This post was originally published on June 2, 2015.
A few years ago, I was a guest on a radio show geared towards the discussion of current events. One of the articles presented was about sex addiction as it related to Tiger Woods. As soon as I heard the headline, “Is Sex Addiction Real–or excuse for cheating?” I knew what was coming. I took a deep breath, clenched my fists and braced myself for an on-air argument that would break my heart and my anonymity.
See, I am a sex addict. And if you think that’s funny or a load of crap or kinda sexy, then with all due respect, go fuck yourself. Unless, of course, I fuck you first.
But seriously, out of all of my personal demons—and trust me, I have a potpourri—sex addiction is by far the most cunning, baffling and powerful. I hope to never again find myself collapsed on the floor, writhing in emotional pain so intense it’s contorted my body into the fetal position, emitting guttural cries for mercy from some higher power to relieve me from the unmanageable despair caused by my feelings of utter worthlessness. I know, right? Prrrrrretty hot.
And so the discussion begins, as it always does, with some rant about the poor billionaire celebrity who likes to have sex. I do my best to seem neutral and sane. I explain that sex addiction comes in many forms. And that while from the outside it may seem like it’s an addiction to the physical act of sex, there is a driving force behind that behavior that turns a healthy sexual appetite into a compulsive obsession to fill a gaping hole [insert sex joke here]inside of them. A hole that stings with visceral sadness every time the wind of rejection blows through it. A compulsion to act out sexually comes from issues much deeper than the need to fuck and is often totally unrelated to sex.
It is very possible that Tiger Woods is an actual sex addict. It is also very possible that he is a man whose ego told him he was above the vows he made to his wife and that his publicist told him to say, if anyone asks, that he is a “sex addict.” Only Tiger Woods knows the truth about his own proclivities but just because this addiction can be faked doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
As I step down from my soapbox, I am met with blank stares from around the room. Not only have I confused these people but I have also annoyed them by stepping on their punch line. No one actually wants to know about the reality of sex addiction, they just want to make fun of it. Because for most people, the joke about the guy who thinks too much sex is a problem writes itself. But for people who really suffer from it, there is nothing funny at all.
Here’s how it starts. I’m at work and I get an instant message from a co-worker whose cubicle is in the next room. We don’t know each other beyond the office kitchen when we exchange obligatory hellos over morning coffee. His message is innocent, asking if anyone on our side nabbed the last piece of some guy named Jordy’s birthday cake. I respond with something mildly clever like, “Wow, sounds like you are launching a full court investigation,” to which he responds, “When I want something, I am always willing to go all the way.” And before I know what’s happening, we are off to the races.
Side note: instant messaging platforms like text, gchat and Facebook are the absolute best and worst thing to happen to a sex addict like me. In fact, I can say with almost certainty that I would never have been fully introduced to the depths of my disorder if it weren’t for the invention of virtual real time talk. Any form of communication that offers immediate gratification without the accountability of face-to-face intimacy is a breeding ground for trouble. Because for me, it’s all about the fantasy that he wants to fuck me so bad he is willing to risk his job, his relationship, his standing in the community and whatever else. I can conjure up this scenario much easier in my head than I can look someone in the eye. Because eye contact is real and for the sex addict, reality is a level 10 buzz kill.
Our tempo is civilized at first, one message for another as we flirt coquettishly, but I know from the blood rushing to my head where things are going. It’s escalating into sexual metaphors and now we are typing fast and over each other. My face is flush and my chest is warm and I am having that blissful sensation between my legs. I see that work emails are coming in but they will have to wait. My mouth is dry. Endorphins are pumping through me. I can no longer feel the chronic tightness I always have in my shoulders or stiffness of my lower back. More emails come in. Now the phone is ringing—straight to voicemail. There’s no time for any of it. I am starting to lose my hearing. My palms are wet.
He suggests we meet in the supply closet down the hall. It’s risky but I don’t have much choice. This has got to happen now if I expect to get any more work done today. I close my chat window, take a sip of water and make my way down the hall. I realize I am shaking as my dripping wet hand turns the knob of the supply closet door. He grabs me. And seconds later, it’s over.
We look at each other. He’s not that cute but that doesn’t matter. My need for his attention is desperate and leaves me powerless to have an opinion about his physicality. This isn’t about attraction, it’s about addiction; it’s about how well his illness speaks to mine. This wasn’t something I sought out or even something I wanted. An inter-office affair is against company policy and he has a live-in girlfriend. But that’s the thing about addiction; it’s smarter and more resourceful than you are. It has the ability get itself fed no matter the cost.
