What it’s like having a sex addict for a father, and how it shaped my life

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  • As a young girl, Abby* knew her father’s sexual behaviour wasn’t normal—but didn’t realise just how much it would change her, too

    You’ve likely heard the term sex addict thrown around. It stereotypically refers to someone who has a lot of regular sex, often with lots of different people, rather than just the one person.

    Yet, the term actually refers to a much more serious and sobering medical condition. If you have a sex addiction, you compulsively and routinely obsess over sex. You also often feel the urge to do it in inappropriate and unconventional situations. Similarly, people can suffer from love addiction, where you gravitate towards negative and degrading relationships driven by the subconscious need to be loved, and porn addiction, where you feel the need to watch or look at porn compulsively.

    In the psychology world, they’re largely considered to be psychological conditions similar to alcohol or drug addiction. They’re negative, consistent, often controlling disorders that can end up taking over your life, and make you act in ways that leave those around you hurt.

    Ever considered what having a sex addict for a father must be like? Here, Abby* shares her story—of grief, of shame, of growth and of coming to terms with how her father’s addiction shaped and molded her own life. If you or someone you know may be struggling with sex addiction, head to sexaddictionhelp.co.uk, where they can provide you with emotional help, advice and support.

    Sex Addict: a woman stares into the distance

    Having a sex addict for a father: what it’s like

    “My earliest childhood memory is scaling the bookshelves of my father’s home office and accidentally discovering his shocking stash of hardcore porn magazines. It marked my first encounter with my father’s sexuality, but it would prove far from the last. Now, 30 years later, he (a once successful businessman approaching 70) and I (a 36-year-old writer and mother) are striving to rebuild our relationship. A relationship badly damaged by decades of strange behaviour that we now recognise as sex addiction.”

    “For most of us, the idea of sex addiction conjures up an image of Michael Fassbender in the film Shame. My greying Parisian father is no film star, yet with my glamorous Haitian mother, he formed half of a handsome, jet-setting couple. When my two brothers and I were growing up, both my parents had high-flying jobs. They worked for an international bank and a Government institution. It meant they were often away travelling the world, while we were looked after by an ever-changing roster of nannies. We were normally at one of our homes in the affluent suburbs of Paris, New York or Washington.”

    Growing up knowing there was a problem

    “From an early age, we could sense the tensions pervading our parents’ marriage. My father had a preoccupation with other women: he would stare at them wherever we went. To cope with our embarrassment, my siblings and I passed him off as a randy Frenchman. Developing our own brand of gallows humour was a defence mechanism.”

    “As teenagers, we’d laugh at how our dear Dad would leer at our girlfriends. We’d heckle him about the hideously inappropriate sculptures of copulating couples strewn around his office. We’d jest about the likelihood that he had five or six illegitimate families dotted around the world as the result of various ‘business trips’.”

    “Of course, all this joking masked genuine hurt, particularly for me as the only daughter. As an awkward teenager saddled with DD breasts, I needed a safe, comforting father who’d make me feel valued and beautiful. Instead, I had one who oafishly commented that I looked sexy when I was on my way out for the night.”

    Coping with Dad’s disorder

    “Although he was never at all sexually inappropriate with me, his behaviour did impact me. Feeling crushed by his overwhelming sexuality, I opted to erase my burgeoning one by developing anorexia. I felt that if I starved myself, my sexuality might disappear. When, during my teenage years, a doctor announced I was on the brink of death and needed to be hospitalised, I saw my father weep for the first time. I recovered, but was so introverted that by the time I started university in London, aged 18, I hadn’t even had my first kiss. Watching my fellow students effortlessly flit into relationships, I yearned for a father like my friends had, who could teach me how to feel lovable. At 21, I finally lost my virginity during a one-night stand. Subsequently, I set off to make up for lost time by having numerous flings.”

    “Then, halfway through my degree, I accidentally fell pregnant with my son following a short romance. My parents proved amazingly supportive. When my son was born, I found myself a single parent. They encouraged me to pursue a master’s in journalism while they looked after the baby. My father had never changed a nappy before, but ironically he became a super-nanny to his beloved grandson. At the time, he was having a short ‘career break’. What I didn’t realise was that he’d been forced to take early retirement. This was in part due to a series of sexual indiscretions at his workplace. We would also later learn that he was covering the rent on two separate apartments in Paris for his mistresses.”

    Distancing myself from the distress

    “In the years that followed, my relationship with my father became almost purely financial. He payed for my flat and any other necessities I struggled with. Meanwhile, I put all my energy into building a career as a journalist. Around the same time, I got into a relationship. I adored the man: he seemed sweet, generous and, most importantly, big on fidelity, having been traumatized after his mother cheated on his father. Just as my life seemed to be coming together, he announced he no longer wanted to be with me. Having actively sought out a man who seemed different to Dad, he had a strikingly similar fear of commitment.”

    “It was the catalyst that sent me off on a period of unbridled promiscuity. This was, in hindsight, a misguided attempt to understand my father. My brothers dealt with their own issues by becoming model father-husbands. They tusked with disapproval at this period of my life. I had cold, robotic affairs with attached men. Not being a sex addict myself, I inevitably fell hard for one. Like my father, he was intellectually brilliant and well-travelled, but totally emotionally unavailable. I eventually learned that he, too, was a sex addict, shagging reams of prostitutes in addition to eight regular partners, including me.”

    Seeking help

    “Something had to change. I didn’t want to turn into my long-suffering mother. I also had my son to consider, who, against all odds, had grown into a well-adjusted teenager. So instead I embarked on some serious therapy. The Hoffman Process is an eight-day retreat famed for its introspection. At the end, you complete a ‘bashing session’ during which you symbolically beat your parents’ most negative traits with a baseball bat.”

    “After talking about my anger with therapists, trying to understand my father’s own past and then bashing my imaginary father to smithereens, I finally felt a sense of relief, and an intense amount of love and forgiveness for him. I realised he was the product of a selfish, loveless mother. All he had tried to do was show me love the best way he knew how, by doting on my son.”

    Finally finding peace

    “The new-found serenity I discovered allowed me to finally speak to my father about his behaviour. It also spurred him to complete the Hoffman Process in order to start recovering from his addiction. In a letter he wrote to me subsequently he thanked me ‘for saving him’. He signied it off, ‘your father who loves you with all his heart’. It was a momentous step for him to accept that he had a problem and begin the process of working through it.”

    “Now that I feel assured of his love, I no longer need to look for it in the wrong places. For example, when, after a recent interview, a very beautiful and very attached French actor made it clear he’d like to take me out. I simply walked away and headed home to my favourite little guy. He, for now at least, prefers his precious video games to sex.”

    Black Friday 2021

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