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How Trauma Leads to Sex Addiction

Written By: The Meadows Web Team

By Anna McKenzie

Studies have shown that sexual abuse can have a number of detrimental effects on survivors, including trauma, shame, depression, and negative health outcomes. There’s also evidence that survivors of childhood sexual abuse, a deeply traumatic experience, may have a higher tendency to develop compulsive sexual behaviors later in life. So can you develop sex addiction from trauma? How can trauma be resolved, and sex addiction overcome?

What Is Sex Addiction?

Addiction is characterized by a lack of control over certain behaviors despite negative consequences. Sex can provide a euphoric high, like drugs, but for those who develop sex addiction, the desire for this high becomes compulsive and all-consuming. Users continue to seek out greater highs, and they are also looking to gain a sense of control over negative feelings through sexual acts.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the following are symptoms of compulsive sexual behavior:

  • You have repeated sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior that feel out of your control, taking up your time and mental energy.
  • You’ve tried to stop indulging in your sexual activities or fantasies but can’t.
  • You frequently use sexual behavior as an escape from negative feelings, such as depression, anxiety, or stress.
  • You feel a release of relief after your sexual behavior but also a strong sense of guilt and shame.
  • You have lost relationships, work, or money, have harmed others, or have been harmed or in accidents due to your sexual behaviors, and are still unable to quit.

Sex addiction is life-disrupting, and it can have a multitude of negative consequences, both short-term and long-term, for you and those around you.

Can You Develop Sex Addiction From Trauma?

What causes sex addiction? The development of addiction is a combination of genetic, physiological, and environmental factors, in addition to family history, background, and personal experiences. However, studies show that there’s a link between sex addiction and trauma, especially related to childhood sexual abuse. To break free from sex addiction and form healthy, fulfilling attachments to others, resolving trauma is a key component in the recovery process. 

Studies show that there’s a link between sex addiction and trauma, especially related to childhood sexual abuse.

In an interview published in the Open Access Journal of Addiction and Psychology (OAJAP), Meadows Senior Fellow and sex addiction expert Dr. Patrick Carnes explains, “[Sex addiction] is … a maladaptive response to trauma because we know people who were abused as children: The more abused they were, the more addictions they tend to have as an adult … It’s a mental adaptor response to stress. It is also a family issue and multigenerational. It is also a failure to bond and an attachment issue.”

According to Current Addiction Reports, “Early sexual victimization may ‘blunt’ the right hemisphere of the brain, impairing insight, emotion regulation, and ability for interpersonal connection, all characteristics associated with [compulsive sexual behavior].” The review also suggests that survivors of child sexual abuse grow up with a damaged narrative related to sex that can inform their decisions and drive them toward riskier sexual behaviors. Sexual behavior may be used as a way to regulate symptoms of trauma and to regain control (combatting the powerlessness they experienced as a child).

Additionally, the review cites studies connecting childhood trauma and sex addiction. Out of 290 men and women receiving treatment for sex addiction, 78% reported childhood sexual abuse. Another study found that in men and women being treated for sex addiction, 81% reported childhood sexual abuse, 72% reported physical abuse, and 97% reported emotional abuse.

Childhood Trauma and Sex Addiction

Childhood trauma can be disruptive to your physical, physiological, emotional, and mental health. SAMHSA’s Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services TIP 57 reports that early adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as abuse, neglect, and other traumas can affect brain development. They can also increase your vulnerability to encountering interpersonal violence as an adult and to developing chronic diseases and other illnesses and disorders, whether physical, mental, or substance-related.

Cleveland Clinic reports that 88% of those struggling with sex addiction also suffer from other mental health conditions graphic

This corresponds with the experiences of those dealing with sex addiction. Cleveland Clinic reports that 88% of those struggling with sex addiction also suffer from other mental health conditions, including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, substance use disorders, and suicidal ideation.

Trauma causes hyperarousal, anxiety, depression, nightmares, sleeplessness, mood swings, and even chronic pain. Unresolved, it can damage physical and mental health and drive the desire to self-medicate through substances such as drugs and alcohol, or behaviors such as sex, disordered eating, and gambling. Resolving trauma is an essential step in reducing painful symptoms and stopping the harmful self-medication cycle. 

Help for Sex Addiction and Trauma

If you are struggling with sex addiction and trauma, you will find a safe place to heal at Gentle Path at The Meadows. Our program offers men the opportunity to resolve painful experiences, recover from mental health conditions, and break free from addiction. Our research-backed model is designed to equip you with tools to rediscover your sense of self and find a new path that can enable you to form healthy attachments and thrive in recovery. Contact us today to learn more. 

August 29th, 2023

Categories: childhood trauma emotional trauma sex addiction trauma

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