The next two months are pure hell. I show up to work but I am useless. I spend my days sex messaging him and my nights compulsively masturbating and thinking about him. I don’t want to date him—my God, I don’t even know him—but my sickness needs him to be available to engage with me 24/7. Lunches are spent in an underground parking structure—having sex in his car. After work, he comes to my place for more.
The weekends are torture. I can’t sleep or eat. I lose hours staring at my phone waiting for him to text me back. I beg him to come over. He is the only thing that can fix me but he isn’t available. It hurts so bad that I can feel it in my gut. I sit on the floor of my bedroom, rocking back and forth, praying out loud for the pain of obsession to stop. I cry. I drink. I snort coke. I fuck other men. None of it quiets the monster. Because it’s not about the sex, it’s about the stakes—a secret affair that puts our jobs and his relationship in jeopardy is what gets me off.
It was a Friday morning in early June when I arrived at work to find that I had been locked out of my computer. I didn’t think much of it. I just walked down the hall to the HR department to fill out an IT request. It was there that the office manager greeted me with a packet and an envelope.
“Good morning, Danielle,” she said. “Today will be your last day.”
The packet was termination papers and the envelope was my unused vacation pay. I started to well up with tears. If I hadn’t been so young and inexperienced in life, I would have been expecting this. It made complete sense. I hadn’t engaged in more than 15 minutes of actual work since the beginning of April and what I had been doing was stored and free for viewing on the company servers. But I was dumb. I really thought I was getting away with it, that no one else knew what was going on but me and my secret, not-that-cute lover.
At first I felt defensive and wanted an explanation so I could deny it all. But it occurred to me that the humiliation of their proof would be unbearable so I just signed the paperwork, now wet with tears, took my check and left.
I’d like to tell you that this was my bottom—that after losing a job for being dick-mitized, I threw myself into recovery and turned it all around. But that just isn’t the case. There would be dozens of scenarios similar to this for years to come. I would jeopardize more jobs, friendships, living situations, my professional reputation and more. And it’s not because I am a glutton for punishment or the consequences are worth the action. It’s because I am a sex addict. Of course, back then I didn’t know I was a sex addict so I didn’t know how to treat it.
Years later, I started seeing a therapist who suggested I check out a 12-step meeting for sex addiction. I followed his direction and checked out a few different of the “S” programs until I found the one that suited me. I started attending meetings and working the steps. Slowly but surely, I began to recover. I learned that at the root of my addiction was an acute case of low self-esteem. That somewhere along the road, I learned that men liked women because men liked sex and that if a woman offered sex to a man, she would get his undivided attention. I also found that the reason I craved a man’s undivided attention was that is was the only thing that made me feel worth something because my own father wasn’t around to show me otherwise. You know, textbook daddy issues.
But that is just how sex addiction works or more accurately doesn’t work in my life. The various ways sex addicts can act out run the spectrum. There are porn addicts and webcam addicts, phone sex addicts and prostitute addicts. There are people who feel sexting isn’t cheating and that mutual masturbation with a co-worker is a relationship loophole. There are men and women who demand sex from their partners whenever they want it and become verbally and sometimes physically abusive if their needs are not met.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a vast lack of awareness about sex addiction in our society. The DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Volume 4, Text Revision) doesn’t actually recognize “sex addiction” but rather categorizes the affliction as Sexual Disorders Not Otherwise Specified, describing it as a “distress about a pattern of repeated sexual relationships involving a succession of lovers who are experienced by the individual only as things to be used.” It goes on to include “compulsive searching for multiple partners, compulsive fixation on an unattainable partner, compulsive masturbation, compulsive love relationships and compulsive sexuality in a relationship.”
But much like any other addiction, there are sex addicts who can’t hold down jobs and others who have high-level positions. There are sex addicts that can’t make relationships work and those that are married with children. Some may appear to be high functioning but in private are draining their bank accounts, racking up credit card debt and even stealing money to feed the beast. Please don’t be fooled by your idea of what a sex addict looks like. We aren’t all scantily clad women with pencil-thin eyebrows, shitty tit jobs and tramp stamps or pasty, overweight gamer dudes in sweatpants and bent-framed glasses—not always, at least. We come in all shapes and social classes. The truth is, you could be dating one. You could be married to one. Hell, for all I know, you are one.