brain-regionsOne of the most difficult aspects to understand about Sex Addiction is why the addict will risk their marriages, careers, family, children, financial security, social status and literally their entire life for the seemingly small reward of a quick sexual encounter. We non addicts just can’t make sense of it all.

Fortunately there is some research being conducted on the neurological aspects of Sex Addiction. Data is sketchy at best and I am doing what I can to sort through it and find current researchers so I can share it with all of you.

To condense it in a nutshell, Sex Addiction offers a unique type of feedback to the brain, making it almost impossible for the Sex Addict to resist the temptation of that exquisite flood of pleasure chemicals to their brain. Part of what makes true sexual compulsion so difficult to control is that it delivers the neurochemical function of three distinct types of “highs”.

Most mood-altering drugs operate either by intensifying brain chemistry (such as speed or cocaine), by serving a sedating or anxiety-reducing function (examples include alcohol or heroin) or by taking a person into fantasy (like hallucinogenics). The intense and almost immediate feedback loop of Sexual Addiction has the capability of engaging all three neurochemical pathways. Sexual intrigue and fantasy can simultaneously serve stimulating, calming, disinhibiting and dissociative functions. And since the mood alteration is only a thought away it’s no wonder it can be so reinforcing even in the face of profoundly negative consequences.

So, with that understanding we can at least begin to understand the Sex Addict’s behavior. Now the challenge is to find ways to block, redirect or eliminate the chemical feedback that holds the Sex Addict hostage.

Our sickness is between our ears. ~ Anonymous

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17 Responses

  1. But all of us resist temptations and some find it more difficult than others I know. Problem for me is the bit where you say “almost impossible to resist”. Almost impossible but not impossible. So no. I still don’t “understand” the addicts behaviour. Rationally and objectively, I can see why it could happen, I can see how it could escalate and I can see why some cannot resist but I will never understand it. I see it as greedy, selfish and self-centred with no thought or consideration for others.

    I was thinking that a good analogy of my thoughts regarding this could be compared to a typical addict’s thoughts. He/she can rationally and objectively see why and how his/her behaviour is affecting others and can rationally and objectively see why there is a need to change (if caught) because of the consequences that might happen if they don’t, but can they really understand how they have devastated the people who love them and do they understand how they have made someone else feel. Do they feel devasted that they have hurt someone else so deeply. Or do they just feel relief that they have been caught and relief that THEY will now receive the help that they know they need. Without really understanding someone else’s pain and the help and support that that person (spouse/partner) now needs.

    Also what about those who exhibit the same tendancies and who are sex addicts but who DO NOT choose to pursue long term relationships. They do not lie about it because they have accepted in some way who and what they are and don’t need to lie because they are not ashamed. They go through the same rituals, the same thought processes and the same chemical changing, mood altering highs of everything connected with it. They do not lie and cheat. They are possibly seen by others as perverts, sex fiends etc etc. They don’t care. They might have more secrets but they are not hurting a partner or a spouse. These people generally are “labelled” but not offered “help” because they do not seek help and do not have someone in their lives that is asking them to seek help.

    Sorry, I’m not trying to be negative and generally I am an understanding person but I was in pain following my situation and although my partner was a “cheating bastard” they all are aren’t they. He exhibited all the classic signs (in hindsight) of someone deeply involved in an addiction and also exhibited narcisistic tendancies. I don’t believe he is a bad person or that he vindictively set out to hurt me. I don’t doubt that he loved me in his way but I cannot forgive him and how he devastated me. I don’t want to walk around calling him all the names under the sun when if I had chosen to stay with him and talk or shown any understanding of what was going on and ask him why instead of making it clear that I was leaving and it was the end, or get back to him when he asked me to talk and told me he was missing me terribly, I might have found myself in a situation similar to many of the women on this site. I want to move on and forgive him and I hope to find a way of doing this very soon..

  2. Yes, I have watched Dr. Drew’s show. I was quite disappointed in it. Too much ‘reality show’ chit chat and not enough solid information.

