Sex Addiction and Codependency: Looking for Love in the Wrong Places

We all attract people and circumstances that reflect our internal beliefs into our lives. However, those struggling with sex addiction and codependency often carry negative beliefs about themselves, and their sex lives reflect this. Codependency, at its core, is rooted in a belief that we’re not enough— not worthy of love — and that’s manifested in the partners we tend to choose.

According to sex addiction expert Ross Rosenberg, “The concurrence of sex addiction and codependency can be traced back to a person’s childhood. A codependent sex addict … endured childhood trauma during which a form of detachment or self-medication was needed to cope.” In other words, sex addicts often gravitate towards dysfunctional relationships because they’re repeating their childhood patterns.

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Causes of Codependency

Poor boundaries and the concept of the self often cause codependency. Some people with codependency cannot say no or express their opinions. Three primary elements contribute to codependency:

  • Biological: A person with codependency may fail to suppress their brain’s empathic responses, causing them to feel extreme empathy that can lead them to become codependent.
  • Psychological: Some people with codependency are psychologically predisposed to care for others. While caring for others isn’t bad, it can become so extreme that a person is reliant on someone else. A person can also be affected by their negative life experiences, such as emotional abuse or neglect, which can cause them to develop codependency. 
  • Social: A person can also develop codependency due to societal changes, such as how society views women or exposure to substance use within family dynamics.

Codependency can come in all shapes and sizes, with different levels of severity. Codependency can also develop in various relationships, including spouse to spouse, parent to child and even co-worker to boss.

What Causes Sex Addiction?

When we don’t come to believe that we’re good, lovable and whole —  a message that should be communicated to us by our parents from the time we’re very young — we search for love in all the wrong places. For sex addicts, this can be through high-risk sex with multiple partners, cheating, prostitution or online porn.

Eventually, sex addicts aren’t able to enjoy the sex they’re having. After all, they’re not having sex out of a true desire for intimacy with their partner but as an escape mechanism. Through an ever-repeating cycle of triggering, fantasy, ritualization, release, numbing and despair, these behaviors become engrained, and an inescapable pattern is formed.

Sex Addicts Aren’t Narcissistic, They’re Hurting

It’s important to note that while diverse modes of sexual expression are completely normal, sex addiction occurs when you’re unable to change your sexual behavior despite its effects on your life. Consequences of sex addiction can include STDs, loss of relationships, career interference and increased risk for co-occurring alcoholism and drug addiction.

Sex addicts aren’t selfish, harmful people at heart— they act out because of their painful internal struggle. A person with sex addiction has an impulse to cover their pain, whereas an opportunist will take what they can get without feeling remorse. Sex addicts usually feel intense guilt and shame for their behavior. Their behaviors are driven by codependency — their absence of self-love and attempts to meet their deeper needs through external means — in this case, sex.  

The Connection Between Sex Addiction and Codependency

Sex addiction and codependency can often occur at the same time. People who experience both conditions can usually track them back to their childhood. Some people with sex addiction and codependency may have had a pathologically narcissistic parent who exposed them to childhood traumas that caused them to feel the need to self-medicate or detach so they could cope. People exhibiting signs of codependency often find the roots of their codependent behaviors in childhood trauma.

Children who were forced to develop self-soothing or detaching strategies to cope with a negative childhood environment can often develop sex addiction and codependency later in their life. Individuals who develop these conditions into adulthood may seek a partner who matches their self-sacrificing and pleasing nature.

A codependent sex addict will often feel angry, resentful or unloved in their relationships, especially if they choose a narcissistic partner. As a result, they’ll rely on sex to medicate their emotional isolation and control disparity within their relationship. Once sexual behaviors evolve into addictive behaviors, codependency and sex addiction co-occur.

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How to Overcome Codependency and Sex Addiction

Codependency and sex addiction can significantly affect a person’s life. Taking the necessary steps to overcome co-occurring conditions is essential to improve quality of life. Specialized addiction treatment centers can help improve a person’s life and help them overcome codependency and sex addiction. A person will learn how to express their emotions throughout treatment. 

During the first stages of recovery, someone struggling with codependent sex addiction will typically go through the following tasks:

  • Acknowledging and embracing their emotions
  • Establish safety and integrity
  • Understanding the role of codependency in their lives
  • Developing a holistic connection between the mind, body and spirit
  • Understanding the relationship between codependency and sex addiction
  • Learning to understand and develop boundaries

A person with codependency and sex addiction often participates in individual and group therapy, family counseling and support groups. These individuals will benefit from support from professionals and others who understand what they’re going through. Once someone who is codependent learns how to say no, stand up for themselves and take steps towards separation from their codependent relationship, they can start to heal their addiction and stop being codependent.

A Holistic Approach to Treating Sex Addiction and Codependency

Sexual codependency underlies most addictions, and this is especially the case with sex addiction. That’s why at The Sanctuary at Sedona, we take sex and codependency treatment seriously, comprehensively treating it with a combination of psychotherapeutic and holistic therapies that help you recognize relationship dysfunction and rewrite your story. Once you gain the tools to work through your problems in a safe and supported way, you’ll no longer need to act out. And from there, you can start to welcome healthy, deeply satisfying sex and relationships into your life once again.

To learn how The Sanctuary can guide you on a journey to your best self, call us at (866) 668-7987 or email us at [email protected] today.

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He is the Founder, Administrator, Counselor at the Sanctuary at Sedona.

He has a BA in Political Science and is currently Senior teaching staff at Four Winds Society, an international school of energy medicine. His credentials also include being an Ordained Minister; a Certified Shamanic Breathwork® Facilitator; a Founding Member Society for Shamanic Practitioners; a Member of Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology; a Member of the National Institute for Holistic Addiction Studies. [email protected]