A raw, nakedly honest account of one man’s years-long struggle with compulsive, self-destructive sexual behavior.
What is ‘Sex Addiction’?
So, I’m a sex addict.
I know what you are thinking. Charlie Sheen. Tiger Woods. Envy? Unfortunately, being a sex addict does not always mean having loads of sex. It is just means sex dominates your waking thoughts and that it’s difficult to marry together sex and romantic intimacy. A phenomenon called sexual anorexia (fear of sex) is arguably part of the same syndrome. Stigma about truly recognizing the reality of sex addiction remains. This is more so in the UK, where I live, than in the US. English director Steve McQueen wanted to make the movie Shame at home, but found it impossible to find sex addicts to talk to.
Despite what tabloid newspapers would have you believe, sex addiction isn’t all a jolly tumbling from bed to bed. Some of us lead sexless, fraught lives blighted by neurosis. For many men and women, who can be unfaithful to their partners, have casual sex, recreationally use pornography or go to the occasional fetish party, sex is just something there are no repercussions. Unfortunately, sex is both like a drug and an allergy for me. My brain and mood react violently to sex and I recover only at the cost of great trauma.
Life With Sex Addiction
My life as a sex addict was a life of grim zombie numbness. I used sex to dull the pain of waking up in the morning, to medicate my feelings, to get me to sleep at night. I used sex when I was celebrating, when I was commiserating and when I was bored of life. In short, sex was something I abused: an opiate I dispensed ‘under the counter’ to myself.
Before I got into recovery my life was becoming a mess. I was increasingly isolated from friends and family—who I resented deep down because they did not understand my problem. I would spend most Friday nights, strung out from a workaholic week at work in my living alternating attention between porn sites, adult channels on TV and dating sites. Invariably I would start searching for escorts and the evening would end either with an escapade to an appointment with a prostitute via an ATM, or if not, then in masturbation.
I had started paying for sex on trips abroad in 2000 but the frequency of my trips was rising and I was becoming more daring and more compulsive and less able to control it.
The constant obsession with porn, unbeknownst to me at the time (porn use stimulates dopamine that numbs out users so they are unaware of how seriously it is affecting them) was not only affecting my mood, but the shame and guilt of unsavoury behaviours that I knew demeaned me was keeping me away from dating or pursuing relationships.
Rock Bottom and Recovery Since Then
What I call my rock bottom in September 2008 was quite a significant event because it highlighted the two sides of my condition. It involved me having second thoughts and leaving a cab on the way to a girl’s place; going instead to a brothel to see a sex worker.
I left the cab because I was terrified of intimacy and getting enmeshed with a woman. For me sex was associated with control and engulfment, was dirty and was a reward that I was unworthy. What I have since learned is that sex addiction is usually one half of the coin of what is sexual avoidance or anorexia. Men and some women are often serially unfaithful to their partners whilst being unable to be intimate inside their relationships.
I think I still love my ex girlfriend, or at least I love what she did for me. I truly didn’t know what love was but what I glimpsed in that relationship was a taste of what I now know I want. Our relationship broke down because I was unable to turn my attraction for her into sexual arousal. Years of abuse through porn had damaged my circuitry somehow.
After the first month or so I’d try and avoid sex and feel uncomfortable during it. When my then-girlfriend used asked me what my sexual fantasy was my first thought was: “you away for the weekend, me, and two hookers”. I used to fob her off with some excuse and never answered. How was I going to build a relationship on that basis?
In short, I wasn’t.
How I Recovered
Today, I no longer engage in these behaviours and I am no longer plagued with these urges and compulsive thoughts. This is a miracle that I try to give me gratitude for every day.
So, how did I move from being a victim of these compulsive behaviours to being a sober individual interested in intimate relationships who hasn’t paid for sex in over four years?
The key to my recovery has been threefold. Meditation has helped me remain calm and balanced and gain a modicum of control over my monkey mind. Therapy has helped me see how my relationships with women were warped by a dysfunctional upbringing (though I have learned to accept this and no longer blame my parents). The main driver of my personal transformation however have been the 12 Steps of SAA or Sex Addicts Anonymous. This amazing fellowship has given me my self-respect back and given me the chance to live a decent life. It has given me the tools to live life on life’s terms much more purpose to life and a whole phone book full of mentors I can call upon for advice.
I have discovered that I do indeed have a heart. Before I came into recovery, I was just a zombie walking around acting out without self-awareness. I wasn’t a malicious person but being totally self-centred and ignorant of what true heartfelt could be I behaved pretty heartless. I shut the door in sex workers’ faces and ended relationships without a word. Fantasy and lust drove all my action in my love life—that euphoric superhighway running from my cortex to my loins and vice versa ran the show. The road to my heart was less trodden and seldom travelled. Now I’m much better at following my heart and some sort of an inner compass guiding me to do the right thing. Men aren’t meant to have intuition: another fallacy perpetuated by culture at large. Perhaps we’ve been stultified out of it??
