A Former Skeptic
Until two years ago I didn’t believe sexual addiction was a real thing. As a clinically trained psychologist, it hadn’t been a part of my training.
Plus, I am one of those skeptics. If I’d been in the upper room at the time of Jesus’ appearance, I would have been standing right next to doubting Thomas and asked if I could go next in sticking my hand inside Jesus’ wound. I usually need to see something before I will believe in it.
Although sexual addiction had been a term bounced around the last few years before I closed my practice in 2015, I hadn’t paid it much attention. If you would have asked me what I thought about it, I’d tell you I doubted it was an actual physiological addiction, however, I could see the ways it mimicked obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Widespread Hesitation to Accept this Growing Problem
Despite the updates in research, I still don’t know how many mental health clinicians believe in the existence of sexual addiction today, but it’s woefully too few. An article in Time (Nov 2017) outlines the reasons for the ambivalence among clinicians. There is widespread hesitation to call any particular sexual behavior abnormal. So, I understand the professional community’s concern. I felt the same way until I met and married someone with this condition.
And that changed everything for me.
I now believe and accept the reality of sexual addiction.
Different Clinical Presentations
There is not a one-size fits all presentation of this condition. It takes on different characteristics for different people, which is true about all mental diseases. One person’s depression will be a bit different than someone else’s. Same for sex addiction.
Highly Compulsive Behavior as Coping Mechanism
What I have come to understand is that the need to engage in the behavior is highly compulsive. It isn’t about having a low or high sex drive, a common misconception, but rather it’s a way of coping.
Individuals with sexual addiction use the actual pursuit of or the fantasy of the next sexual engagement as a vehicle to avoid the hard stuff of life. Sexual acting out is the equivalent of a cigarette, a joint, or the next drink. It becomes that person’s go-to as a way of handling stress.
For example, a person could masturbate multiple times a day to relieve himself or herself from the build-up of emotional tension. But such compulsive behaviors result in the loss of work time and missing out on quality time with family or partners.
Pornography often as Starting Point
Pornography often is the starting point, but it rarely stops there. Soon vanilla porn loses its thrill, resulting in the need for more risqué or harder-core videos and clips to achieve the same level of relief. Or, the person may move on to interpersonal interactions with real people, ranging from chat rooms, multiple dating partners, voyeurism or exhibitionism, or the use of escorts/prostitutes.
Approximately 3 to 6 percent of the US population are estimated to have a sexual addiction but these numbers are likely to be way too low. Those struggling with this condition avoid discussing it due to the attached stigma of shame.
Practice of Secrecy
What’s universal about the condition is the prevailing need to keep the practice secret. Whether the person is engaged in excessive use of pornography, sexting others, or arranging hook-ups, the addict keeps his/her acting out hidden under a veil of secrecy. A double life is created so that appearances can be maintained.
Two years ago I had no idea the man I had just married had a secret double life. I didn’t know his late hours, trips to see family or friends, or time spent away from me were being used to see other women. He was very good at keeping his active social life hidden from me. He would block calls and texts of escorts, dates, and girlfriends until he had uninterrupted time safe from peering eyes.
Occasionally he volunteered he used to struggle with some forms of sexual acting out but assured me he was better now. And I believed him. In fact, his vulnerability lulled me into thinking all was well with us.
The lie was revealed when one of the other women contacted me. Her act of bravery got me on the road of discovery and now recovery.
That how it often begins.
Breaking the Silence
It takes coming out of the shadows for healing to start. The practice of deception and lies must be stopped before recovery can begin. For most addicts, this is the biggest challenge because it means humbling oneself to admit the severity and extent of the problem. As one of my earlier mental health coaches pointed out sexual addiction isn’t so much about sex as it is about maintaining one’s ego or pride.
That’s what I’m doing here by sharing my story with you. This is my way back to good health and full restoration.
So, let me begin —
Hello, I’m Kerry and I’m a ex-spouse of a sex addict.
This post was previously published on Medium and is republished here with permission from the author.
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