Fantasy and Euphoric Recall in Sexual Addiction: Are you Still Sober if it's Only in Your Head?
Posted Jun 23 2009 6:54pm
"Images of rapture creep into me slowly as you're going to my head
And my heart beats faster when you take me over time and time again
But it's just a sweet, sweet fantasy baby"
- Mariah Carey -
What is the big fat problem if you only think about something sexual but do not act on it? I am pretty certain that if you were to ask a slew of random folks - people whose spouse or significant other spends time - any amount of time - traversing internet porn sites, they would say that the person is cheating on them. More than likely they would tell you that it just feels like they are being cheated on. That they feel insignificant or secondary and that their partner is not "present" especially during intimacy. And most clinicians would agree. Now add to that scenario the fact that the person checking out porn on the net is a sex addict. Make that a recovering sex addict. Now you have a really big problem indeed. And the problem is that the sex addict in recovery is no longer sober, forget recovery, if their eyeballs are mopping up pornographic images. Be that on the net, the tube, the VCR, or in print. It may or may not be "cheating" if you occasionally indulge in a non-secretive manner - providing you are not also sexually addicted.
Sex, or more to the point sexual behavior, does not contrary to popular belief, emanate from the body. Sexual arousal is neurological. The body simply complies. But hold that thought.
Internet porn is to the sex addict what a seat at the pub while holding a glass of liquor is to the alcoholic - but worse. Much much worse. The alcoholic may not have taken a drink - yet. But chances are better than not that they will. Worse however for the sex addict, since the act of just watching pornographic images, immediately sets off a spectacular flare of dopaminergic fireworks. The actual visual impact triggers the sex addict. In fact, the mere thought of getting on the 'puter as prelude before ever actually seeing an image at all, will biochemically trigger the sex addict and they are off to the proverbial brain-based pleasure center in the sky. Make no mistake, it is foreplay plain and simple. While the alcoholic can somehow put that glass back down (uh-huh), the sex addict is less lucky at least from a recovery perspective, since the split second their eyeballs hit the screen or just think of hitting the screen, they are gushing neurochemicals and altering their brain. Need I state of course that it is virtually unheard of (pun intended) for the sex addict to engage in net porn and not masterbate, large doses of an SSRI notwithstanding. But even if somehow they refrained, they are still triggered, still "using", and are still "under the influence" of their altered brain chemistry. Of prime importance behaviorally speaking, is that in both scenarios the cardinal rules of recovery were breached. And that would be People, Places, and Things.
Let me be clear. If a sex addict is checking out pornography, that person is not sexally sober and sure as heck is not in recovery. They are "using". Cheating or no cheating. No ifs ands or buts.
What happens next to the sex addict individual after perusing the porn sites - even for no more than a few seconds by the way - is that they are in an altered state. Meaning that the addict is now the equivalent of being stoned. And this individual will remain stoned for quite a period of time afterward. Which also means that the addict is walking around with these images in their head that they can (and oh so readily do) recall in a milli scintilla of a nanosecond( or less!), sometimes on purpose (to get even more stoned or to maintain the high) and the rest of the time because the images simply break through consciousness and pop up when least expected. That said, if you are sexually addicted and you engaged in porn, then you should expect that these images will be automatically recalled willy nilly. These images have been seared - and I mean seared - branded into the sex addicted brain and will offer a free high - a feeling of utter euphoria whenever recalled. And recalled they will be, time and time and time again.
I mentioned that sex is neurological. It is. Sexual arousal, just like any type of arousal, occurs when parts of the brain release arousal-producing neurochemicals. Only then does the body respond in kind. When the body responds you have gone from a neurochemically produced thought process to a physical behavior. The very reason sex addiction is a subset of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is precisely for this reason - because the addicted individual has incessant recurring thoughts of either sexual activity or objectification for the purpose of sexual arousal (mental or physical), which is in and of itself arousing and anxiety producing. When arousal and anxiety is produced it immediately triggers the need to reduce the anxiety which in the case of a sexual addiction, is accomplished by having sex. Needless to say, OCD is itself a subset of the group of disorders collectively referred to as anxiety disorders. And the process repeats itself, hence the recurring loop of thoughts and behaviors that seem to have a life of their own. It seems that way because in a sense, it is that way. Like most mental disorders, OCD is neurological in that it is a byproduct of your brain producing an overabundance of one neurochemical and not enough of another. That would be dopamine and seratonin. The later of which is why high doses of an SSRI (serotonin-based antidepressants) like Prozac is generally the drug therapy of choice for sex addiction. Even though it is classified as an antidepressant, the high doses of seratonin (for those that can tolerate it) cut both libido and performance, enabling the sex addict to have a better shot at sobriety.
So. Is fantasy and euphoric recall cheating? Maybe. But if you have a sexual addiction and you engage in sexual fantasy, you are not sober - you are under the influence. Call your sponsor, talk to your psychotherapist, call the folks on your fellowship list and hit a meeting. Because sexual fantasy which produces eurphoric recall, is simply sex you are having in your head.