The Study of Men and Sexual Addictions

Melissa Olivas, Nikki Liu, and Lauren Wallitsch

Prevalence and Affect of Pornography

Pornography has been a controversial topic for some time. Webster defines it as “sexually explicit pictures, writing, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal”. However, behind such a basic explanation are the long standing implications for what this exposure does to men and the relationships they have.

Despite the notorious nature of pornography, it maintains a permanent residence in our society. Every second 28,258 people are viewing sexually explicit material online (“Pornography Statistics,” n.d.). Every second, $3075.62 is spent, which makes the pornography industry larger than the revenues of Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix and Earthlink combined. The United States is the largest contributor of websites and maintains a $4 billion business. These numbers swell as companies target younger and younger kids. By linking sites to popular cartoons, the average age of first exposure is 11 years old. By age 16, 90% have viewed sexually explicit material, usually by accident. However, these images can have a lasting effect and later becomes a problem in 47% of Christian households. Even 53% of Promise Keepers have reported viewing pornography in the past week.

This raises the question: can sexual behaviors become addictions? In the past, addictions have been linked with a substance. The controversy continues as opinions have varied from year to year. The DSM III referred to it as a sexual disorder not otherwise specified but dropped this definition in the revised DSM IV. However, a recent proposal by Goodman created a set of diagnostic criteria that could be applied to behavioral or substance addictions. The new definition states that “any behavior used to produce gratification and to escape internal discomfort can be compulsive and constitute an addictive disorder” (Briken, Habermann, Berner, & Hill, 2007). Goodman believed that sexual practices could become addictions if they fit 2 key elements: 1. The person could not control their behavior 2. There are significant harmful effects that do not deter the behavior. This category would encompass many of the most commonly reported practices: porn dependence, compulsive masturbation, and high levels of promiscuity.

It is difficult to apply such definitions, however, as tolerance and acceptance of pornography has gone up in recent years. Many people do not believe that their involvement in sexually explicit material, even excessively, is truly a problem. Recent studies show that 67% of young men felt that viewing sexually explicit material was acceptable while 87% still partook (Carroll, Padilla-Walker, Nelson, Olson, Barry & Madsen, 2008). Men use these materials more than women and are also more accepting of these behaviors (O’Reilly, Knox & Zusman, 2007).

This lower acceptance by women is likely due to the fact that women are most dramatically affected by these materials. While the verdict is still out on whether pornographic materials cause violence against women, there is a definite correlation. Firstly, it dehumanizes women and promotes the idea that women should be submissive to men sexually. 15% of erotic materials portray men using violence against women, 70% have men dominating or degrading women, while only 15% show a balance of power between the two individuals (Levant & Brooks, 1997). In a survey of adult movies, 1 in 5 showed a completed rape that resulted in an orgasm for the victim. This type of imagery normalizes sexual aggression and has often been the learning model for many young adolescences. It also reaffirms the male stereotype as dominant and forceful. Thus, the connectedness that stripped away from sexual intercourse as it becomes a game void of emotion and depth. By pairing the strong experience of orgasm to the violent images being portrayed, a strong conditioning effect may occur.

Levant goes on to explain that this goes on to promote a non-relational sexuality in men in which they have easy access and can achieve sexual satisfaction without concern for the women or natural attachments that would be made in real intercourse. There are 3 primary elements to this non-relational sexuality. Firstly, there is the matter of objectification in which the women is no longer a person, but a mere sexual plaything. Secondly, in fixation the male focus his attention of a specific part of the female anatomy and not on the women herself. Lastly, the notion of conquest and the importance for the man to “win her”. Certain sexual expectations are made and often unfulfilled.

