After coming in contact with a number of sex addicts who had at some point belonged to cults, I began to suspect that there were things about sex addicts’ makeup that predisposed them to cult membership. Of course not all sex addicts were cult members or vice versa, and this is all purely anecdotal. Still, I was intrigued.
Sex and religious extremism
I first came across this idea in another context. A 2008 article in The Times told of terrorist groups who were found by police to possess large amounts of hard core child pornography.
The article stated: “Anti-terror officers could also use child protection searches to enhance their ability to identify people planning attacks.”
In 2011, the NYTimes.com reported that a young army private who was arrested for plotting a bomb attack in Texas had previously been arrested for possession of child pornography on his government-issued computer. A number of other foiled terrorist plots have been reported over the years in which the suspects had large amounts of downloaded child sexual abuse images and videos.
The sex addicts I knew were certainly not fanatics or terrorists, nor were they into child pornography, but they had at some point been drawn to cult-like groups.
Real life examples (no real names used)
Jill and Sam joined a “therapeutic community” in New York which was run by its psychoanalyst leader with an iron hand. Sam was an exhibitionist sex addict and Jill was a survivor of sexual abuse. The rules of the group went like this: society’s attitudes toward sex and relationships are screwed up and you should have all the sex you can — but it’s forbidden to form any kind of lasting relationship. Sleeping with the same person more than three times was grounds for expulsion!
Another therapeutic commune in California attracted Brian, who was addicted to porn and prostitutes. He joined with his wife and they became part of this doctrinaire family-run “movement” until he left and got into recovery (and got divorced.)
Bob and Fran started their own “program” for treating people with relationship issues. Bob is a recovering sex addict and Fran is his wife. This is not a commune, but it has a cult-like quality in that the “treatment” they offer is emotionally assaultive and aims at breaking people down so they can get at their deep pain. A number of Bob’s sex addict acquaintances have enrolled.
The sex addict family-of-origin is cult-like
- Sex addicts overwhelmingly come from rigid, disengaged families. “Such a family has inflexible rules and insufficient nurturing; the rigidly religious family is a prototype” (Schneider 2000).
- Sex addicts and other kinds of addicts suffer from co-dependence, i.e. a learned belief that “my worth as a person is determined by my value to someone else.”
- Sex addicts come from families where sex is viewed in extremes i.e. sex is all-important but sex is also dirty and bad (Hunter 1997).
- The majority of sex addicts come from families where there is emotional abuse and often physical and/or sexual abuse as well.
- Even if there is no overt sexual abuse in the addict’s family of origin, there is often a lack of appropriate personal and/or generational boundaries.
- Sex addicts grow up in families that keep secrets, keep up a front of respectability and are sometimes isolated and enmeshed.
Not a scientific hypothesis but food for thought
So, based on the above commonly accepted findings in the sex addiction field, sex addicts are a natural for cult membership. Cults replicate a family system that is isolated, enmeshed, rigid, rule-bound, and where sex is cut off from relationship and intimacy. Tending to be isolated, addicts might find a haven where they are part of group but without the demands for genuine connection.
Additionally sex addicts would be likely to be drawn to cultish groups that offer “peak” experiences involving fear and submissiveness since they will feel that extremes of emotional manipulation are a familiar way to relate.
Deepak Chopra has said, “Organized religion is a cult with a large following.” Whether or not you agree with this, it is not hard to see that what we normally think of as cults and extremist religious groups would attract a person who was raised in the typical sex addict’s family of origin.