My last post, prompted by an article in which the author did very little to differentiate sex addiction from sex offending (criminal behavior, pedophilia, sex with a minor, etc…), elicited some interesting conversation in the comments. It also got me and Blue Eyes talking quite a bit about this subject of sex addicts and their escalating behavior. It is true that many addicts progress and fall deeper into their addiction until they finally hit rock bottom, but not all sex addicts continue to escalate behavior, and some addicts never do hit rock bottom. Not the rock bottom where they are discovered, or the rock bottom that has them finally divulging their secret life. And one person’s rock bottom can be quite different from another’s. Some addicts go to their death bed without ever having been found out. It has been my observation that very few sex addicts out themselves, so something they did or are doing got them caught. Sometimes this behavior is unhinged, out of touch with reality, dangerous or escalating in frequency. Sometimes they have merely tried to break it off with an acting out partner who is hell bent on the wife (or the world for that matter) knowing the truth, now. Now that they have lost.
Here are some stories of sex addiction “rock bottom” from people we know or stories we have heard first hand:
A wealthy single 30-something Los Angeles attorney is so dependent on his addiction that he is unable to carry on a lasting intimate relationship even though he desperately wants to. He has had short term relationships with many lovely women, but it never lasts because his addiction always gets in the way. He craves sex with prostitutes. He has to have it, then he feels deep shame for participating in behavior he feels is dirty. It is also illegal. He could lose his license and his career if he is caught. He does it anyway. He tries to stop and tells himself he will never seek a prostitute again. He tries to go “cold turkey.” He becomes so desperate that he leaves his downtown office in his $4000 suit in the middle of the day and heads to the nearest street where cheap prostitutes are readily available. He chooses the first woman he encounters and pays her $50 for a blow job. She does not use a condom. She is a drug addict and her face and mouth are covered in sores and it doesn’t stop him. He is not caught by the police. He returns to his office and in an act of desperation, he looks up a number for an addiction center specializing in sex addiction and he calls the number.
A 50-something man with two children has been married for 24 years. This is his second marriage. He cheated on his first wife and married the mistress. He has now cheated on his second wife (the mistress) their entire marriage. He has slept with 20-30 women, some of them being short term, others developing into longer affairs over the two plus decades of his second marriage. He has never loved any of these women. He regrets cheating, but each and every time he partakes, he convinces himself he will never do it again. That he has control. The wife is clueless. While the SA is on a business trip with his latest mistress, the wife becomes suspicious and finds proof of the affair. The wife confronts him and he lies and says this is his first affair, and that the mistress means nothing to him (this is true). The wife demands he dump the mistress and seek help and ostensibly, he does. He goes to therapy and is diagnosed as a sex addict and regularly attends SA meetings, but he doesn’t take it seriously. You know, the whole “god” thing and he’s not like those other guys, and whatever. He does not give up the mistress. Nine months later, the mistress calls the wife and informs her that they never stopped seeing each other and he will be leaving the wife and they will be married. This is when the SA starts taking things seriously. He sees 12 step in a whole new light, he doesn’t want to lose his wife, his marriage, his family. Today, he is currently more than 12 years sober and has been a sponsor for numerous men and is still married. All those years ago though, he did spend his 25th wedding anniversary with the mistress in his wife’s bed (while she was away on business) before acknowledging his addiction.
A 40-something man, married with kids, regularly sees prostitutes, and one particular prostitute is his favorite. He considers her his friend (delusional much), but he always pays her for their time together (of course). He has spent time with the prostitute in his home when his wife and kids have been away, so the prostitute knows where he lives and generally knows his schedule. He goes away with his wife and kids on vacation. There is an emergency and they must return to their house early. When they arrive home, they find that the prostitute and her boyfriend have broken into, and are robbing the house. The prostitute holds the SA and his wife and young kids at gunpoint while she proceeds to tell the wife all her husband’s dirty secrets. The family is not harmed physically. He enters 12 step and therapy. He is still married.
A retired 70 year old man, father of 4, grandfather of 11, is in his home office. The doorbell rings and his wife, taking a break from baking cookies for her grandchildren, opens the door. Standing there is a county sheriff. He has a search warrant. He proceeds to inform her that they will need to confiscate all electronics in the home, specifically any computers or devices with access to the internet. Her husband has been downloading child porn. He claims he had no idea. He is arrested on the spot. The entire family must be interviewed to make sure none of his children or grandchildren have been harmed by grandpa. He enters a mandatory rehabilitative program for porn addiction. He doesn’t return home for weeks, and once he does, he is not allowed to be alone in a room with his grandchildren. He never touched any of them, but this is the consequence of his escalating behavior into child porn. He is in 12 step recovery and is a registered sex offender.
