Understanding the Roots of Sexual Addiction

Understanding the Roots of Sexual Addiction

Written by By Ramon Ivey, MS, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Sexual addiction and compulsive sexuality is the fastest growing addiction in the world, according to many of the top experts in the field. There are many reasons for this including, but not limited to, the ease of access, perceived anonymity, and affordability associated with the rise of the internet.

Most people have someone in their life that they can reference who has had their relationships and families torn apart due to their sexually compulsive behaviors. In fact, statistics suggest that forty percent of married couples have experienced conflict in their marriage directly related to the viewing of pornography. In addition to those we may know personally, there are a host of celebrities who have been exposed and suffered great consequences for their sexual exposés. Due to the public nature of many of the people impacted, sexual addiction and its remedies have become a regular part of public discourse. As such, I have heard these conversations everywhere from the local pub to the local church. From the local news to AM talk radio. No matter where I hear these topics being discussed, it often seems that they are presented with the utmost of authority, intensity and dogma as if the speaker was in the throws of defending their dissertation on the subject. Not surprisingly, the “solutions” presented in those conversations seem to be just as varied as the host of characters who are imparting their “wisdom.”

Some of the “solutions” that stand out in my mind as the most memorable are: “There is no such thing as sexual addiction;” “If that’s an addiction that’s the one I want;” “They just need to have more sex with their partner;” “They just need to stop!;” “They need to seek God and get their spiritual life in order;” “They need to pray harder;” or, my personal favorite, “You can’t expect the human species to be faithful to one partner!” Although some of these arguments have more merit than others, none of them really grasp how dark, lonely, divisive and destructive sexual addiction can be to the one entrapped in its clutches. Nor do they understand the complexity of the addiction and what it takes to get free from it.

Sexual addiction impacts the one entrapped on an emotional, relational, and spiritual level. The most common experience of the addict, no matter the consequences of their actions, is a “pull,” back towards their compulsive behaviors. The sexual addict finds themselves in a cycle that is commonly known as the “Addiction Cycle.” This cycle begins with the addict’s faulty belief system, which often has its origins in experiences that greatly pre-date the behavior that is currently being engaged in. The beliefs the addict often holds deep within their psyche are: personal beliefs, such as, “I am flawed and unworthy of love;” relational beliefs, such as, “If people knew me they would not love me;” beliefs about needs, such as, “My needs will never be met if I have to rely on others;” and sexual beliefs, such as, “Sex is my highest need.”

This belief system feeds into the next stage of the cycle, impaired thinking. A common, impaired thought, could be, “I can’t tell of who I am so I need to rely on myself to get my needs met.” The faulty belief system and impaired thinking send the addict into the throws of the addiction cycle, which is the addiction itself. The steps involved are preoccupation (with sexually compulsive behavior), ritualization, compulsive behavior and despair. The despair often comes from not living up to one’s own value system and realizing the addictive behavior did not meet the needs that the person struggling with addiction had hoped it would. This leads to an increased level of shame. And, as the addict stays stuck in this cycle, over time, it leads to increasing unmanageability in their life and, thus, sinking further into the addictive behavior.

As you can see from the above cycle, sexual addiction is a multi-faceted problem that impacts every aspect of the human experience; emotional, physical, sexual, spiritual and relational. I, like others, wish there was a quick fix but to espouse to that idea is not only misinformed but also helps keep the addict stuck in the very cycle they need help getting out of. Thankfully, there is hope and help through qualified clinicians and a community of people ready to embrace those struggling with the darkness of sexual addiction.

The Exposing Nature of Desire

The Exposing Nature of Desire

Written by Jack West, MA

Imagine yourself at a professional networking event.

You approach the drink station just as another person is finishing their drink order. The bar tender turns to you and takes your order. There you stand, waiting. You strike up conversation with your fellow adult beverage seeker.

After the obligatory exchange of names and occupation, while maintaining eye contact, you lean in and ask, “what is it that you truly desire in life?”

Your thirsty new friend makes a panicked glance past you, pretending to see someone who is apparently beckoning them to leave your presence immediately. Conversation detonated.

What is it about our desires that is so exposing?

I believe it is because to name our true desires is to communicate something of who we are beneath-the-surface, deeper than an opinion, or what we believe. It is to invite another to gaze into some of who we are. Naming our desire says something about us which we may not even fully understand.

Now let’s run the category of desire through our bodies. What does it mean to hold our sexual desire?

What do you want in your sexual life?

If we were to answer that question honestly we would be talking about a subject so complex that we often struggle to speak about it coherently.

What if what we desire sexually betrays the trust of another? What if our sexual desire takes us to a place of violating another? What if we have to betray our humanity and take increasing risks to our well-being to satisfy our sexual desires? What if our sexual desire looks like addiction?

Now, that is a conversation stopper.