    Maybe it will evolve as the patients get more involved in the treatment phase. I did have high hopes for the show as an educational tool, I hope it can live up to my expectations.

  3. Nice article, we recently published a similar one and I hope to continue doing research on sex-addiction. We need to know more.

    As far as Seren’s comment. While it’s hard to understand, I would urge you to read more, either on my site or others, about the neuroscience of addiction. We are all motivated by the release of neurotransmitters within our brain. Sex, food, drugs, and all things that our body wants and needs cause the same chemicals to be released in all of us. However, the way it happens differs based on genetic makeup AND experience.

    It is that difference that can make one person react completely differently to a “reward” than the way you would.

    As a different analogy I offer this – We all speak languages, but assuming that your native tongue is English, how do you feel when you hear someone speak Chinese, or Greek, or Farsi? Is it strange that their mouths are pronouncing words you can’t understand but others seem to have no problem with? It’s not. The reason is that you’ve learned that different languages are standard. Most people don’t yet understand that even though 99.9% of human functioning is the same, it is the small differences that create the range of human behavior.

  4. Seren, Thanks again for your insight. I see you as very strong person determined to stay healthy and not allow your ex to contaminate you. I do admire that–that’s what we all strive for.

    It is very difficult to turn your back on someone you have loved, but we must if they are not able to pull themselves out of their cesspool of activities and commit to staying sober and working through their problems with counseling.

    And yes, ‘almost impossible’ is the key. Many addicts are able to overcome the temptations and live clean lives. Understanding their actions does not mean condoning them. Understanding does not mean accepting what they do. Understanding is for us, to help us regain our self esteem and recognize that none of what a Sex Addict does is our fault or our responsibility.

  5. JoAnn,

    I just found this information and am facinated by the whole shame / guilt explanation:

    Sex addiction is a disruption and damage of the right prefrontal cortex, mostly in the dorsolateral and orbital frontal areas of the prefrontal cortex, as a direct result of a rattled and impaired limbic system secondary to a very toxic childhood. When the limbic system is disrupted, but there is no prefrontal damage, then an individual can experience guilt, and generally, copious amounts of it, sometimes in a pathological manner. But shame occurs when the limbic system is disrupted AND it causes prefrontal cortex damage as well. When the prefrontal cortex is damaged, then the higher-order emotion of GUILT cannot be expressed, and it stays at SHAME, a lower, more primitive emotion. Shame feeds on itself in a never-ending feedback loop and so it continually self-feeds. Sex addiction treatment as I have always maintained, should be about the healing of the frontal lobe. When the frontal lobe is healed, then the sex addicted individual can move from shame to guilt and begin to live the life they are entitled to live, free of the ties that bind and free to feel love, free to experience forgiveness of self and others, and free to experience the range of emotions that make life worth living, then they have indeed changed their brain and the lives of all they touch.

    I wonder if there is any research that shows any correlation between early and extensive head trauma or if “injury” is most likely from emotional trauma?

    Keep writing. This stuff is helpful.

  6. Dear strongerthanbefore and readers of Married To A Sex Addict:
    Thank you for sharing the information. This is a direct quote I wrote from my blog The Sex Addicted Brain and you can find it at Here you can find the only scientific and scientifically-validated on sexual addiction written. It is my research. I encourage you and those that read this terrific site to visit my page and comment on what you have read. Thank you for your comment and I hope to see you at thesexaddictedbrain!

  7. I have a question because my husband is trying super hard and really seems to want to be good to me. He admitted that he still thinks about it and he also admitted that he went on the site once where he previously found prostitutes. He is taking a lie detector test next Monday to prove he has been 100% since I caught him (besides going on the site once).

    So my question is, if this is what he likes to do, what if I’m more open minded and I let him do some things as long as I’m there and not excluded, could it work? He gets to get his “sex addict fix” and I don’t feel excluded. Just asking because I do love him and if this could possibly work, it may be something to explore. I hope yall don’t think I’m being too ridiculous.