A 30 something male, married with two young children, day job as a software engineer, night job playing in a band, has been caught cheating by his wife. Desperately trying to save her marriage, the wife agrees to an open relationship. She feels like the reason for his behavior is not enough excitement in the bedroom. The rules are, either of them can “date” and have sex with people as long as they inform each other of their plans and their whereabouts and each comes home to the other every night and they wake up together and have breakfast as a family. Both proceed to have sex outside the marriage. One evening while the wife is making dinner, she receives a phone call from a woman saying she is running late for a date with the husband. The wife has no idea who this woman is, so she asks. The woman says she has been dating the husband for six months and they have had sex since the first night, and every encounter since. She says when she couldn’t get ahold of the husband, she looked up their home number. She wants to know what the big deal is as she knows they have an open marriage. So, even though husband has an open marriage and all he has to do is tell the truth, he can’t. What he really wants is the secret. After months of fighting and husband being kicked out of the house, he enters therapy and is diagnosed as a sex addict. He struggles for two+ years and is not able to remain sober. Divorce pending.
A successful 40-something government attorney is out of control. He regularly drinks in excess, partakes in recreational drug use, and has multiple affairs. He has clandestine sexual relationships with women. He is married with two young children. He “dates” two 20-something women in his office at the same time. When one finds out about the other, she becomes unhinged. Out of spite, she accuses the attorney of rape. She has her sister call the wife. She goes to the man’s house and spray paints it with derogatory remarks about the husband. The man is an addict and although he manages to hold onto his job, and his family, he is unable to master his alcoholism and excessive drug use. It’s probably a matter of time before he loses it all. He rarely attends 12 step meetings.
A 30 something married man regularly sees prostitutes. He has maxed out his credit cards and double mortgaged his home in order to pay for his wining and dining lifestyle. He is nearly bankrupt, but decides to take his prostitute “friend” to Atlantic City for a fun getaway. While he is gone, the bank calls the wife and all is revealed. He literally loses everything, his lifestyle, his house, his job (he is so distracted by the rest of his life falling apart) his wife and of course his prostitute “friend.” He regularly attends 12 step meetings and is still hoping to build his life back, some day.
A 60 something accomplished heart surgeon, married with two grown children, has been having affairs with nurses for as along as he can remember. He slips up and the wife finds out, about one. Eventually the whole truth comes out and surgeon is diagnosed as a sex addict. Wife now hates all nurses. She never has sex with her husband again, but remains married for the lifestyle. Surgeon regularly attends SA meetings and cries because he has lost all intimacy with his wife, the only woman he has ever loved. He has 15+ years sobriety.
A 40 something married man is regularly viewing porn at work and at home, and having extramarital relationships with women he meets in chat rooms. He is warned at work to stop viewing porn on company time and company computers. He continues to view porn anyway, and is fired. He and his wife proceed to move from city to city as he is fired from jobs and also as he runs away from the angry women he pursues and then summarily dumps. A new city never does solve the problem, however, and when his wife threatens to leave him because he can’t keep a job and she is tired of moving, he comes clean, enters therapy, is diagnosed as a sex addict and attends regular 12 step meetings. He has been diagnosed for 10 years and has four years of sobriety. Sobriety is hard, people. He has a contentious relationship with his wife, but they are still together. He is one frenetic guy. ADD seems to be a common diagnosis of sex addicts.
And, the familiar story of Blue Eyes (and so many others)… middle aged man behaves badly, escalates from masturbation and porn to affairs with consenting adults, feels shame, promises himself over and over and over that he will never do it again. Never seeks to find the mystery inside of why he behaves in such a manner, so different from what he presents to the world and against his own moral compass. He really really really wants to stop the madness and he breaks things off with the angry other woman. She calls wife, secret life spanning decades is revealed. Sex addiction diagnosis. Recovery begins.
There are many many more stories I could tell, and I am very much simplifying here, but these pretty much represent the majority of scenarios we have been exposed to. There were numerous methods of meeting and grooming the partners including chat rooms, Craig’s List, Ashley Madison and other dating sites. Lots of lying about availability and lies about spouses. Sexual preferences and porn proclivities vary widely, but generally speaking, the stories are scarily similar. I did not, of course, include any stories of my readers. The included stories likewise are anonymous and are from people that were in a meeting one or the other of us attended at some point in time during the past 3 1/2 years of recovery.