Sex is transformed into a commodity and creates what Levant calls “Centerfold Syndrome”. This occurs when the view that men have of women becomes distorted and view females solely as objects for sex. It creates an addiction to the female body and contains several other negative elements. The first is the idea of voyeurism in which the man can look at women whenever he pleases seemingly without repercussion. The visual becomes a central theme to sexual interaction. The second problem is the objectification as previously mentioned. Levant quotes “She is not human…For the pornographic camera performs a miracle in reverse. Looking on a living being, a person with a soul, it produces an image of a thing,” (1997, p. 32). The next problem is using women for masculinity validation. The need for this validation is crucial and is never truly established since any failure could call for re-evaluation of this identity. Thus, the men have learned the graphic responses they must achieve from women to feel validated that of their sexual prowess. Yet another issue that arises is trophyism, where men begin to flaunt their sexual conquests and reduce an entire person to a number. Here they meet a conflict in which society condemns womanizers, yet hold characters like James Bond in high esteem thus confusing men in producing contradictory examples for proper interaction. Lastly is the fear of true intimacy that arises in men. Early childhood traumas can learn a sort of ambivalence towards women’s bodies as they epitomize all things boys are conditioned against such as intimacy, softness, sensuality and comfort.

These effects all impact women so strongly, that naturally, relationships feel the impact of these materials as well. Zitzman states that “by divorcing the sexual response and experience from the natural constraints of attachment relationship, pornography elicits and enables the development of addictive dynamics,” (Zitzman & Butler, 2005). The reinforced view of sex without attachments builds a narcissistic view and habit of release without attentiveness or responsiveness (Levant & Brooks, 1997). This habit is then fueled by material easily accessible via the Internet. The secrecy that surrounds these habits can cause great preoccupation in a marriage. Doubt about fidelity begins and mistrust takes place. Out of the women who are in therapy with their significant others for sexual addiction, only 14% fully trust their partner. Trust has been found to be the most strongly impacted factor of pornography viewing. Women also tend to feel over-all a sense of disconnection and distance, a breakdown in assumptions, and expectation, as well as the general feeling of being emotional and psychologically unsafe. This may result in the loss of secure attachments and develop into an unhealthy form of interaction (Zitzman, 2008). The lack of security often causes women to retreat physically and mutual sexual gratification decreases for both parties (Zitzman & Butler, 2005).

Despite all the problems with women, men also feel the deep of effects of their own use. Firstly, men who commonly participate in watching sexually explicit material also show a sign of decreased relationship satisfaction as unmet expectations are set for their partner (Deloy, 2007). The disappointment can be difficult struggles to over come in the relationship. A recent study verified this as men whom were all in a significant romantic relationship were studied and found that this dissatisfaction occurred even when statistical controls were applied for other core relational influences (Deloy, 2007). Secondly, pornography is allowed to define “normal” male sexuality as dominating over women. There is little room to allow sensitivity and love into the male sexual arena. Rather, it works as a catalyst when introduced to men who are predisposed to violence against women (Brod, 2007). It perpetuates the cycle of “masculinity” and calls a man’s sexuality into account if he strays to far from this path. Sexually explicit material can be emotionally damaging as well. A range of negative emotions such as guilt, depression, anxiety, and shame has all been frequently reported. The inability to experience adequate intimacy in real life and fear of true relationships can be both daunting and unfamiliar for these men (Philaretou, Mahfouz & Allen, 2005).

Causes and Treatment

The cause of sexual addiction in men is complex and intertwined. Many issues and emotions lead to an addiction of sexual activity. It has also been shown that other disorders and symptoms coincide with sexual addiction, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. To treat sexual addiction is even more complex, since it needs to treat the variety of symptoms and causes of sexual addictions. According to Sussman (2007), sex can become an addiction by means of a process addiction. This occurs when a male “seeks the manipulation of pleasure through physical activity manipulations,” which then alter the neurotransmitter function. Similar to a drug addiction, the male seeking pleasure continues the need to up his dosage becoming numb to lower dosages of his sexual pleasure. Sussman (2007) also concludes that underlying causes of sexual addictions are dysfunctional relations of sexual activity with affect. A sexual addiction, being a process, begins at one point in life and continues to develop into a bigger problem.

Sexual addiction has been found to not only develop and occur in adults, it can actually begin even starting in childhood and continuing into adolescence. Sexual addictions in men have a large chance of developing in teenage years due to several reasons. Wilder and Watt (2002) discovered that teens whose parents engaged in risky behavior had a higher chance of developing a sexual addiction due to role-modeling, exploring new behaviors to test parent’s tolerance, take risks due to high family conflict, or learn symbolic relations from parents. With teens in single-family homes, studies found that they began engaging in early sexual activity, which lead to a sexual addiction because of low parental monitoring. Also experienced in teens is a high source of peer pressure, which is also a leading factor in developing a sexual addiction. Association with a group that shares low sexual value will instill that attitude into the individual. However, according to Sussman (2007), exposure to abusive peer relationships is the number one cause of facilitating teen sexual frequency leading to sexual addiction.

