The causes of sex addiction are not well-understood, but it is strongly associated with childhood neglect and/or abuse, such as physical or emotional abandonment or other forms of trauma. A disproportionate number of women suffering from sexual addiction report having experienced or witnessed overt/actual sexual abuse as children. Profound, early child abuse of nearly any kind can impair a child’s ability to bond in healthy ways as an adult, leading to chronic relationship intimacy (attachment) issues that can eventually morph into sexual addiction. These same traumas can fuel other co-occurring conditions, such as depression, self-harm and anxiety, along with some of the personality disorders.
Research suggests that there’s also a strong neurochemical component to both eating disorders and sexual addiction. One can become addicted to the potent neurochemical rush that occurs during an exciting sexual or romantic encounter. This neurobiological cocktail includes highly pleasurable dopamine as well as adrenaline, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins. Women suffering from emotional or psychological issues such as depression or anxiety and from childhood trauma or profound trauma as an adult can unconsciously use this neurochemical response to cope with stress and painful emotions. Compulsively reliving or re-enacting the pleasurable fantasies and experiences sets up an addictive cycle of using sex and sexual fantasies to control intensely painful emotions.