But what if we could begin to have a different conversation about our sexuality? What if we could explore how we live out our sexuality, on a daily basis, and what that actually means? At work, in our intimate relationships, online?

I believe that there is room for a conversation about our sexual desires that will bear the fruits of freedom. Not freedom from constraints but the freedom that comes from being tethered to the truth. And I do not mean “truth” as a more nuanced moral argument against sexual exploitation and a pornographic culture. I mean a deeper relationship with The Truth where we are transformed by grace in the fluidity of desires.

Now is the time for communities – networks of relationships whose purpose it is to cultivate neighbors and neighborhoods – to push back against a desire economy that seeks to enslave sexual desire.

As a local pastor, I am deeply committed to helping our community navigate this conversation at a neighborhood and individual level. Every day, I experience and see the devastation of living under a code of silence around our unwieldy sexual desires that breeds shame and deep pain. A conversation where we speak of grace but rarely experience it.

However, I know there is “amazing grace” to experience in the confluence of our sexual desires because I have tasted it. It is devastatingly humbling. It is an experience that shatters my defenses and all projections of propriety and illusions of self. And it is the most freeing experience I have ever known. It is a movement from death and to life. As Paul writes to the communities in Galatia, “It is for freedom that we have been set free.”

No matter where you are starting from, you can join this conversation. Whether you are someone who is helping others find freedom in their sexual desires, or one who is bound; or, whether you are someone who finds themselves positioned along that continuum, as I would say that I am. Regardless of where you find yourself, if you are a pastor, ministry leader, or care provider, I invite you to engage the topic with me and others as we gather together on November 8th for a CIFT Ministry Training, engaging the topic of Desire, Intimacy and Sexual Addiction.

Sex Addiction, Security, and Trust

Sex Addiction, Security, and Trust

Implications for Spouses and Partners of Sex Addicts

Written by Dr. Heather Schroeder, PsyD

In the therapy world, the term “healthy attachment” is a concept that is often held as a gold-standard for understanding one’s emotional well-being. According to the father of attachment theory, John Bowlby, having the desire for a healthy and secure attachment “is an instinctual and constitutive dimension of being human and endures throughout the life span. One never outgrows or develops beyond attachment behavior, but rather it persists, as Bowlby says, “from the cradle to the grave”1. But what does this really mean in a real-world context? Some argue that a healthy attachment, or secure-base, is synonymous with what we understand as “trust” in a relationship2. Trust is an inherent desired quality of any romantic relationship. Unfortunately, the compulsive use of pornography or sexual addiction disrupts the secure-attachment, or trust, one expects in a romantic relationship. This specific disruption of trust leads to a loss of well-being similar to that associated with trauma. For spouses or partners that discover their significant other’s compulsive sexual behavior, loss of the secure-attachment can be summarized as the “realization that the [sexual addiction] and perceived betrayal had been on-going during a time when the spouse had assumed they were safe and secure in a trustworthy romantic relationship”3.


So what does all of this mean and why does it matter? Spouses who are married to a partner struggling with compulsive sexual behavior face many challenges after they discover this issue in their marriage. As noted above, the loss of trust is the primary trauma I see when working with partners in my office. Often times, I hear the sentiment, “How do I know what is real in my relationship” or “How could they say they love me and be doing what they are doing?” or “How can I ever trust again?”. These questions are legitimate questions and speak to the loss of a secure-base in their world. In the early stages of discovering their partner’s sexually compulsive behavior, spouses often feel lost and need support and guidance as they navigate their new reality. Sadly, many spouses don’t know what steps to take when they are faced with this betrayal and struggle to reorient themselves in the world. Thankfully, this does not have to be the case.


Now, more than ever, there is growing awareness of sexual addiction and the impact this addiction has on spouses and families. Spouses need to know that they are not alone, that there are other men and women who know the distinct pain of discovering their partner’s secret sexually compulsive behavior. In addition to knowing that they are not alone, they need to know that their spouse’s sexual addiction is not their fault. Often times, people who struggle with sexually compulsive behavior have struggled for years, often beginning in early adolescence. Although this is a heartbreaking realty, partner’s hopefully can take that information in and begin to realize that their spouse’s sexually compulsive behaviors are not because they were not “good enough” as a spouse. There is hope amidst this unique pain. Partner’s that are truly willing to explore their unique pain and grief regarding this specific trauma actually open the door to great healing and examination of who they are in the world and how their own stories are impacted by this distinctive journey of healing. There are many support groups, church programs, and therapists specifically trained to help spouses and addicts navigate this healing process. Through the healing process, both partners and addicts, can discover and build a new secure-attachment with God, with each other, and the relationships around them. If you, or someone you know, is facing this particular issue, please call. You can reach me (714) 558-9266 extension 283.



1 Kelley 2010
2 (Zitzman and Butler, 2009).
3 (Zitzman and Butler, 2009).