The Cost of Sex Addiction: Reality Distortion/Dorothy Hayden, LCSW


Reclaim Sexual Sanity:  Find Recovery Now by Calling 212-673-5717 for an Initial Consultation.  See www.sextreatment.com for 35 full-length articles about sex addiction and for details about my private practice.

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One morning after spending hours on the Internet surfing pornography, a successful executive drove to a meeting across town.  While on the freeway, he noticed a pick-up truck ahead of him with two teenage girls inside. 

A great deal of this man’s Internet porn viewing had been at sites that featured “teen porn”.  The image of the girls in the truck went straight to the neural pathways and cells where the Internet porn images were stored. (The narrow part of the inverted funnel which is sexualized and irrational.) This triggered a series of connections in his brain and body and he immediately became sexually aroused. 

Pulling up next to the truck, he pulled his pants down to his knees, exposed himself and honked his horn.  The two girls looked over and were so startled by what they saw that the driver gunned her engine and swerved away from the man’s car, nearly causing an accident. 


Jolted back into reality by the girl’s reaction, the executive slowed down to get his pants back up.  Afraid that the girls might jot down his license plate number, he pulled off the freeway at the next exit.  He was late for his meeting.

This type of episode, and perhaps some of you have experienced something similar, represents the type of gross reality distortion that can come from years of sexual activities and internet porn.

Sex addiction certainly distorts your view of sex, and those who are deeply involved with sex addiction will eventually have a distorted view of how real-life personal relationships are achieved. They will have a difficulty understanding of how real-life sex should be a meaningful and strong form of affection with a partner and loved one.

Many online relationships are similar to pornography in that they are not based in reality: what individuals read and see about people, relationships, and sex is a reality distortion.

Seeing life through the lens of the “Erotic Haze”  distorts realistic views of healthy sexuality, leads to the objectification of women, and promote sexual gratification as a top life priority.

Because pornography involves emotional, chemical, and physical stimulation, it can reset the brain in such a way that normal, healthy sexual experiences become unsatisfying and unfulfilling.

How can having a sex addiction change perception? Probably by desensitizing the reward circuitry in the limbic brain. This primitive region of the brain colors how we see the world. When it’s in balance we tend to see things with greater clarity and optimism. When it’s out of balance, our impressions result in distorted reality.

The over-stimulation from sexual preoccupations and behaviors of our brains can alter our perception. When this occurs, our focus, priorities and even our values can shift—all without our awareness.

Thanks to the way our brains work, chronic sexual over-stimulation fails to satisfy; it can leave a person nearly insatiable. Someone may find himself wondering automatically about every woman, “Would She engage in…?” Also, any resentment that arises from the mismatch between his virtual reality and his physical reality may raise doubts about his partner/union, making him uncharacteristically irritable and self-absorbed. He’ll focus on what his relationship doesn’t offer, not on what it does. Nor does dissatisfaction necessarily stop there. Humans tend to project such feelings automatically onto other aspects of life as well.

Existential angst anyone?  Dissatisfaction with our partner may extend to dissatisfaction with all areas of life.

Sadly, distorted perception born of neurochemical dysregulation can make a person extremely resistent to understanding what’s really driving him or what would ease his misery. His limbic brain has him firmly convinced that only his drug of choice will restore his good feelings.

We start to have a lens through which we view life, and that lens is distorted from sex addiction.  For example, a simple conversation with a friendly member of the opposite sex triggers sexual desire and becomes something more in our mind.  We start to wonder if the person is flirting, are they attracted to us, and then our minds continue on from there.  But in reality, it might just be that the person is basically friendly.  Because of our own preoccupation, we assume the intent of others.

Another clear example of reality distortion is how readily our minds can pick up on double-entendre.  How easily do we hear a phrase and immediately assign a sexual connotation to it.  Granted, our society seemingly encourages that, but it hinders our ability to simply relate to someone without turning the conversation (at least in our mind) to something sexual.

The lesson is this:  learn to ‘mistrust’ your natural instincts.  If a conversation sounds sexual, don’t assume that it is.  (If, in fact, it is intentionally going that way, what are you doing having that conversation, assuming it’s not with your spouse?)  If someone seems flirty, doubt your intuition, since it’s broken.

Then, rather than flirting back, you can move through, let’s say, a business conversation, and actually pay attention to what is being said.  This has two benefits:  1) you get more work done, and 2) you avoid unintentionally offending someone by doing or acting in a way that you THINK is appropriately responding to them, but probably is not.

Put simply, an essential part of sanity is being grounded in reality, so in the sense that sex addicts distort reality, their relationship to their own sexual style becomes a form of insanity. That’s how we got to the guy pulling his pants down and exposing himself on the freeway.

Unfortunately, it takes a long time for us to learn to discern true Reality after having been tainted by sex addiction for so long. It can take an uncomfortable month or two to restore normal perception after habitual overstimulation. But as ravenous feelings ease, it’s easier to find satisfaction in other aspect of life.

Having a group of others around you who have learned to spot the lies is essential to form true, accurate perceptions in life.  Knowing what reality is and learning how to deal with it is an essential part of sex addiction recovery.

If you’re interested in treatment, feel free to contact me at dorothyhayden1231@gmail.com for a free 30-minute phone consultation.

See htpp://www.sextreatment.com for 35 articles on sex addiction

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