Causes of Sexual Addiction Are Complex

Why do some people have an inability to control their use of online pornography, while others are unaffected? Why do some continue to have sexual encounters with multiple people, even when they know the consequences? The causes of sexual addiction are complex, but factors like history of addiction, biochemical problems, or a history of abuse or trauma consistently appear as possible linkages.

Further research comparing sexual addiction to food addictions, drug or alcohol addictions, and behaviors like compulsive gambling are also shedding light on the reasons some develop sexual addiction. The ways addiction affects the frontal lobe regions of the brain are of particular interest because these areas monitor things like compulsivity and the ability to make sound decisions.

Like a person with a compulsive desire to overeat feels that their brain urges them on even when hunger is not present, people with sexual addictions may have obsessive and unwanted thoughts about sex. They may be unable to stop themselves from actions like viewing pornography at work, despite the ramifications, or pursuing sexual relationships without intimate connections.

Over time, the brain’s reward system may make the person feel they must engage in these behaviors or they may not survive. This situation can apply to people who would not normally be viewed by others as likely to have an addiction, such as career-oriented, highly-successful people.

Each encounter with sex or pornography may bring a sense of pleasure to the brain. As a result, the brain continues to crave those experiences, even though a close personal relationship is not present. Most people with sexual addictions have a history of unsuccessful personal relationships and may use sex as a way to divert negative emotions associated with forming bonds with people. However, any pleasure that may be derived is short-lived and often replaced by feelings of shame or guilt.

While many people with sexual addiction have no history of sexual abuse in their past, some begin to address past sexual abuse as they delve into recovery with professional intervention. Others may feel their family was void of emotion or distant, while others with sexual addictions are also working through co-occurring addictions to a substance or another behavior, complicating their recovery.

Family history of addiction can also be a factor in sexual addiction, a concept that is warranting further research as experts look deeper at the brain factors involved in pleasure and reward that may be similar across sexual addictions and substance addictions.

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