Identify causes

What “causes” sex addiction?

Have you ever thought you would feel less afraid and have more control if only you could understand “how” and “why” sex addiction happened to you?

Maybe sex addiction would make sense if you could understand the disease progression or point to traumatic events or stressful times that caused it to get so out of control.

Something logical would have to help. Right?

Could good enough answers to “how” and “why” help you cope with the shame of your sexual behavior or could it help make sex addiction rational enough to know whether you should stay in or get out of the relationship?

You don’t need to know “how” or “why” when your ship is sinking.Needing to know these answers is what sent the lead engineer of the Titanic down into the ship as it slowly sank. He needed to know “how” this happened and “why” the ship was sinking. He might have found out too, but not before it was too late.

He could have been in the life raft, but he wasn’t.

My point is, if your ship is sinking, then you may want to know “how” or “why”, but you don’t need to know. Get in the life raft and save “how” or “why” for another day.

This means getting stopped and staying stopped for the sex addict and finding a safe support for spouses and partners – before doing anything else.

Yes, knowing more about the causes of sex addiction is a part of recovery, but it’s not what gets you sexually sober.

Knowing “how” and “why” is not your life raft.

Get stopped first, and then consider the “causes” of sex addiction

Patrick Carnes, PhD, expert in the treatment of sex addiction and author of the groundbreaking work, Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, did a survey profiling 650 self-identified sex addicts The Making of a Sex Addict, Carnes, 2003).

Here’s what he found:

Legacy of addiction

• 87% of sex addicts had other family members who were addicts.

Sex addicts had rigid, disengaged, or both rigid and disengaged parents

• 77% of sex addicts experienced their families as rigid, dogmatic, and inflexible.

• 87% of sex addicts experienced their families as disengaged, detached, and uninvolved.

• 68% of sex addicts experienced their families as both rigid and disengaged.

Sex addicts experienced childhood abuse

• 72% of sex addicts reported Physical abuse

• 81% of sex addicts reported Sexual abuse

•  97% of sex addicts reported Emotional abuse (Include in this category, neglect, and abandonment – perhaps the most common form of emotional abuse).

Sex addicts respond to trauma and high stress in dysfunctional patterns

As adults, sex addicts repeat old patterns of responding to stress that began as logical coping skills.

What were once necessary “skills” of emotional survival become impulsive and destructive patterns of thinking and behaving. We call these patterns, “Trauma Responses.”

Trauma responses

Post Traumatic Stress Reactions – 64% of sex addicts reported intrusive physiological and psychological “alarm” responses when under stress.

Traumatic Arousal – 64% of sex addicts reported patterns of seeking or finding pleasure in the presence of extreme danger, violence, risk, or shame.

Traumatic Blocking – 69% of sex addicts reported efforts to numb, block out, or overwhelm residual feelings connected to trauma or high stress.

Traumatic Avoidance – 76% of sex addicts reported escaping traumatic realities by escaping, “zoning out” or dissociating from stressful experiences.

Traumatic Shame – 72% of sex addicts reported a profound sense of unworthiness and self-hatred as an adult response to threats and high stress.

Traumatic Repetition – 69% of sex addicts responded to adult stress by repeating behavior patterns or seeking situations or people that re-create some past trauma experience.

Traumatic Bonding – 69% of sex addicts responded to high stress by seeking and staying in dysfunctional relationships that occur in the presence of danger, shame, or exploitation.

Problem: Chronic stress from trauma, abuse, neglect, and abandonment

Solution: Sex

Sex addiction is a dependency that begins with the discovery that sex feels good and can bring relief and escape. With sex, there’s always more, and it’s freely available with as little as an arousing thought.

No wonder the brain takes notice.

Sex is also the first mood-altering experience that most us ever have. It’s very powerful, especially for a child in need of emotional relief, and for many adolescents, sex becomes a necessary and reliable solution for the problem of chronic stress.

The Brain Learns and Changes

Our brains take note of what works to solve problems and builds strong connections linking problems with solutions. We call these connections, “neural pathways”, and they save us from needing to solve the same problems again and again.

We remember what worked the last time and stick with it the next time. Every time it works, the neural pathway is reinforced.

It’s like an old dirt road. Deep grooves wear deeper and deeper the more it’s driven. The road would fade if it was abandoned, but it’s not. Instead, the rutted road to the sex solution gets traveled again and again.

This process is just one of a whole system of changes in the brain as a result of a long-term addictive relationship to sex. Read more about the brain and sex addiction here.


The causes of sex addiction are many, and the potential interactions of these causes are greater still.

So much of our understanding of sex addiction really is brain science, but as we learn more about these causes, interventions get more effective and more likely.

Remember, children don’t ask for the trauma, abuse, or neglect they experience and they’re not responsible for what happens to them in those years.As Adults, We Are Responsible for Our Behavior.

I urge you now to take that responsibility and do the hard work of repairing the harm you’ve caused yourself and others in your addiction. Get sexually sober.

Recovery is possible, but you have to start.

Learn more about our process of recovery from sex addiction.

Ready to get started on making a change in your relationship? We can help.

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Sonoran Counseling Services, Inc.
1130 E Missouri Ave,
Suite 550 Phoenix, Arizona 85014
T. (480) 287-2393