Are youth diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder more vulnerable to porn and sexual addiction?

By Matt Bulkley | Blog Education Series

STAR Guides Wilderness - Are youth diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder more vulnerable to porn and sexual addiction

Reactive Attachment Disorder | Teen Porn and Sexual Addiction

Often parents with an adopted child wonder whether, when, if and how to tell their child that he or she is adopted. Many also wonder and worry if adopted children face special problems or challenges. Among the most challenging is the attachment related issue of Reactive Attachment Disorder or RAD. Some adopted children experience sexual compulsivity during their adolescent years. The reasons are not certain, but some therapists theorize it may have to do with attachment issues stemming from early childhood.

Talking About The Adoption

Adopted children typically want to talk about being adopted and their parents should be willing to engage in these conversations. The way a child reacts to learning of their adoption and their feelings and responses depend on their age and level of maturity. Some may deny the adoption or create fantasies about it. Too often, children who are adopted erroneously believe that they were given away for being bad or conclude there was something flawed about them that resulted in their being adopted. The most important thing adoptive parents can do is be open in discussing the adoption and present it in a positive light.

Adoptive parents often have questions about how to deal with adoption issues and questions from their teen. Parents can benefit from working with mental health professionals for these issues. STAR Guides clinicians provide assistance to parents and teens struggling with adoption/attachment issues and compulsive sexual behaviors.

Emotional Numbing, Attachment and Addiction

Unfortunately, some adopted teens develop emotional or behavioral problems which can include issues involving compulsive sexual behavior. These behaviors may manifest as pornography addictions, compulsive masturbation, and use of sex in lieu of authentic connection with others These problems may stem from emotional insecurities about being adopted. Some adopted teens developed attachment problems in early childhood which has led to their not experiencing their emotions on the same level as others. In other words, they survived the emotional pain of their childhood by “becoming numb” to their circumstances. The emotional pain involved with bonding with a caretaker and then having that bond broken through separation results in a child protecting himself/herself psychologically by becoming numb to emotions rather than experience this painful loss of a relationship. It is in this condition during late childhood and early adolescence that the use of pornography and sexual compulsive behavior allow the teen to feel some type of emotion rather than be numb. Use of pornography and sexual acting out create a sensation and euphoria that pulls a teen temporarily out of the “numbness” that has been used in times past to avoid emotional pain.

Treating Attachment and Addiction

Treatment for attachment issues and compulsive sexual behaviors involves disrupting the compulsive/addictive patterns and then creating opportunities for the teen to experience emotion to life challenges in a controlled and therapeutic setting where this pattern can be identified and processed with the teen.

About the Author

Matt is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been working in the field of youth treatment and psychotherapy since 1995. He did his undergraduate work at BYU and earned his M.S.W. at the University of Utah. He has worked in a variety of treatment setting in his career ranging from wilderness therapy and residential treatment to outpatient treatment and state government.

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Elizabeth Fillar July 9, 2019

YES. We are experiencing this now with our 12 year old adopted son. Please tell me where to find help for him. I have not been able to find any therapist who specializes in RAD. He has always used avoidance as a coping skill. He found a way around our filter on the computer and accessed porn sites. He hasn’t been on the computer since then. He’s found a way to self-medicate himself and I realize that I can’t stop the behaviors. I don’t think a sexual addiction therapist is going to help him. The problem is rooted in his early trauma. He will not open up to us as parents. He is in therapy now, but I’m not seeing a lot of improvement. He’s told me “No one is ever going to see how I feel. I won’t let them.” I feel so helpless.

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