Friday, July 08, 2011
Column: No-wake zone
The motivations behind those sex scandals
They're probably as old as civilization, but still we're shocked, and yet not surprised, when they happen. Sex scandals are a common occurrence these days.
It seems that every time there's a new scandal, the media takes the opportunity to recall the indiscretions of others.
Our latest scroungers, Anthony Weiner and Arnold Schwarzenegger, join an endless list of betrayers ... former President Bill Clinton, former governors of South Carolina and New Jersey, John Edwards, Tiger Woods ... the list goes on.
So, what's up when sex scandals happen over and over? What would make a person do something that is so risky and potentially harmful to themselves, family, friends and those with whom they work?
Surely, Weiner, whose wife is pregnant, was aware of the risk he was taking when he used social networking to send messages and risque photographs to other women. We all know that if it's on the web, it's public knowledge. And yet, he did it anyway. It makes no sense. And, Schwarzenegger must have known his womanizing would eventually catch up with him, especially when he rendezvoused in his own home with a family employee.
There are various explanations why people sexually "act out," regardless of the risk. One is revenge. This is a passive aggressive way to get back at a spouse who refuses to meet one's emotional or physical needs. The person is inwardly angry and feels entitled to hurt the spouse and does so by having an affair.
Another is opportunity. When couples spend a lot of time apart, the lack of connection between the partners may lead one of them to seek connection elsewhere. And, for some people, "I'm not happy with my marriage" is enough reason to stray.
Still, a number of sex scandals are a result of sexual addiction.
"Sexual addiction is a sickness involving any type of uncontrollable sexual activity," according to author and counselor Dr. Mark Laaser.
And, it's not limited to internet pornography, although that's an increasingly growing problem primarily because of its easy access. It's also habitual lust, voyeurism, exhibitionism, compulsive masturbation and multiple affairs.
Dr. Patrick Carnes, a leading expert in the field of addiction, makes a parallel between alcohol and drug dependence and sexual addiction. He says that alcoholics and drug abusers rely on a pathological relationship with a mood-altering chemical to feel normal. In other words, he/she depends on a chemical and not relationships to feel adequate.
On the other hand, sex addicts substitute unhealthy relationships (phone sex, affair, lust, etc.) for healthy ones.
Basically, addiction is an illness of escape. M. Scott Peck, psychiatrist and author of "The Road Less Traveled," said addictive behavior helps obliterate, medicate or ignore reality. It is an alternative to letting oneself feel hurt, betrayal, worry and most of all -- loneliness. Everyone feels the need to escape reality once in a while, but when escaping becomes habitual, it's a mental health illness.
Sex addicts come from various socio-economic backgrounds and may be male or female. But, there are characteristics all sex addicts share. First, if the addiction was present within the family when one was growing up, the person's chances of becoming an addict increase. This happens because it's either a genetic link or a learned coping strategy or both.
There's a tendency for sex addicts' families to be rigid and authoritative; issues and problems are black and white. There's only one way to do things. When this happens, adolescents cannot develop normally and be who they really are. This creates a lot of stress and pain, and so the adolescent seeks relief through sex.
Furthermore, adolescents who live in such an environment may choose to rebel and not be accountable for their actions. For instance, an unhealthy family view of sex may entice a family member to be obsessed with sex.
Victims of childhood abuse are at risk to sexually "act out." Statistics show that 97 percent of sexual addicts have been emotionally abused, 72 percent physically abused and 81 percent sexually abused. And, although women struggle with sexual addiction, men are more likely to use sex to cope with pain. Interestingly, a man's pain tends to stem from problems with his father.
High-stress situations such as medical school, business or warfare can create addicts, even if no predisposing factors exist.
Shame is at the core of every addiction. And, along with shame comes an addictive mind-set. An addict believes he/she is worthless and unlovable. A person might think: "No one would love me if they really knew me."
Shame makes people feel defective. They often believe something is wrong with them and that they're the only ones struggling. This leads addicts to isolate themselves and self-medicate by using the sexual high to relieve the pain of reality and/or past childhood hurts.
Typically, sexual addiction begins in adolescence. Over time, if sex is repeatedly used to escape reality, an addictive lifestyle develops. When this happens, a fantasy life is created that dominates an addict's thinking. Work, family and other responsibilities fade in importance as the obsessive thinking takes control.
Suppose a crisis or conflict has happened. An addict might pick a fight with the spouse to justify the need for sexual release. Invariably, after the release comes more shame, which creates an ongoing addictive cycle.
Addicts tend to compartmentalize their lives and live in two worlds -- one of reality and one of fantasy. This works for addicts because they can tell themselves that they're not hurting anyone. Or, they blame a spouse for not meeting their needs. Denial, delusion and blame keep an addict's addictive mind-set intact.
Even so, healing is possible when addicts acknowledge they are powerless to control their behavior. This step, however, can take years even when the family is confronting and refusing to enable the addict. If you're a non-addictive person, it's difficult to believe that addicts have no control over their addiction. But it's true.
When addicts acknowledge their addiction, begin renewing their minds with truth rather than living with a destructive mind-set and seek counseling to uncover the core root of the pain, healing can occur.
-- "Pure Desire," Ted Roberts; "Out of the Shadows," Dr. Patrick Carnes; "False Intimacy: Understanding the Struggle of Sexual Addiction, "Dr. Harry W. Schaumburg; www.sa.org
Avery Flory lives in Moneta. She is a licensed professional counselor who has been counseling for more than 10 years. Her column appears monthly in Laker Weekly. E-mail questions, comments or topic suggestions to email@example.com or call 483-9082 in Rocky Mount; 587-5852 in Bedford.