Addiction Model

The addiction model of child sexual abuse presents a way of viewing how individuals become sex offenders. The model includes the components of compulsive sexual behaviors, social tolerance of anti-social sexual behavior, socio/cultural preoccupation with sex, societal glorification of sex and sexual violence, and availability of alternative sources of sexual gratification (internet sex, pornography, prostitutes).   
Sex addicts may have been deprived of families and role models which portrayed healthy sexuality. They may be predisposed, through prior abusive experiences or emotional deprivation, to develop a dependence on something other than a mutual relationship.  Sexual addiction involves the objectification of women or children. They become objects and are thus depersonalized. Sexual addiction can be acted out in solitary, through compulsive masturbation, or can involve adult or child partners. 

The addiction model describes the behaviors involved in the addictive process. The addict may experience loss of self-control while still able to appear as if he is in control when necessary. Addicts of all kinds are able to rationalize, justify, minimize, blame, and explain their behaviors. However, rationalizations such as bad marriages, inadequate spouses, and abuse during childhood are not the cause or the problem. The problem is the abusive behavior. The cause lies within the individual. A similar addictive process exists in all addictions, whether alcohol, drug, gambling, food, or sex. 

There is no theory that explains all the aspects of sexual abuse. Society, family history, individual personality, and situational elements combine to create a willingness to go past the wall that exists around abuse. Not everyone will abuse a child. They have to overcome all the internal objections prior to committing the sexually abusive act. However, once committed, it is done. The wall is down. And they will do it again. The reservations have been minimized, and the rationalizations gain strength. At this point, the offender can lose the natural sense of guilt. However, many offenders continue to experience guilt and even pain at their behaviors. The desire, though, overrides the pain. 

Like all addictions, psychobiology is involved. The process of addiction brings a release of neurochemicals in the brain that cause euphoria. The planning stage is enjoyable and addictive. Orgasm is not necessary. The neurochemical dopamine is released, and a self-perpetuating cycle is created. The addict wants to repeat the behavior. A neuronal pathway has been laid down in the reward center of the brain. This track involves the same neurotransmitters that are released in other addictive processes.

Three symptoms of sexual addiction involve:

  • Compulsivity - Continuing to engage in the behavior despite negative consequences. The individual is unable to choose whether to participate in the behavior and is unable to cease the behavior. He no longer has control.
  • Continuing despite negative consequences -  Includes all the negative effects that happen in the life of a sex addict. They withdraw from relationships with family and friends, neglect people they love, and risk jobs and family to satisfy the sexual addicion. Even though negative consequences occur, they continue the behavior.
  • Obsession involves the thought process. Sex addicts cannot stop thinking about sex. They are consumed with sexual fantasies, creating new ways to obtain sexual gratification, and replaying previous sexual activities. This obsession with sex causes them to neglect other areas of their lives.

Other aspects of sexual addiction:

  • Sex acts like a drug. It gives pleasure and alters mood.
  • The sex addict's life revolves around the desire to repeat the pleasurable experience.
  • The need for sex consumes the addict, preoccupies time and attention, and interferes with relationships and other aspects of life.
  • Inordinate amounts of time are spent in sexually-related activites, and other areas of life are neglected.  
  • The addict may try to quit and cannot reduce or control sexual desires or activities.
  • Sex addiction involves sexual behaviors becoming shameful, secret, or abusive.

Some sex addicts will seek sex in new and different ways, such as having sex with strangers or prostitutes. Addicts spend a lot of time seeking satisfaction for their compulsions. They may be in trance-like state that lasts for hours, such as driving around looking for partners or engaging in sex. Addicts may also engage in intrusive and risky behaviors such as exposing their genitals in public or rubbing up against strangers in public places. 

The cycle of sexual addiction includes:

  • Preoccupation - Engrossed in thoughts and fantasies.
  • Ritualization - Special routines that intensify the pleasure.
  • Compulsivity - Acting out the sexual behavior.
  • Despair - Feeling hopeless, powerless, guilty, and depressed following the sexual behavior.
  • Return to preoccupation - To get rid of the negative feelings, the addict starts the cycle again.

Patrick Carnes (1983), who pioneered the field of sexual addiction, gives ten criteria for sexual addiction:

  1. Pattern of failure in attempting to resist sexual impulses.
  2. An increasing number of times involved in sexual activities or spending more time than planned.
  3. Desiring to stop, reduce, or control behaviors, and, if attempted, unable to stop.
  4. Inordinate amount of time spent in sexual behavior.
  5. Preoccupation with sexual activity or preparing for sexual activity.
  6. Engaging in sexual activity instead of job, school, home, or social activity.
  7. Continuing the behavior despite knowledge of social, financial, physical, or emotional consequences.
  8. Increase in behavior over time in order to continue getting the same effect.
  9. Giving up meaningful social and recreational or family time to participate in sexual behaviors. 
  10. Becoming irritable, anxious, and restless when unable to engage in sexual behaviors.


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