I guess what I am trying to say here is that none of the behavior of these men crossed over into sex with minors, or pedophilia, except the porn addict. From the stories I have heard, quite a few porn addicts (unknowingly?) cross over into the realm of child porn. Usually the excuse is that they were downloading so much porn with diminishing returns and they completely lost control of what they were doing and stumbled upon child porn without knowing. Escalation for most often meant they were participating in the illicit activity to a higher degree than they could keep under wraps. Other women don’t like to be ignored, and they often elicit the first discovery event. Or partners just know something is wrong and go snooping. If there is something to find, perhaps the SA has gotten sloppy. I understand that sex addiction is progressive, but I don’t necessarily believe that left unattended sex addition will enter the realm of sex offending.
After listening to my husband talk about his secret life all those many months ago, and after his filling out dozens of pages with hundreds of questions, and then hours of therapy, and three separate diagnoses by trained professionals, I finally accepted the fact that Blue Eyes is an addict. He was diagnosed with sexual acting out problems, with sexual compulsivity, and finally sexual addiction. They are all the same thing. It doesn’t really matter what we call it. Blue Eyes didn’t want to be the way he was anymore. He was obsessed with shame filled behavior that he couldn’t control. He used it to cope with life. Blue Eyes defined his own sobriety and then he defined his recovery path. No one forced him to go to therapy or to go to 12 step, or to do anything really. Sex addiction is not an excuse to hide behind. Recovering sex addicts know this. Blue Eyes floundered for a while. He went to some SA and SAA meetings that weren’t for him. He didn’t want to go at all, but he did. And he kept going until he found the meeting(s) that worked for him. We have that luxury in the town we live in. There are a lot of meetings. By the time I spoke with a specialist in the field of Sex Addiction Induced Trauma (SAIT), six months into the process, my boundaries (to stay) included Blue Eyes continuing to attend SA meetings. There are many success stories there. To me, success stories are the ones where the addicts keep working towards being a better person, not perfect, but better. They don’t all have decades of sobriety, some slip up, some don’t, some have been there for two decades, some for two days. They do have one thing in common though, they admit that they need help mastering their sexual compulsivity, and they find solace in a room full of people who totally understand how that feels.
For those who have just stumbled onto this blog, when my husband was first diagnosed as a sex addict, I frantically searched for articles about sex addiction. I ended up at Psych Central and there before my eyes was a listing of what my husband described as his secret life. The thing about it though, is that Blue Eyes wasn’t escalating. He wasn’t out of control. He just was. He was participating in the same behavior and in the same way as he had been for years. Masturbation and porn, to grooming, to extramarital affairs, this was the progression, the escalation. And when he wasn’t in the throes of acting act with the other woman, he still had masturbation and porn. They were his best friends and they helped him cope with life, from a very young age. They helped him become successful, both in his partnership with me, and in his business. Blue Eyes’ rock bottom was realizing if he didn’t get help, if he didn’t come clean, he truly believed his addiction would kill him. So, although recovery is hard, it is nothing like being an active sex addict.
From Psych Central:
Symptoms of Sexual Addiction
While there is no official diagnosis for sex addiction, clinicians and researchers have attempted to define the disorder using criteria based on chemical dependency literature. They include:
- Frequently engaging in more sex and with more partners than intended.
- Being preoccupied with or persistently craving sex; wanting to cut down and unsuccessfully attempting to limit sexual activity.
- Thinking of sex to the detriment of other activities or continually engaging in excessive sexual practices despite a desire to stop.
- Spending considerable time in activities related to sex, such as cruising for partners or spending hours online visiting pornographic Web sites.
- Neglecting obligations such as work, school or family in pursuit of sex.
- Continually engaging in the sexual behavior despite negative consequences, such as broken relationships or potential health risks.
- Escalating scope or frequency of sexual activity to achieve the desired effect, such as more frequent visits to prostitutes or more sex partners.
- Feeling irritable when unable to engage in the desired behavior.
You may have a sex addiction problem if you identify with three or more of the above criteria. More generally, sex addicts tend to organize their world around sex in the same way that cocaine addicts organize theirs around cocaine. Their goal in interacting with people and in social situations is obtaining sexual pleasure.