The Lure and Power of Prostitution for Sex Addicts – Part 2
This is the second in a two-part series.
While some addiction specialists, even those who work closely with sex addicts, may not agree that sex work itself can become a stand-alone addiction, or even its own distinct type of sexual addiction, Paul Hokemeyer, a noted Manhattan marriage and family therapist, disagrees. “You can get addicted to the affirmation of being valued by someone for your body,” he says, “although it’s a very linear form of validating yourself that’s unhealthy and destructive. Money can help assign value to a person in a way that’s not terribly different from someone carrying a Louis Vuitton bag. Being able to say ‘I’m worth $300 for 15 minutes’ can be validating for someone with no self-esteem.” (Ackerman, 2014)
Replacing Love With Sex, Worth With Power
During our earliest years, the love, attention and care of our primary caregivers—usually our mother and father—lays the foundation for our self-esteem and sets the framework for how we will function later in adult relationships. This is the basis of attachment theory, which reveals how children who suffer from abuse and neglect, or who simply experience a failure of consistent care and nurturing as the result of a parent’s stress, depression, addiction or need/choice to be away throughout the critical period of a child’s formative years, can experience what is termed insecure attachment.
We saw that Adele’s mother failed to bond with her children as a result of post-partum depression, and because her depression went untreated, she remained locked in the prison of her mental illness and therefore incapable of being the caring and nurturing mother her children desperately needed. And because of her father’s value system—that it was solely a woman’s duty to care for the children—Adele and her brother were left to bring themselves up in a home that had all the material things they needed but was stripped of the emotional necessities. The children later watched their father model a style of adult romantic attachment that was highly sexualized and coercive, and Adele incorporated that model into her schema for what was necessary in achieving value in the eyes of men. In order to feel that she was lovable, she developed the core belief that she would need to be sexy and sexual, and to be worthwhile she would need to find power—power over men by making them want and need her sexually, and financial power by acquiring money through sex. The dynamics of her childhood made her vulnerable prey for a man who would exploit her in the sex industry, and once in, Adele, believing she had no better alternative, became addicted to the process.
Sex Work as a Process Addiction
Sex addiction is a process addiction, a set of compulsive behaviors that allow a person to achieve a high. The high comes from the release of dopamine—the motivation-oriented, “feel good” neurotransmitter that is associated with every single other substance and process addiction. Recovering sex addicts will tell you they came to realize they never actually enjoyed the sex they were having, which tends to be particularly true of women in recovery from the sex industry. Through habitual sexual behaviors, sex addicts seek an escape, a feeling of numbness or the sense of power, and this same process can be true of those using sex for money or other items of value (such as designer clothing, cars or even drugs). In this way, men and women who prostitute are no different than any other sex addict; it all comes down to a barter of sex for a feeling of power and, eventually for many, to a desperate struggle simply to get through the day. It may be important for clinicians and others to begin to release the stigma against sex workers in order to help more women and men who experience sex and sex industry addiction, and to better understand the role trauma and attachment injury play in these processes.