Sex addiction is often seen as a licence to behave badly. Tom, 39, a charity worker, is actually typical of the thousands of ordinary people who battle this compulsion. Here, he tells his story to David Hurst
I am 32 and a manager of a centre for disabled clients. I have family and lots of friends, but I can’t stop looking at porn online; bondage and ‘rape’ scenes. I rationalise it: I’m a single man with a high sex drive, I’ll stop when I meet someone.
Then I meet Stephanie at a friend’s wedding. We start dating. Most of my relationships before have been based around drink or drugs. Ever since my teens I’d been a heavy drinker and, when I hit 30, I knew I had to do something about it so I went to Alcoholics Anonymous and managed to stop. After that, I dabbled with smoking heroin, but soon the penny dropped that this was another symptom of the same addictive illness, so I went to Narcotics Anonymous. With Stephanie, though, I’m sober, and it feels great. I’m ecstatic about meeting someone who loves me, rather than someone looking for another loser to get off their face with. After five months, I move into her place and we redecorate.
We do normal things: cook, watch films, listen to music, go for long walks. She’s beyond my wildest dreams in every way and makes me laugh loads. I fancy her like mad which is amazing, too.
Now I have Stephanie, I hope that all this darkness and obsession with sex will abate. I’ve been plagued by violent sexual fantasies since I was 13. I’ve no idea where they come from – I’ve never been violent and I have no memory of being abused. After each fantasy, I would feel terrifying remorse. Right up to my thirties, I had as much sex as I could. Drunken one-night stands were ideal – I’d have really dark fantasies during sex and wouldn’t even look the woman in the eye afterwards.
After moving in with Stephanie, I still look at internet porn whenever I get the chance. I stay up until the early hours, mesmerised. When I creep into bed, I cannot hold her. She’s so beautiful, yet I choose to look at depraved images rather than cuddling her.
Then my behaviour escalates. As soon as I get to my office in the mornings, I look at porn. One morning I get caught by a colleague; he’s a bit of a lad and jokes that he gets all his women online. I find myself in a phone box scanning the prostitute cards. I’ve always thought blokes who see prostitutes are sad, but the high, starting from when I dial the number, is better than anything.
I go to a basement studio flat. There are two girls there, presumably for safety. I pay one and go to the bedroom with the other. She’s blonde, early twenties and surprisingly sexy. I act as though I’m chatting to someone in a shop. She’s friendly, but not too chatty. Getting undressed is very clinical, but I just go for it during the sex. It feels amazing to be doing this because it’s forbidden and just sex.
Afterwards, I want to run out of there. I’m shaking with remorse. When I get home, I lie to Stephanie, tell her I had a coffee on the way home. My skin crawls. I vow never to do it again.
I’m seeing prostitutes a few times a week. But it’s not about the sex; it’s the preparation, the raw excitement as I tell Stephanie I need some fresh air and rush out. I see prostitutes on the way home from work, when we’ve just finished watching a film or eating our dinner, sometimes when Steph’s gone to bed before me and is asleep. When I get the pull to go, it’s as if I turn into someone else. The high is like being totally out of it on drink or drugs, only more so.
I like younger prostitutes who do anal best, but I’ve tried all sorts. I’m in debt, but I can’t stop. I rationalise that it’ll help save my relationship. I love Steph and we have great sex; it’s more intimate with her. I’m pushing her for anal sex, but she doesn’t want it.
For months now, I’ve been restless. It’s like I have a noose fitted round my neck and each time I’m led by my urges, it pulls tighter. I lie awake thinking about taking my life. It’s the only way I can stop this. The relief I feel at the thought scares me.
I take Steph away for her birthday and propose. I do it because I love her and because I think it will make me change. As we fall asleep cuddling, I try to stop the thoughts, like a poison, seeping through me. I can’t understand why I do things that go directly against the way I feel about commitment. But there it is again, within the hour, that gnawing. I lie awake for most of the night. One evening soon afterwards, Stephanie tells me she’s pregnant. I’m the happiest man alive – until I remember what a lowlife I am.
Our wedding is fantastic, but on our honeymoon I discover my compulsions don’t give a shit that I’m now married and soon to be a daddy. I sneak away while Steph’s asleep and drive for hours in search of a prostitute. This is really difficult for me to remember and I’ve tried to blank it out. I saw two prostitutes during our honeymoon.
When we get back, I confess to my AA sponsor. I feel fear and relief. He says that many people are cross-addicted, that he is, too. I ask why we’re sex addicts. He thinks we’re born with addictive minds. I tell him about my dark thoughts and ask where they come from. He says some people think most sex addicts have been abused. I say I haven’t. He explains that if abuse happens before we’re three, we can’t recall it, yet
it will still have an effect.
That evening, he takes me to my first Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting. The people look like the average bunch you’d see at a supermarket. About a third are women and I find this ‘triggers’ me, so from then on, I go to male-only meetings. I relate to most of what I hear, not necessarily the details, but the feelings of compulsion, terror, bewilderment and despair.
One man tells how he called in at gay saunas every evening before going home to his wife and three children; he missed his daughter’s first school play because he was at a sauna.
I’ve been free for four weeks now. My recovery’s the most important thing in my life; if I let my addictions win, I’ll lose everything. It’s fairly simple, too, so long as I go to meetings each week and talk to recovering sex addicts every day.Sex addiction isn’t about too much sex or the wrong kind. It’s when sex becomes the organising principle, when every moment is devoted to fantasising, planning, ritualising, enacting – then agonising. The cycle begins when a sexual experience relieves painful anxiety. The first time I had an orgasm, I realised that it could remove me from reality for a while. The next time you feel anxious, lonely, hurt or inadequate, you repeat the process. The sex is doubly intoxicating because of the Russian roulette you’re playing with your job, your relationship, your life. You have to continually raise the stakes to get the same high.
Fear of intimacy is at the heart. Sex addicts are frightened of abandonment, betrayal and rejection. Sharing who we are is a problem because, at our core, we feel unlovable. AA and NA really help; I now realise my main addiction was always sex. Dealing with it directly is why life is taking a much better turn.
I’m advised by my sponsor to confess to Stephanie. It was easy telling her I was a recovering junkie and alcoholic, but a sex addict? It’s an extremely difficult conversation, but eventually she admits to not being surprised. On my sponsor’s advice, I don’t go into details and Stephanie doesn’t ask. We agree to stay married because I’ve committed to recovery.
At times, I feel really low about my past behaviour. I’ve slept with over 100 prostitutes. My sponsor says that all the will in the world can’t change that, but I can ensure I behave decently today.
Our baby is born. He’s perfect, but his arrival makes me feel vulnerable. Sex addicts are very susceptible to relapse. We don’t have to buy drugs; we can create the chemicals.
Three months into recovery, I slip. I hardly remember buying the porn magazine, the high was so great. The next day, I find myself in a phone box. I’m shaking as I dial. The girl says she does anal. When I put the receiver down, I cry. I pray for the craving to go away, but it doesn’t. I pick up the phone again. I dial. My sponsor. Twenty minutes later, he’s with me. He reminds me of things to watch out for: anger, loneliness, self-pity… the list is long. I must be vigilant because this illness won’t take a holiday.
I still go to two AA and two Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings a week. I will not be a husband who goes to prostitutes. I love Steph, she has stood by me through all of this. My gratitude for having such a wonderful wife who understands that I am trying to deal with this on a daily basis can’t be put into words.
Contact Sex Addicts Anonymous on
020-8946 2436 or log on to sexaa.org.