A significant number of sex addicts are not aware of how fearful they are about intimate relationships. They have most likely come from disengaged families in which they received inadequate or inappropriate bonding with adults. Without realizing it, they have assumed a way of life based on fear and the avoidance of intimacy.
For many sex addicts their addictive acting out behavior is a substitute for an intimate connection. Their addictive behavior (and its intensity) provides an illusion of some kind of intimacy. Of course, it is reinforced by sexual gratification in a situation that is believed to be “safe.” Sexual acting out is emotionally safe because it requires nothing in an emotional way from the addict.
While it may appear that the addict is selfish and seeks self-gratification, there is a much deeper root. For the addict and intimacy anorexic, the primary goal is finding an escape from negative emotions and achieving some gratification without having to experience deep pain and fear. Sometimes it is due to sexual inhibition and shame. Other times it is the fear of being vulnerable and that they will be hurt. Frequently it is a combination of the above.
The intimacy avoidance that goes along with sex addiction shows up in relationships in a number of ways. Dr. Douglas Weiss talks about 7 types of intimacy avoidance in his book Intimacy Anorexia.
1. Staying busy
Staying busy becomes a way to avoid relational time with their partner. Many addicts will deny they are doing this deliberately. In truth, they feel more confident in the work place. They also fear detection of hidden behaviors and so keep a distance.
2. Avoiding sex
Sexual bonding in an intimate relationship can be too difficult for an addict to do comfortably. They often keep an emotional distance, although they are attracted physically to their partner. The addict may also be emotionally absent during sex, lost in fantasy, orthey may avoid sex altogether. The spouse of the addict/intimacy anorexic feels more like a roommate than a lover.
3. Not being able and/or willing to express feelings and emotions
Many sex addicts withdraw emotionally by not letting the other person in on what they feel, need or want. This is a dread of being unworthy or of being rejected or hurt. A significant goal for the addict in recovery is learning to express feelings with their spouse and others.
4. Blaming the other person
Often addicts will not take responsibility for their wrongdoing or shortcomings. Criticism comes in a couple of forms. One form of criticism is spoken with words. It is pointing out the negative parts of one’s partner. It is an intentional maneuver to push the spouse away. Many spouses talk about the unspoken criticism they feel from their partner.
5. Withholding spiritually
This is a common characteristic among sex addicts and intimacy anorexics. Some may be very active in their church and even have a leadership role. However, they are quite different at home. They will rarely, if ever, pray with their spouse or have a devotional time.
6. Withholding love
Withholding love is one of the toughest aspects of intimacy anorexic. There are different ways that people feel loved—helps or service, praise, touch, quality time, i.e. The partner may have told the addict for years what they want, but they withhold and the partner feels unloved and alone.
7. Isolation and loneliness
The same addict who is doing everything to avoid intimacy will often feel terribly needy and lonely. Sometimes the addict is aware of a longing for connection; other times the addict lives without intimate connection but doesn’t quite know what is missing. Isolation and loneliness can then become the excuse for sexual acting out such as pornography, sexual massage parlors, online sex, or more.
It takes the help offered in recovery for the addict to recognize his or her lack of intimacy capacity. Then, they can begin to initiate new behaviors to overcome their fears of intimacy and connection. There is hope, but it takes real commitment to change.