety, boredom and loneliness.
• I’m struck by the high percentage of two-parent families within the clients that I see. There are relatively few single parent homes involved, although the social and economic demographics of my practice may explain this phenomenon in part. More research in this area is necessary.
• In both scenarios, there is a parent whose behavior is unpredictable and excessive although the emotions expressed and style of erraticism may differ.
• The child’s needs are made secondary to those of at least one parent in both presentations.
• In each one parent is viewed by the child as unable to stand up to the excessive demands of the other parent.
Conclusion So, let’s go back to where we started.
The opening question was from the sex addict asking, ‘Yeah, but why do I do it?’
My response is that, in a replay of the early family dynamic, life is viewed as being comprised of unpredictable emotional demands made by others that the sex addict feels ill-equipped to manage through the use of communication.
My view is that the infant who is unable to feed himself because of caregiver neglect, although he is hungry, or to pull the blanket over himself, although he is cold, retreats into fantasy to fill his needs. He imagines the bottle that has not been provided through the magic of fantasy. Or, the infant separates himself from the uncomfortable feeling of being cold through dissociation and imagines himself in his crib wrapped in wool or in his mother’s arms. Fantasy is the key for the infant.
Fantasy is also the key for the sex addict as an adult. It’s easy to see the role of fantasy with the porn abuser. Searching and searching for the right image separates us from the feeling of being alone and vulnerable. Watching the chosen video allows us to identify with the characters in the video. We unconsciously imagine ourselves feeling what they’re feeling displacing what we’re actually feeling already.
To escape into fantasy at a later age, say one’s 20’s, is to get a momentary thrill for something new that can be quickly replaced with another experience. To escape into fantasy for the first time of thousands when one is an infant is to form oneself as an escapist who uses fantasy to deal with the ordinary challenges of life. This strategy is genius for an infant. It gets the newborn through a difficult moment of hunger that feels like a life or death challenge. But, for an adult? This strategy is a disaster.
If I’m communicating with you as an adult, I need you to tell me when I’ve crossed a line with you. If you retreat to fantasy, I’ll never know that I’ve done wrong. If you retreat from me, you’ll retreat from others too. Few of us will know how you really feel. That leaves you all alone, and us unhappy. Why do you do it? You do it because you were let down a long time ago. But, that doesn’t mean I’ll let you down today. Give me a chance. Tell me how you really feel.