Our Benighted, Callous Culture
I don’t think men talk enough in any area of life and when it comes to sex, perhaps even less. I remember my ex girlfriend asking me if I talked to my male friends about sex and I looked at her incredulously when I realized she wasn’t talking about bragging rights but about how best to pleasure a woman. It provoked both indignation and resentment that she could dare to impugn my prowess in the bedroom, particularly when it came to oral sex. Of course, looking back, she was right. It was only foolish pride that made it sting.
There is so much idle bantam fighting talk, bragging and rubbish said in the name of a brittle and anachronistic machismo. Exposing this nonsense seems to be at the heart of the Good Men Project and I believe it will take this cultural shift to help mainstream the acceptance of sex addiction as a mental syndrome that deserves help and compassion.
At the same time, I think gender rancour doesn’t help. The last 40 years are a mere blip in the context of thousands of years of patriarchy. It is no wonder that there is confusion and friction between genders and that my generation of men are emotionally battered. I think that we are bearing the brunt of a sort of backlash or at least a fall out. Sometimes I think form what I hear that some women have a very low view of men. Infantilization, the portrayal of one-dimensional men in advertising, the callous chauvinism that has crept into post-feminist discourse and the preemptive condemnation of all men as bastards.
Our media is seemingly in thrall to a demented perversion of chauvinistic post-feminism where it is fine to label all men as puerile, thoughtless philanderers or one-dimensional, hapless man children. The irony is that men dealing with this syndrome do not need to be demonized. They need women to understand it is not about misogyny, but pathology.
Is this what gender equality promised? I recall Anaïs Nin writing in her essay “In Praise of the Sensitive Man” that women don’t know how to handle these men they say they want.
The reason I wanted to write a piece for the Good Men Project is because I think all of this is exacerbated by the prevailing omerta around male sexuality and our vulnerability to our libidos run rampant. This is a cultural mission worth taking on. There was a spoof image on Facebook some time ago that speaks to this. It featured a split screen of a woman and man straight after a break up. In frame one the man is euphoric (presumably because he can go out and have bachelor fun) and the woman looks distraught. In the next frame sees the man going out drinking with his mates and the girl meeting up with girlfriends for brunch and eating loads of chocolate. The last frame shows the woman raising her hands in triumph, clearly completely over her ex, and the man with his head in his hands probably sobered up after a bender coming to terms with what he has lost.
The ability to grieve loss, friendship networks, being in touch with feelings. These are all tools that women use better than men but our media helps to perpetuate the status quo.
Still an Addict, Always an Addict…
I still struggle with being an addict. Dating since the break up of my last relationship has been very hard. I am still scared of getting enmeshed in relationships with women. It is hard to get to know a woman without feeling responsible for her feelings. Sometimes I think that porn has probably disrupted my arousal template that anyone healthy and not sexually damaged is boring to me. I have had to cut out a female friend who told me she goes to fetish parties because I know that even talking about it threatens my sobriety. I do still get sexually frustrated and sad that I am not like other people and that my sexual side is combustible. As often as I accept that sex is optional I often also get scared that I am getting too old, losing my mojo, my life is draining and that I’ll remain single forever.
I want to keep recovering, to find a girlfriend with whom I can have healthy sex, since the unhealthy kind could lead to a relapse, and with whom I can build a loving relationship. I know that I am capable of that now. I used to slightly pity married couples and thought that having kids was selfish. I now believe that marriage could be an amazing thing to do have am open to the idea of having kids too something my ex girlfriend engendered too.
Every morning I need to swallow silly, peacocking, macho pride, meditate in humility for my lost years, the suffering of my exes, and pray for healthy sexuality in the future.
My only regret is that I was too sick to appreciate my last relationship. I never made her secure in my love. We were always at loggerheads in bed because I was unable to drink in the opulent poetry of her body, my mind was still warped by clichéd and scopophiliac fantasies of acting out. But I’m a different man today a man who has had to strip himself down, naked, look in the mirror and be brutally honest about his defects and failings.
Of course, now that I am doing well, I have another secret to keep—the secret that I am doing really well recovering from a syndrome that many female friends might find very hard to understand and that with male friends it tends to be the opposite problem. There tends to blanket dismissal of the problem even being a ‘problem’. I’m just told to pull myself together, stop being so dramatic/neurotic and that there is nothing wrong with it.
Many men out there suffer from this illness. There is a solution, and it is a life changing solution that gives you more than you bargained for. It is one I never would’ve expected. It has given me a second chance and enables me to lead a good life. Today the previous pervasive dread of life and the self-hatred and shame is gone and my love for women is back. I have much better relationships with my family and have great new friends in the SAA fellowship too. I know myself better, have a keener sense of my own frailties and of my strengths and the more I understand, the less I seem to want to be understood! I now wear my 4 year sobriety chip like an army dog tag pendant round my neck with pride.
4 years ago, on 11 November 2008, Armistice Day in the UK, I laid down arms against myself. Like a demobilized soldier I have struggled with the scars of this war since then and don’t know whether I’ll ever totally recover. I am still an addict. I still have an innate urge to seek oblivion through sex but I’m doing my best to lead a better life, to become a better man. I would urge anyone suffering from this illness to get help and get recovery.