There is also a strong modeling affect in teens from a media standpoint. Many sexual addictions begin early by an individual modeling TV., music, movies, and pornography. One study performed by L’Engle, Brown, & Kenneavy, (2006) found that “13% of the variance in young adolescents’ intentions to have sexual intercourse in the near future is due to a type of media exposure.”

To treat the entire varying social, media, and family affects that lead to a sexual addiction in male teens would mean a strong program developed early to overcome all of these effects. A prevention plan would have to include social norms, group peer norms, cognitive-behavioral skill instruction (how to say no, how to use condoms effectively, etc), family education and counseling, and media awareness among others (Sussman, 2007). In orderly to effectively treat male adolescents dealing with a sexual addiction, there have been four primary models used. The first is the Minnesota Model, which is similar to a twelve step Alcoholics-Anonymous program. The second is a therapeutic community model in which those suffering with a sexual addiction are paired and help each other out of their addiction. The third treatment is an obvious family therapy, or alternative group therapy to help lessen the affect of risky teen modeling. The fourth treatment is the very popular cognitive-behavior therapy, which is a popular technique used in all sorts of process and substance addictions. With sexual addiction as a process that expands into the lifetime of the male, having early prevention and successful treatment programs are important to help with those that begin sexual characteristics in their adolescence, however, much more attention needs to be brought to the subject in order to actively and effectively correct sexual behavior in teens. Because sexual addiction in teens is just being brought to light, much research still has not been conducted on this age group and sexual addiction continues to occur into adulthood.

As sexual addiction continues to occur later into adulthood of the male, it is mainly anchored in underlying emotions of shame and trauma that continue the process of the addiction (Cox & Howard, 2007). Also, many males suffering from sexual addiction have had a prevalence of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse in their lifetime. In fact, sexual addiction is rarely seen as an isolated addictive disorder. In a study Carnes conducted in 1997, he found that 72% had physical abuse, 81% had experienced sexual abuse, and 97% of those suffering with a sexual addiction had an emotional abuse present at one point in their lifetime. It is important when going through treatment to not only address the sexual addiction itself, but also many of the underlying issues and abuse in the male’s life. Much of the shame that is at the root of sexual addiction originates from these different abuses an addict experiences in their lifetime. The feelings of shame, resulting from these abusive experiences, make the individual incapable of mastering their feelings and continue with normal need fulfillment. They then attempt to use sexual addiction to soothe and regulate their shame, which only leads to further shame and trauma (Adams & Robinson, 2001).

Adams & Robinson (2001) describe three barriers that prevent addicts from breaking the cycle of sexual addiction: “shame, affect dysregulation, and an inability to maintain sexual boundaries.” Shame, as originated by the common abuse found in addicts, has the power to make the addict feel inadequate and self-disapproving. The cycle of sexual addiction continues to produce higher levels of shame, which in turn alienates the person to further lose intimate connections, which in turn continues to drive the addiction. Therefore, shame, affect regulation, and sexual boundary development are the essential factors for successful treatment for sex addicts.

Adams & Robinson (2001) describes five key issues a clinician treating shame in sexual addiction needs to address; the first being that the clinician needs to understand the origin of the shame and its function in the addictive system. The second issue is to differentiate between shame and guilt. Shame, as opposed to guilt, is what drives the addictive system. Third, the clinician must identify the defenses the individual utilizes to deny any painful feelings created by the shame. The fourth issue is to utilize specific shame reduction strategies at crucial points in the treatment. The last issue the clinician has to give attention to is also the most important and involves changing the negative core beliefs an individual holds onto that reinforces their shame.

