Hungry Ghosts of Ibiza
There was UK reality TV show in the late 90’s called Ibiza Uncovered that focused on the antics of Brits traveling to Ibiza for sex, booze, and sunburn. These young tourists were only doing stuff I would have then considered ‘the perfect way to enjoy a holiday’, but watching it there on TV made it all seem sad, seedy, and pointless.
I remember one guy on Ibiza Uncovered who was boasting to the camera about how he had managed to have sex with a different woman (sometimes more than one) every night of his holiday. This was an achievement I would have been proud of myself, but it troubled me because instead of looking cool and confident he came across needy and desperate. It was so obvious to me that he wasn’t going to be ‘screwing’ himself to happiness any time soon and neither was I.
Sex addiction is just like other types of addiction – it begins as an attempt to make ourselves feel a bit better even if the relief we get is only ever temporary. We become like the hungry ghosts found in Buddhist mythology. These are creatures that have tiny mouths but huge stomachs and spend all their time searching for a way to quell their hunger – it is a hopeless situation because no amount of food can fill the emptiness.
Why Sex Can Never Fix Us
Sex offers a way to connect with another human being in an expression of trust, intimacy, and vulnerability. It can be a truly wonderful part of the human experience, but sex becomes toxic when we just use other people in an attempt to make ourselves feel a bit better. If we then start to view sex as necessary for our well-being, it can easily turn into obsessional behavior that leads to suffering for us and for others.
The driving force behind sex addiction (in fact, all addictions) is a yearning to feel at ease in the world. What we really desire is to feel connected with the rest of reality, but this can never be achieved through having sex or getting people to say nice things to us. At best, a sex addiction keeps us distracted from the sad fact that we are moving away from true happiness rather than towards it.
Mindfulness for Sex Addiction
Sex addiction happens because of delusional thinking. Our brain is unintentionally playing a trick on us, but once we clearly understand the trick, we can stop being fooled by it. Unfortunately, just knowing your brain is tricking you is unlikely to be enough, you need to see the trick clearly, and this is where mindfulness can be a huge help.
The thoughts patterns that drive addictive behavior only have the power we give to them. We can’t necessarily stop the thoughts, but we can cut off their power supply.
I tell clients their brain is kind of like a buffet salad bar. The brain gets to decide what gets served up every day, but as consumers, we get to choose what we eat by giving our attention to it. If we stop giving our attention to the unappetizing stuff in our mental salad bar, the brain stop being so eager about serving it out.
Mindfulness helps us develop the ability to see thoughts in a more objective way. It means instead of just being whisked away by habitual thought patterns, we get to decide if want to take the ride. Mindfulness is never about stopping our thoughts but about changing our relationship with thoughts so we can have more choice in what we consume. It is a path towards the real inner comfort we once hoped we find through sex addiction or drugs.