What if I were to tell you that during the last fifteen years, I’ve slept with at least twenty-five different men? Would you think that’s about average? Would you call me a slut or just sexually liberated? What if I said that number was more like fifty? Does that make a difference? How about eighty? Let’s be honest and say that the larger that number gets, the more likely it is that you’ll cast judgment on me.
Do you know why I think this? Because if someone confessed to me that their number of sexual partners tipped closer to triple digits than double, I might think less of them. I feel bad for saying this and it’s ironic given my own sexual history. The truth is, branding someone as way too sexually active is something that we’re culturally programmed to do. Sexual shaming is deeply ingrained in our societal morality. Even in an era when we’re more open about sex, we continue to construct sexual acts as naturally belonging to a committed monogamous relations. But for some of us, sex is not just an act, it’s a compulsion; something that makes us feel alive, valued and vindicated on an emotional and even primal level.
The reality is, I have no idea how many men I’ve slept with since I first became sexually active at the age of seventeen. I do know that the number is high, well beyond what most people would consider average. Even I shake my head at just how far I’ve allowed myself to go.
Shortly after I turned thirty, I admitted something to myself that I never thought I would; I am a sex addict.
This revelation dawned on me one cold February morning as I awoke in a room I had never seen before. It was dingy, poorly lit, with wallpaper peeling in virtually every corner, and a small crack across the window. The only furniture was a mattress and box spring in the middle of the room. The mattress had no sheet on it and based on the stains, it had seen a variety of human fluids throughout its lifetime.
The sound of soft snoring interrupted my foggy thoughts, and I turned to see a man sleeping next to me. No name came to mind. He wasn’t the guy I remembered hooking up with at the party, or the guy I flirted with in the nightclub’s dirty washroom. I had no idea who this dude was. I vaguely recalled being in a taxi with someone. Maybe it was this man? The used condoms discarded on the side of the mattress suggested a busy evening.
I grabbed my phone which was on the floor within arms reach. There was a single text: ‘where are you?!” It was from Kyle, my boyfriend of two years. While we weren’t technically in an open relationship, he had, begrudgingly, accepted that my insatiable sexual appetite meant I wasn’t naturally prone to monogamy. It made me feel guilty and ashamed; I was with a terrific guy and should have been satisfied, but more often than not I’d find myself giving in to physical temptation. I was notorious for thinking with my penis instead of my heart.
I tiptoed around the disgusting room, putting on my clothes planning to make a swift exit before my latest sexual conquest woke-up and attempted to start another round, or worse…conversation. I left the apartment, no note, no phone number and headed outside. The street was no better than the apartment, and I recognized nothing. Not the street name, no landmark, absolutely nothing. Where the hell was I?
This wasn’t the first time I had woken up unaware of where I was. Once, back in college, I went home with some random guy only to discover the next morning that I was in a completely different city two hours away. My partner for the night was kind enough to give me the money to take a Greyhound bus back home.
So, here I was again, unsure of where I was or who I had been with. Why did I keep doing this to myself? In nearly every other facet of my life, I was responsible, mindful and logical. But when it came to sex, I couldn’t control myself. It was as if at the first hint of getting some action, some foreign entity would seize control of my body, overriding my maturity and sense of personal safety.
For years, I denied that there was anything wrong. No, I was just acting like a ‘real man.’ You see, our society makes it so easy for guys to hide behind constructed ideals of masculinity. We’re taught that it’s natural for men to be ‘sex-driven’ and that ‘boys will be boys.’ For too long, this notion has allowed sexual predators to get away with heinous and misogynistic acts. But it has done something else too; it has provided a hiding place for those of us who are addicted to sex.
It was on this walk in the middle of God knows where that I really began to see things objectively. All these years I had thought of myself as sexually liberated, but the truth was sex had imprisoned me. It was always there, occupying my thoughts day and night.
I always insisted that I simply had a high sex drive. But when I looked back on the evidence, the truth began to settle uneasily in my stomach. I almost constantly craved sexual gratification. It didn’t matter how. It could be with my partner, a total stranger, or with my right hand; I always needed it. It wasn’t unheard of for me to reach orgasm four or more times a day, particularly in my late teens and early twenties. The longer I went without coming, the more irrational I’d get. We’ve all heard the term ‘hangry’ when someone because irritable because they’re hungry. Well, I got ‘sex angry’ when I was horny. All I could think about was when I was going to shoot my next load. I began to see that my behavior was no different than a drug user getting desperate for their next hit.
Sex hadn’t just become a source of pleasure, it had become a defence mechanism; a way for me to bury my pain and feelings of worthlessness. You see, I didn’t like myself. I had never really allowed myself the opportunity to grow into my own skin, to love the man I had become.
I had spent most of my early adulthood trying to deny the fact that I am gay. When I finally came out, I pretended like everything was perfectly fine, that I had released all my inner doubts and self-hatred. Of course, I was lying to myself. Sex provided me with a way of feeling good about myself. If so many guys wanted to get in my pants than I must be worth something. And yet, it was destroying my life.