To treat sexual addiction in men is a complex process. Extensive and thorough research has been conducted to account for not only the effects of sexual addiction, but the causes as well. This results in increased successful treatment and prevention, not only for the teen demographic, but also for a more advanced sexual addiction in adults. By treating the underlying causes of sexual addiction, shame and trauma, the direct cause of the cycle, and process of sexual addiction is cut off. This enables men to react to sex properly as a healthy and mature physical act instead of relying on it as a cover for past traumatic memories and the shame that results from them.

Men and Infidelity

Men suffer from a wide variety of addictions. The addictions take a toll in their life and can bring about negative events and experiences. One of the main addictions that men suffer with is sexual addictions. This addiction can then further evolve into infidelity with a significant other. Infidelity is a major cause of divorce, spousal battering, and marital conflict (Shackelford, Besser, & Goetz, 2008). Although many men fall under infidelity, little is known of who is more susceptible to it and who is not. Infidelity is looked as a marital betrayal and it is going against one’s moral and religious beliefs (Allen, Rhoades, Stanley, Markman, Williams, Melton, & Clements, 2008). Many individuals engage in a marriage and remain monogamous and are expected to remain true to their marriage. Throughout the United States, it has been estimated that 26% to 70% of married women and 33% to 75% of married men have engaged in infidelity (Platt, Nalbone, Casanova, & Wetchler, 2008). Infidelity is a common phenomenon in marriages, but it is poorly understood (Shackelford et al., 2008). Infidelity is an immoral thing which many individuals disapprove of extramarital sex. Men tend to engage in infidelity more then women (Lewandowski, & Ackerman, 2006). Different factors can contribute to the onset of infidelity starting first in childhood.

Childhood Attachment

During childhood the boy’s tend to disconnect themselves with their mother and connect more with their father. The boy looks at their father as a role model in who they should become. The father teaches the son to be strong and show masculine attributes. The boy wants to be like his father. A parent’s infidelity can have an affect on the child’s attachment style and models of self and others (Platt et. al, 2008). Throughout childhood infants gain an attachment with their caregiver and develop an internal working model. This internal working model integrates beliefs about themselves and others, and forms a template for relationships throughout life (Platt et al., 2008). Usually the caregiver provides nurturance and support, which will allow the child to feel loved and receiving care and support. If this occurs then the child will have a positive internal model of themselves and others and will view others trustworthy and loving. If the caregiver does not demonstrate love and nurturance, then the child will develop a negative model of themselves and others. Parental infidelity not only serves as a model for the child, but it also displays a pattern of avoidance for the child (Platt et al., 2008). Therefore, if the parents engaged in infidelity, then the child themselves will most likely engage in infidelity as an adult. It will alter their attachment style and put a negative affect on romantic and personal relationships. Children growing up in families with high interparental conflict feel less social support and have low self esteem (Platt et al., 2008).

Platt et al., (2008) conducted a research examining the impact of parental infidelity and conflict on the adult’s child internal working model and romantic attachment styles. 150 undergraduate students were surveyed measuring the adult child’s perception of interparental conflict and attachment to a significant other. Data analysis was conducted and revealed that those with interparental conflict had a more negative view of themselves and others. Thus, individuals who had knowledge of their parent’s infidelity showed lower self esteem and lack of romantic relationships. Also, results prove to show that individuals with knowledge of parental infidelity will be more likely to engage in infidelity in their own relationships as an adult.

Males with knowledge of their father’s infidelity will most likely engage in it as well. This is due to the fact that males see their father as a role model and identify more with him. A father’s behavior may be more influential on the son’s life.