  8. Is this something you really want to do and will enjoy or are you considering it just for him? The answer will determine if you are simply expressing your sexual preferences or engaging in co-addictive behavior.

    Recovery from Sexual Addiction requires that the addict stop all behaviors that are harmful to themselves and others. Just because he still has urges to act out and just because he had a minor slip by going on the site does not mean that he has to act on them. Recovery is all about learning healthier ways of dealing with stress and triggers.

    It is important to realize that a Sex Addict is not making a lifestyle choice. They are caught in a downward spiral of harmful, compulsive, escalating behaviors that threaten their very lives. Sex Addicts are unable to connect in an intimate way and are using sex, not as a pleasurable act, but as a medication for their internal pain. Suggesting that he should continue these activities with your blessing would be disastrous for both of you.

    My advice would be to support him in his recovery efforts by working on improving your self esteem, educating yourself on the addiction and recovery process and establishing healthy boundaries for yourself and the relationship and rather than toying with unhealthy options that are certain to be detrimental to his recovery.

  9. Thanks JoAnn, I guess I didn’t see like that, I thought he was doing it because that is what he enjoyed, not as a medication for pain.
    I just wish he could tell me what pain he has because he came from a good family and he acts like he truly doesn’t know where his behavior stems from.
    His excuse is that toward the end of his last marriage he started getting sensual massages when he would go out of town and enjoyed it so kept doing it all the way into our marriage, of course much more happened than a massage.
    He also says that he convinced himself that as long as I didn’t know than it wasn’t hurting me, and what I didn’t know didn’t know really didn’t count, and that is how he could act so honest. Now he claims he realizes that he cant do this and that he wants to make me happy. (this has been going on the last 10 yrs). He told me to monitor the computer because he is powerless. He has been very attentive and really enjoying me for the first time in yeras and he seems to have remorse. He said in the past he never felt bad for what he did, he just felt bad when he got caught that he made me sad. I’m very confused, one day I’m gun ho about leaving and the next I think we can make it. I hate this disease!!!

  10. I hope you didn’t misunderstand. Sex Addicts do enjoy the sex, much more than the average person because of the build up, called the ‘trance’. If you read some of my other articles you will see that their highs are really high, but their lows are awful. The high that they get from the orgasm is brief and is very quickly followed by shame and despair.

    Why did your husband not feel a responsibility toward his marriage vows for all these years? How was he able to compartmentalize what he was doing? Why did he not feel bad about his deception, lying and deceit?

    Addictive behavior is very predictable, and your husband sounds as if he is in those early stages where the addict will say or do anything to minimize and put aside their behavior.

    He is not powerless, no one is. If he is sincere about overcoming his illness he needs to face what he has done, take responsibility for all the harm he has done and get to work on a recovery program. That’s how he can make you happy. This flush of attentiveness soon after discovery is quite common, but it will not last. Recovery is hard, hard work for both of you.

    If he is serious the only way you will every learn to trust him again is if he shows you every day that he is willing to continue counseling to find the root cause of his addiction, to go to 12 step or other support group meetings and, most of all, be absolutely transparent and honest about everything.

    There is a wonderful, free program online for couples or spouses of Sex Addicts, the link is on my ‘Favorite Links’ section, or just click here:

    You can get through this, and you will be stronger and wiser for it. My thoughts are with you.

  11. I read my husband my question and your reply and I asked if he would respond since I didn’t have the answers. He agreed and plans to tomorrow, he promised to be brutally honest in his answers.

  12. Beware of Sarah Ullman, who has posted above. She eats spouses for lunch while pandering to the addict. Spouses are labelled as borderlines and co addicts who need to be “taught” by the addict to stay on their own side of the street. For all her talk about her research, she has not been published in any major journal and the science that she quotes is so broad that it can be applied to MANY issues, from ADHD to OCD to sexual addiction.

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