Adam fears the sniggers most of all. That is why he is afraid to tell his family or friends about his addiction. “No one takes it seriously”, he says. He once told a friend who just laughed. They continued to laugh despite Adam insisting that his addiction was ruining his life.
Adam is addicted to sex and the problems it has caused are no laughing matter. Due to his addiction he has lost his long-term partner. In work he received a written warning for going missing during office-hours. His boss didn’t know the real reason was his near-daily visit to see sex workers at a nearby ‘massage parlour’. He also ended up in debt because he paid for sex with his overdraft facility. “I have caused so much suffering to myself and others that the momentary pleasure seems such as a waste, he ruefully admits.”
Adam can’t recall how or when his addiction became a problem. He says he was always particularly virile and would usually have sex at least five times a week. His last girlfriend had a similar sex drive and both felt it was a normal situation for two 25 year olds. Gradually though, after two years in the relationship, Adam began to view porn on a daily basis. Then he went on a stag weekend to Prague and paid for sex for the first time in his life. When he returned home, he began to research sexual services in Ireland such as massage parlours and escorts. “I knew I was going down a rocky road but the desire for more and more sex just took over my very being,” Adam says. “I was thinking about sex morning, noon and night. I often chatted to women online and then travelled many miles to meet complete strangers. I discovered dogging areas where couples had sex in front of strangers. That meant I often spent many nights out until very late. To give me the freedom to do so, I was suddenly making up bizarre reasons so that I didn’t have to meet my girlfriend. I would pretend to be going on lad’s weekends, be playing in a football tournament that required travel or just feign tiredness from work”.
Adam is not alone. While there are no official figures for sex addiction in Ireland, in the U.S the figure is put at roughly ten percent of the population. Dr.Eoin Stephens is a Psychotherapist and Counsellor with over twenty five years of experience of addiction counselling. He sees no reason why the figure from the United States is not just as high in Ireland. He says because we tend not to talk about our sex lives or indeed our sexual problems, the issue remains hidden. “People’s reaction doesn’t help”, according to Dr.Stephens. He believes male bravado usually kicks in with the mere mention of sex addiction and male friends will say things such as “you lucky git” and they will be generally more envious than sympathetic.
Before Adam began to seek out sex everyday and often every night, he had a respected job, a loving girlfriend and a great social life. His social life soon slipped by the wayside when he began spending more time looking for his next sexual fix and less and less time in the company of friends. But worst of all, according to Adam, his relationship ended on very bad terms. “My girlfriend discovered a very varied and detailed online search history on my laptop. She also discovered more material on a back-up drive. I just broke down when she confronted me and admitted everything including my use of prostitutes. That was the night she left.”
Dr.Stephens believes the problems associated with sex addiction are as real, if not worse, than other addictions. And often they are worse too for the partners of addicts. He says partners of sex addicts can often have more difficulty regaining trust than is the case with most other addictions. “A partner sees it as an insult to the most intimate part of the relationship. It’s harder for a partner to feel supportive than say if drink or drugs were the problem.” The problems for partners of sex addicts are so comprehensive that Psychotherapist, U.S based Paula Hall, has written Sex Addiction: The Partner’s Perspective with chapter headings such as “Surviving the Trauma of Discovery” and “Re-pairing Self-identity and Self-Esteem.” Dr.Stephens believes books such as this are vital because sexual opportunities are now so easily accessible via the internet. He also believes that stigmatisation associated with sexual addiction is a problem. Recent stories about Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey equating their actions or harassment to sexual addiction means sufferers might baulk from coming forward for fear of being seen as predatory.
In Adam’s case treatment has helped. The aim of therapy is to control the compulsion rather than stop it completely. “Sex is the most natural thing in the world but it’s not natural when it takes over the majority of your thoughts and starts ruining relationships. I am learning to shift the focus of my attention but, like any addict, it’s one day at a time.”
*Dr.Eoin Stephens can be contacted at eoinstephens.com
*Adam did not wish for his full name to be used