According to the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health, what separates addicts from nonaddicts isn’t necessarily how often people look at porn or the number of partners they have had or whether they’ve had an affair. The difference is in control, in being able to stop the behavior before they spend thousands of dollars, or contract a sexually transmitted disease or get arrested.
So while sex addiction might sound like a lesser burden to most people, those struggling with their addiction tell a different story, one not only of pain, loneliness and despair, but also one of simple physical danger.
“In my [anonymous support] group,” Roger says, “many have gone to jail. Many have been hospitalized with mental illness. And many are dead or dying. Many are HIV positive, for example. Some people suddenly stop coming to meetings — are they dead? No one knows.”
The financial costs can be staggering. At a recent group meeting, Roger says, two men each admitted to spending more than $100,000 satisfying their addiction.
Others have had trouble with the law, their jobs and, most commonly, their personal relationships.
Some addicts even lead double lives to keep their addiction hidden, such as Andrew did.
“I had this outside life in which people knew who I was, where I worked and what I did for a living. Then there was this dark side of my life which was filled with secrets.”
While many people would “just stop” such painful behavior, addicts say it’s not that simple.
“If you’re not an addict yourself,” Andrew says, “it might be difficult to understand why I am an addict.”
For several sex addicts, it is the crippling silence that surrounds their addiction that makes treatment even more difficult.
“I would be able to confess to a friend, family member or coworker that I was having trouble with drinking or even drugs,” Tim says.
“Confessing sexual addiction to these same people would be very difficult.”
“The fact that you can’t talk about it makes it difficult for people to get help and find resources,” Roger says.
Resources are available, and they are growing with the demand. More therapists now offer sex addiction treatment, and several 12-step programs have branches in Colorado.
The road to recovery, however, can be as long as for any other addiction, and often the hardest part is realizing there’s a problem. The pervasive belief that “this is just what guys do” plays a big part.
For Roger, recovery began with a book.
“I didn’t think it was abnormal for decades,” he says of his behavior.
Then he read Patrick Carnes’ In the Shadows of the Net, one of the first books to discuss Internet pornography addiction. After reading it, he says, he felt that “this is my diary.”
Carnes, a nationally known speaker and author on addiction and recovery, first used the term “sex addiction” in the 1980s and has since published several books on the subject.
For Tim, recovery began after hitting “rock bottom” during the week that his addiction pushed him to the edge. He has been in recovery for about seven months.
In his nearly nine years with the recovery program, Andrew has mentored — sponsored, as it is called within the program — men from ages 25 to 62. He also has a sponsor of his own to whom he can turn.
Posted on the Sex Addicts Anonymous website are the group’s 12 Steps, adapted from and similar to the AA steps. Step Number 12 encourages members to “carry this message to other sex addicts.”
Andrew and others have taken this message to heart. “I have been a speaker at sex addiction conferences, local meetings and even at small gatherings at a person’s home,” he says. “I am not afraid to answer questions or share about my sex addiction.”
A few years ago, he and a female sex addict also addressed a group of about 20 undergraduate students and answered questions after their presentation.
“The students just could not get why we kept doing the same behaviors over and over if we would feel like shit,” he says.
Both Tim and Roger say they hope that by sharing their experiences they can help to break some of the silence around sex addiction.
Media coverage of the issue, however, seems to be a mixed blessing.
“It´s these big-name celebrities that are shedding light on sex addiction,” Andrew says. “[But] mainstream media ... just don’t understand sex addiction.”
And what the media doesn’t understand is that sex addiction isn’t about the sex.
“This is all about isolating,” Roger says. “It’s about being alone.”
Colorado Sex Addicts Anonymous www.colosaaintergroup.org 303-847-4980 firstname.lastname@example.org
Sexaholics Anonymous www.sa.org, 866-424-8777
Denver branch of Sexaholics Anonymous www.denversa.org 303-292-3376