By Monica Meyer, Ph.D., CSAT-S, Clinical Director of Gentle Path at The Meadows
Last week, best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert published an essay titled “Confessions of a Seduction Addict” in the New York Times magazine. It’s a personal and poignant account of the pain and struggles that people with issues related to sex and intimacy often face.
The behavior Gilbert describes in her essay can be conceptualized using a sexual addiction framework (conquest type) with Dr. Pat Carnes’ model or using the complimentary framework of love avoidance from The Meadows Model. Both frameworks identify this pattern of behavior as a mechanism for avoiding intimacy with a basis in an insecure attachment and deeply held fears of rejection and abandonment. Love avoidance and sex addiction are issues that often go hand-in-hand because both are, at their core, intimacy disorders.
Early Attachment Issues
For a sex addict, insecure attachment is often at the root of these behaviors. Attachment patterns often involve how a person learned to self-soothe and seek comfort from others. Insecure attachment often leads to dysfunction in a person’s ability to self-regulate and cope with distress later in life.
Insecure attachment is far more common among sex addicts than among their healthy counterparts. This article eloquently describes how someone with insecure attachment may use seduction to replace intimacy.
Seduction as a Substitute for Intimacy
Many sex addicts demonstrate similar patterns of moving quickly from one romantic relationship to the next, remaining in a constant state of intensity, image management, and emotional turbulence. These behaviors are often part of the conquest and relationship types of sex addiction. Romance, seduction, and intrigue are the true goals of this behavior; the sex addict appears more interested in winning than in connecting.
For a healthy, intimate relationship to develop, the normal sense of intense infatuation in a new relationship─ which is partly based on fear─ is replaced over time with a more stable, companionate type of relationship based on intimacy, stability, and trust. This signals a transition into a deeper level of connection.
But for the sex addict, this stability is often experienced as boring. The lack of intense emotion may even feel like abandonment. So, the addict typically either initiates chaos in the relationship or moves on to the next relationship to re-enter the infatuation stage.
While this intensity-seeking process is happening on the surface, a deeper pattern of avoiding true intimacy propels it from within. The sex addict often has a set of core beliefs centered on a low sense of value and worth. So, the possibility of being intimate and truly known by another person elicits strong fears of rejection and abandonment.
Stopping Destructive Patterns
Stopping destructive patterns of seduction is the most immediate goal in therapy at Gentle Path. The calm and quiet period of time that follows may create space for a sex addict to introspect and practice emotion regulation without their old intensity-seeking mechanisms─ creating chaos and distraction─ to rely on.
But, the most difficult work takes place when the sex addict begins the brave journey of connecting in a relationship without using old patterns of seduction. Allowing oneself to be truly known, rather than projecting an image of what the other person wants or needs, may leave the addict feeling more exposed and vulnerable than ever before. This vulnerability paves the way for true intimacy and connection to be built.