Sexual Addiction and Neuroscience

separation and divorce

I recently attended an online conference hosted by ATSAC, Association for the Treatment of Sex addiction. Dr Glyn Hudson-Allez gave an interesting overview on the connection between attachment and neuroscience in sex addiction. It’s very interesting and challenging to consider how both play such a large part in the development of sexually compulsive behaviours. Sex addiction affects approximately 6% of the world’s population according to Dr Glyn. Addiction to internet pursuits is driven by the seeking system which produces and thrives off dopamine. Dopamine is the bodies feel good chemical the pleasure injection as I like to call it. It is released when humans engage in pleasurable activities such as completing a job or assignment, self-care activities, eating particular food, achieving goals, having sex. It is our reward chemical. The acquirement of addictive rewards produces opioids, associated with liking. This creates a drive to need. The sex addict becomes controlled by the pursuit of feeling better so seeking that feeling can become destructive. This is because the rush comes from the seeking, not the getting. The end goal only becomes the catalyst for shame and regret thus fuelling the painful and distressing feelings they set out to escape.

Sex addicts use sex for comfort or to supress painful or distressing feelings. It becomes the prop that helps the person escape and anesthetize from the pain they are suffering. Since sex releases large amounts of dopamine, it becomes a sensory experience that needs to be sought out. Left unchallenged this behaviour can become entrenched. Overuse and compulsive exploration can result in excessive viewing of pornography, chatlines, sex workers serial infidelity.

It’s hard to imagine all this can be going on within the brain of a sex addict. Maybe this gives us a better level of understanding when trying to help the addict and their partner. It certainly doesn’t  give justification for the actions of the person and the activities they have been engaging in, nor does it provide adequate comfort to help the partner, but it does give insight into the driving factors that can render the addict a slave and prisoner to his or her behaviour. Combine these factors with attachment complications and you have a cocktail of powerlessness, shame and self-depravation. It is important to seek help to break the cycle and feel free from the burden of secrecy and deceit. I will talk further about attachment styles in my next blog.