Precursors of Marital Infidelity

Although we do not know which males are more susceptible to infidelity, researchers have been able to identify some precursors and why men engage in infidelity. It is important for researcher to identify factors that relate to feelings of infidelity. Many women constantly ask themselves “why?” and think that the relationship between them is fine, but little do they know their husbands are cheating on them. Relationship infidelity is reliably associated with low agreeableness and low conscientiousness (Shackelford et al., 2008). Thus, indicating that those with high levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness in their relationship are less likely to engage in infidelity. Low levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness in a relationship resulted in infidelity. Other predictors of infidelity results in low levels of need fulfillment and self expansion in a relationship (Lewandowski et al., 2006). When a relationship is not able to fulfill needs or provide self-expansion for an individual, then their susceptibility to infidelity increases (Lewandowski et al., 2006). Relationship factors and personality traits play a role in susceptibility to infidelity. Individuals tend to engage in infidelity because there is something wrong or lacking in their relationship with their significant other. Although researchers has documented that agreeableness and conscientiousness are linked to the likelihood of marital infidelity, it is not known how personality characteristics manifest themselves to become associated with marital infidelity (Shackelford et al., 2008). Women tend to engage in infidelity due to relationship dissatisfaction where as men’s infidelity is tied more closely to sexual dissatisfaction (Allen et al., 2008). Five needs should be commonly fulfilled as part of a romantic relationship: intimacy, companionship, security, emotional involvement, and sexually (Lewandowski et al., 2006). A lack of fulfillment in any of these needs could lead to problems in the relationship resulting in infidelity. The individual will be motivated to seek the fulfillment of these needs through another relationship. The self expansion model is based on the notion that people are fundamentally motivated toward the goal of enhancing the self through close relationships (Lewandowski et al., 2006). Self expansion is achieved by sharing activities and experiences together.

Shackelford et al. collected data from 214 individuals. Three different variables were measured by using a self reported and spouse reported five factors bipolar scale, a 7-point rating scale on the quality of the marital relationship, and a questionnaire measuring the susceptibility to infidelity on their spouse. Statistical analysis revealed that a partner’s agreeableness and conscientiousness causes the respondent to be more satisfied with their marriage and will not lead to a cause of infidelity.

Shackelford et al.’s (2008) findings indicated that those who were satisfied in their relationship may not turn to infidelity. The man and woman want to feel appreciated and wanted. If their spouse is able to provide this, then the risk of a marriage ending with the result of infidelity will decrease. Not all individuals who say they will be unfaithful actually are, and those who say they will remain monogamous refrain from infidelity.

Online Sexual Behavior

Many sexual addictions can lead to online sexual behavior which in then can turn into infidelity with their significant other. The use of internet has become widely popular amongst individuals regardless of what age. In 2004, there were 164 million users of the internet and out of all the online subjects, issues related to human sexuality remain the primary searched topic (Dew, Brubaker, & Hays, 2006). The use of the internet has been taken for granted and used for seeking sexual pleasures for individuals. Each day many men suffer with pornography and temptations of seeking out a sexual partner away from their significant other. Online sexual activity is defined as using the internet for any activity that involves sexual activity including behaviors such as sharing images, purchasing materials, downloading erotica, sexually explicit discussions, and searching for sexual partners (Dew et al., 2006). Between 20% and 34%of adult internet users have engaged in some form of online sexual activity (Dew et al., 2006). Many men use the internet and participate in online sexual activity as an outlet source for coping with stress. Many men also may look to online sexual behaviors as a convenient escape from life’s pressures (Dew et al., 2006).

Dew et al. (2006) carried out a research on married men and how the internet is being used to fulfill their online sexual behavior. The sample consisted of 508 heterosexually married men. The 508 participants were gathered by using a paid internet service provider (ISP), which contains chat rooms geared towards married men. By using the Dyadic Adjustment Scale (DAS) and an internet behavior questionnaire that was developed they were able to collect data and conclude their results.

Statistical analysis revealed that nearly 78% of participants self-reported having at least one face to face sexual encounter in the past 12 months with a partner obtained from internet chat room activity. Out of the married men who reported having a higher number of sexual partners were unlikely to report lower levels of affectional expression with their wives and the degree of agreement and disagreement in their marital relationship (Dew et al., 2006).

These results prove to show that the internet is a popular convenience for married men to gain sexual pleasures. The study of this research continuously agrees with the fact of how important the internet is in which individuals are using not only for research purpose, but also for sexual partners. This research brings about many new questions in regards to infidelity and sexual addictions. The use of the internet is being over populated by users who are using the internet for their own sexual fantasies and as an escape from life’s pressures.


In conclusion, sexual addictions have become a prevalent problem in modern society due to the serge in technological advancement. The damage it does to men’s personal lives has been both psychological as well as emotional. As research continues, we can better lean how to combat these personal issues in loving and strategic ways. By promoting healthy relationships, we can improve prevention plans and treatment to hopefully spare individuals in the future.


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