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Eroticized Rage in Sexual Addition

From the time she was 8 until she turned 12, Astrid had been abused by her mother’s husband. He was violent with every member of the household, and sexually abusive with the two girls—Astrid and her older sister. He held the family on lockdown for years, recording their phone conversations for “evidence” to use against them, and actively surveilled the girls and their mother. When she was 13, Astrid’s mom left her stepfather with the help of a community organization, and after the family got back on their feet, Astrid felt more secure and less vulnerable. Her mother never mentioned everything that had happened, but the girls were both grateful that she’d gotten them out.

During high school, Astrid began acting out sexually. She always had a boyfriend, someone older and already out of high school, but she cheated frequently. She became notorious among her peers and when labels like “slut” and “whore” descended, Astrid responded by increasing her sexual behavior and openly flaunting it. She wanted to appear defiant, as if she was in absolute control.

Eroticized Rage in Sexual AdditionAstrid liked the feeling of power she got when seducing someone and the desire to achieve more of it led her away from school and toward a life in the sex industry where she became an underage dancer. She felt an increasing sense of power when she was on stage and men looked at her with longing. She wanted every man in the room to feel under her power, and willing to open his wallet to prove it. She knew other dancers who were saving their earnings for expensive graduate studies or to open a future business, but Astrid became the stereotype. She began using cocaine and eventually freebasing in order to achieve a more intense high, but even this was nothing compared to the rush she got when a man wanted her so much he was willing to pay.

From stripping, Astrid turned to escorting. She was making tons of cash doing something she loved to do, and thought nothing of it. She especially loved clients who wanted her to play the role of the dominatrix; there were clients who preferred pain and humiliation to the sex she could provide. These were her favorites, and soon, Astrid had made a name for herself in the industry. She was the powerful woman in leather, undefeatable and ready to make men bow.

When a man she met at a nightclub began stalking and threatening her, she grew paranoid and afraid. On an afternoon in broad daylight, this man attacked Astrid. He was apprehended and spent time in jail, but as the weeks wore on, Astrid became unable to leave the house. She lost her job and her apartment. Desperate, she began visiting an organization that helped women get on their feet after sexual trauma. A therapist began to talk to Astrid about eroticized rage.

Defining Eroticized Rage

In 1975, Robert Stoller, the late professor of psychiatry at UCLA Medical School, published Perversion: The Erotic Form of Hatred. In his book, Stoller laid out the link between trauma and a personal or cultural marriage of violence with sex, where shame, disapproval and judgment become intertwined with arousal. Most often men are considered to be the carriers of sexualized rage, but a better understanding into the nature of sexual behaviors including compulsivity in women has revealed that women, too, are capable of eroticized rage. For women, a history of abuse is often linked but eroticized rage can occur in others.

Sources and Signs of Eroticized Rage

According to Patrick Carnes, Ph.D, some factors that may be related to the cause of erotic rage are:

  • Grievance – as a result of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse or the belief that one’s family, culture or religion expresses unfairness or hypocrisy around issues of sex. Anger at partners or employers may also be transferred into eroticized rage
  • Vulnerability – When a person needs to feel vulnerable in the sexual dynamic or when s/he requires the other person’s vulnerability for arousal
  • Insufficiency of Self – the belief in self insufficiency is often linked to erotic rage. This can be seen, for example, in men who are angry about their sexual dysfunction, therefore harming women sexually, and in women who feel angry about financial dependence and who cheat in order to feel more in control 

Some behaviors linked to eroticized rage are:

  • Direct use of aggression and violence in the sexual act when consent has not been obtained or the need to use aggression or become submissive to another’s aggression in order to become aroused
  • Use of calculated dishonesty, trickery or manipulation in order to obtain sex
  • Using sex to restore power to oneself, to gain a sense of control, or to feel superior where one felt inferior in the past
  • Requiring sex from those unable to give consent (such as an underage or intoxicated person)
  • Using one’s power position to obtain sex (such as when a manager or business owner uses coercion to obtain sex from an employee of lower status)
  • Using sex in a transactional way (sex for money) that causes one to feel in control
  • Using sex to humiliate, retaliate or otherwise obtain vengeance
  • Sex or fetishes that stand outside social acceptability. Using sex to break rules or thwart institutional beliefs
  • Sexual obsession, breaking privacy, stalking or surveilling behaviors or other compulsive responses to betrayal or a fear of betrayal

There are many behaviors that can be viewed through the lens of sexualized rage and which people may be completely unaware of. Astrid’s use of sex to defy others, to gain control and to feel superior could have been seen as a personal predilection except when a past history of abuse was taken into account. As a result of her anger over childhood abuse, she turned sex into an exchange that would help her feel powerful. People who have problems with sexual compulsivity are often surprised to uncover erotic rage in their habits. They have seen only sex where others may have easily interpreted anger. It is important to note that for anger to be erotic, it does not have to be pleasurable. People who experience sexual anorexia as a result of anger, or who never learned how to have balanced relationships and therefore fear intimacy, conflict or vulnerability may have patterns that emerge as a result of erotic rage.

A good therapist can help a patient see eroticized rage where they may have been unable to see it before, and can help patients attend to their anger in ways that do not bear sexual consequences. Being willing to investigate is all that is required.