The Role of Dopamine in Sex Addiction Development

Category : Sex Addiction Information

The Role of Dopamine in Sex Addiction DevelopmentSex addiction is a condition characterized by compulsive sexual thoughts and/or behavior. Unlike substance additions, behavioral addictions, like sex addiction, are difficult to diagnose and therefore more complex to treat. Sex addiction can be limited to compulsive masturbation or excessive use of pornography, or it can be escalated to exhibitionism, rape, unprotected sex with multiple partners, etc.

While there are many factors that contribute to the development of sexual addiction, the disorder is easier to understand from a scientific standpoint. Looking at the chemical process that takes place in the development of a sexual addiction can give researchers insight to why brilliant, put-together individuals can become preoccupied with self-harming behaviors.

Are Sex Addicts Really Addicted to Dopamine?

Dopamine is the brain’s naturally-produced chemical that stimulates the brain’s reward center. Activities, like sex, will increase the production of dopamine and therefore produce the euphoric, pleasurable feelings one experiences during a sexual encounter. Humans are inclined to perform activities that release dopamine because it causes good feelings. Over time, the brain establishes a direct pathway for dopamine to be automatically released during an individual’s preferred act of pleasure. In simplest terms, the brain recognizes certain activities and behaviors that are especially pleasing, such as sex. When this happens the brain will attempt to provide the greatest possible reward by sending a rush of dopamine to the stimulus whenever this activity is performed.

Over time, the body can adjust to the increased levels of dopamine and no longer feel superiorly stimulated. This is what causes individuals to look for other ways to increase the release of dopamine in order to once again achieve the heightened feelings of pleasure. What once was sexually rewarding to an individual may no longer provide great pleasure. Therefore, it is common for individuals to develop different and escalated sexual behaviors in order to feel the increased effects of a dopamine rush.

Alleviating Emotional Anguish with Sex

In many cases involving sexual addiction, the addiction itself is derived from an underlying issue that has yet to be addressed. Past sexual trauma, abuse, rape, low self-esteem, neglect and other issues can all contribute to the development of sexual addiction because the individual is seeking to heal his or her pain. Just like drugs or alcohol, sex can temporarily alleviate painful emotions. Unfortunately, individuals are only able to experience the heightened levels of dopamine for so long, and then their feelings of euphoria and pleasure slowly return to despair, guilt and depression due to unresolved, underlying issues. For these individuals, the dopamine produced during sexual activity acts like a drug. The cravings for sex are fueled by the need to stimulate feelings of pleasure and alleviate emotional anguish.