I had finally landed an amazing man, someone who loved me, warts and all, and I love him fully. But my drive for sex was going to destroy our relationship, I could feel it. I was playing with fire, risking a potentially life long partnership for a few minutes of physical pleasure.
Kyle had long suspected I had a problem with sex. During arguments, he would bring up this uncomfortable truth. He would tell me he knew I was screwing around, or that I was constantly checking out every good looking guy who walked past. He also knew that as much as I loved him, I didn’t always feel sexually satisfied with him. Not because he wasn’t good in bed, but because there was no way for any man to keep me happy. I was the only one who could control that.
Looking back on my romantic life, I had only ever been in a relationship with four men. With the exclusion of Kyle, the other three were partnerships that I knew would never actually work. The first was with a workaholic who lived three hours away. There was never a real possibility of my moving closer or him giving up his career and moving in with me. My second was with my boss who was heterosexually married. While he was my first great love, I think I knew from day one that he’d eventually choose his wife. The third was a Catholic priest, who in fairness, I didn’t know was a priest until after we’d slept together a few times. Kyle was the first man who had no ulterior motives, and who was willing to put up with me.
The truth was, I had never been faithful to any of these guys despite being in love with all of them. For some time, I had believed that I was just one of those guys who wasn’t capable of being monogamous. I mean, you can still love someone but have multiple sex partners. Many couples in open relationships are remarkably successful and happy. But I knew that’s not what Kyle desired, and I wanted to be able to give him the kind of relationship he craved. I felt it was the least I could do for someone who had changed my life for the better in so many ways.
It was dawning on me like it never had before. I was a sex addict, plain and simple. Like many addicts, I had weaponized sex to shield my pain, self-loathing, and depression. I used sex as a way to ignore my problems and feel wanted and desired. I believed it would make up for my emotional issues and lack of self-esteem.
I tried to think of the number of men I’d had sex with over the years, but the truth is I had no idea. I stopped counting some time after I hit thirty partners. For the record, that was probably only one or two years after I had become sexually active. I had been around. I had done it in beds, cars, alleyways, washrooms, backrooms, closets, outdoors, and even in public locations. There is nothing wrong with any of that because sex is meant to be fun, but the clear level of my sexual accesses was impossible to ignore.
There had been moments of clarity over the years where I’d momentarily allow myself to see the truth. I vividly remember coming home after a particularly rough hookup. I had bite marks all over my body, light choke-marks around my neck, and some bruising on my legs. I looked at myself completely naked and allowed myself to truly feel how damaged I was. I broke down and sobbed to the to the point of throwing up. I felt an emptiness in my heart and a burning hatred in my stomach. A chorus of “you’re a worthless whore” played in my head repeatedly. Yet, after an hour I pulled myself together, freshened up and headed out to another party where I went to bed with someone new.
In the past, when I’d had these moments of truth, I would feel them and then hop right into the next available bed. I wasn’t willing to face the reality of what was happening. Getting off was much easier than feeling good about myself, and developing a healthy relationship with sex. But this is what many addicts do. We’re aware of the addiction, but we tune it out. It’s like a radio, we hear a song we don’t like and simply change the station. This is why most addicts have to hit rock bottom before they finally admit they need help.
Had I hit rock bottom? I don’t know, but my life had changed. For the first time, I was in a devoted relationship and I didn’t want to lose that; I didn’t want to run away. I also knew that if I didn’t stop I was headed for a heap of trouble. I had been so lucky that despite my high number of partners, I had miraculously evaded contracting a single sexually transmitted infection. Although I had been reckless, I had always managed to play safe. How much longer would that record hold if I kept going? And worse, what if one day I gave something to Kyle? I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.
So, I got help. I went to a therapist who also suggested a support group. I have to admit I was hesitant about joining a group. Sex addiction is still not taken seriously. Often sex addiction support groups are the butt of jokes on television or in films. They are portrayed as a group of people who can’t get through a sentence before talking, thinking, or acting sexually. As I walked into my first group meeting, that’s what I expected to see.
The truth is, sex addicts come from all backgrounds and walks of life. In my group, there was a medical doctor, a college professor, an administrative assistant, a grandmother of eight, a farmer, a taxi driver, and a Ph.D. student. None of us acted like horny teenagers unable to contain ourselves. Instead, we dug deep and realized the commonality we shared. The pain that caused us to use sex as an escape.
My life changed drastically since I got help. Kyle and I have, for the time being, decided to keep our relationship mutually exclusive. This is not to say I don’t enjoy sex anymore, or that I’m not still filled with desires. The difference is that I’m no longer driven by pain or low self-esteem. I’ve learned to recognize those feelings and to channel them into other activities, and how to talk about them openly with Kyle and close friends.
I won’t lie and say it’s been easy, because it hasn’t. When I see a good looking man, it is hard (no pun intended) for me not to sexualize him or dream up steamy scenarios. I’ve had several close calls, but I have managed to pull myself back when those urges come forward.
No one is ever cured of addiction. Rather, you must live your life one day at a time. If you or someone you love is dealing with sexual addiction, there are many paths available to get help. Sexual Addicts Anonymous maintains a listing of support groups and programs available across North America. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is one of the strongest and most powerful things you’ll ever do.