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Sex Addiction: The Power of the Bargain

A young woman who appears to have it all, prestige, money and beauty, seeks out sex to cope with feelings of powerlessness. Ashley’s got her routine down to the detail. She gets her spray tan done right before bed so that she can wake up in the morning to a fresh shower. After full makeup and hair, she takes a cab into the city and clocks in at the fashion magazine where she blogs for work. She spends the next eight hours clicking away in search of designers, Fashion Week and whatever A-listers are wearing, though she’s got her eye on a spot down the road as a more journalistic fashion writer. After work, she heads to the salon; her nails take one hour. Ashley lives off a large inheritance that comes to her in monthly trust payments, but she wants to work her way up in the fashion industry. She has a vision of herself as the next Anna Wintour. So she works and shops and preens, but none of it gives her quite the satisfaction she needs. Ashley is a woman looking for power. Although she’s beautiful by societal standards, she was never tall enough to have been a model, and she’s considered “too curvy” for an industry that glorifies size zero. But she puts her curves to good use Friday and Saturday nights in sheath dresses with a plunging décolletage. She likes to go clubbing. Partly because of her beauty and partly because of whom she knows, she’s allowed to step past the line and through the door without waiting, but it’s not for the party—the thumping bass and high-end champagne; it’s for the way she feels when she enters a room surrounded on either side by her pretty but less attractive friends, and smiles her perfect veneered smile while coyly tossing her blonde waves. Although she looks straight ahead as she walks toward her table, she can feel every pair of eyes in the room—male and female—turn to stare. By the end of the night, Ashley will be approached by dozens of guys, all telling her she’s incredible and offering her a drink or asking for her number. She’ll choose whichever man she believes is good enough and will send her driver in after her to invite him home (she can’t be seen leaving with someone), a choice she makes because she can’t get enough of the adoration and desire. Her game is one of control, of supremacy.

Female Sex Addicts Searching for Power

The fairer sex, subjugated and objectified throughout history, has probably always used sex in an attempt to level the playing field. It’s often said that the sex trade is the oldest profession, and it’s no wonder: nothing sells quite like sex. Since any economy is a balance in supply and demand, those who possess the supply when the demand is great possess the power. All sex addicts, whether they are men or women, probably use sex for control and/or the intensity of feeling desired at one point or another during the course of their addiction, but experts believe female sex addicts are particularly likely to seek out compulsive sex in order to turn a sense of powerlessness into power. In her popular book, Women, Sex and Addiction: A Search for Love and Power, Charlotte Kasl, Ph.D., writes: Addictive sex is time spent attempting to have orgasm with another’s body, often while fantasizing about someone else. It objectifies oneself and another person. It is skin touching skin in search of a “high.” After the high, participants feel lonely, empty, and often, disgusted. While money may not cross palms directly there is often a covert bargain: “I’ll be sexual if you pretend to care”; “I’ll be nice to you and buy you things if you’re sexual with me”; “I promise not to notice that you’re ripping me off if you’ll be sexual”; or “I promise not to leave you if you’re sexual with me.”

Why Women Use Compulsive Sex for Power

A woman may seek power in the context of addicted sex for many reasons, but one theory is that she is attempting to transform a destructive core belief into a more tolerable operational belief. According to Kasl, the sex addict’s core belief may be, “I am powerless,” which becomes “I feel powerful when I flirt/am seductive,” “I feel powerful when I get someone turned on to me,” “I feel powerful when I get an important person into bed,” “I feel powerful/relief when I have a fantasy of romance or sexual conquest.” Even a woman like Ashley who appears to have it all, beauty, money and prestige, can struggle with feelings of worth and power (likely why she works so hard for it). And most women, even in the 21st century, are living in a world in which they are valued less than the men in their lives. To be a woman is to be recognized as a sexual object until a certain age, at which time a woman risks vanishing into irrelevancy unless she grasps onto what limited power is available to her. It is no wonder that so many women confuse sex with worth—or sex with power—or that they struggle to find themselves through the process of addiction, whatever form it takes.

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