Just when you’ve satisfied yourself that addiction to sex is possible, and that your partner is a sex addict, you read an article (usually an old one) that claims sex addiction is make believe. You hear the anger of a spouse who insists that her husband is just a cheat, or you look at the TV where a religious leader describes the problem as nothing more than moral turpitude, or a family member calls and asks why on earth you are still with that guy who is obviously a pervert? Even though none of the sources of this “information” are reliable, you begin to wonder all over again what is really going on with your husband.
The overwhelming message society will give you about men who visit porn sites and prostitutes or who engage in sex outside of established, exclusive relationships, is that they are bastards, not addicts. You may feel pressure to concur even if your husband doesn’t fit the bastard description in any other aspect. He’s a good father; a thoughtful companion; a hard-worker. He seems to love you; he wants you to be happy, and he trying in every way he knows to cope with an intrusive addiction. Yet you are meant to see him as a kind of psychopath indifferent to your feelings, if not intentionally evil.
Society’s negativity toward those with sex addiction underlines the disconnect between how you feel emotionally (however hurt you are, you may still love him) and how you feel politically (disgusted and angry on behalf of yourself and all spouses who are in such a predicament). The world tends to want to punish and blame. The reasoning goes that if there has been a betrayal of such a gross degree, someone ought to pay.
This notion that we divide people into categories of good and bad, and that we punish “wrong-doers” is so entrenched in our thinking that we apply it even in cases in which it makes no practical sense and in which it pains us to do so. I felt tremendous pressure to meet my husband’s infidelity with a serious consequence. If I did not punish him for having so egregiously transgressed would it be understood that I was condoning his behaviour? Unless I immediately separated from him, was I saying it was “okay” to treat me and our family as he was doing? And what about the women who he looked at on-line or in strip clubs or paid for outright for sex? Was I participating in their plights by not doing something to show how wrong it was?
Some of my friends felt the answer to all those questions was yes. But it sounds like he doesn’t even want to do these things, I’d try to explain. Like he hates it, too, but somehow can’t stop himself.
I’d be told I was crazy to think that way. That he just liked having sex with other women, that addiction was an excuse, and that nobody was born an addict.
Even if a person doesn’t want to look at the science, or believe what that sex addiction is real, the effects of the addiction are becoming more present in our society. Addicts become reliant on pornography for arousal or climax. Dependency on porn may eventually make arousal in the company of live partners difficult, if not impossible. Studies link erectile dysfunction in men—even young men—to long hours watching porn. How is the problem cured? By stopping watching porn. The problem for the addict, of course, is that even when pornography fails to turn the addict on anymore he does not stop watching it—he can’t.
One day, even the most stubborn sceptics about sex addiction will change their minds, but for now we just have to decide for ourselves and try not to be swayed by the name-calling. After all, reports supporting the existence of sex addiction as a real problem are relatively new. I had none of the data available to me when I first discovered my husband’s addiction. But even if I had, I think I’d still have wondered how it was that the man said he loved me but did all those things with other women, knowing that doing so would hurt me so much. To answer, “Because he’s an addict” was not enough for me. Even if “he’s an addict” explained why he engaged in a sexual encounter, itself, it didn’t explain why he then lied, covered up, denied, and later tried to downplay the entire, sordid event. Being an addict might account for some of these actions but surely not all.
I’ve come to realize, however, that sex addiction may not be exactly what it sounds like. He isn’t addicted to good sex or sex with beautiful women. This isn’t a case of him wanting “better” sex. I know this only because he wasn’t getting better sex when he acted out. He was getting terrible sex with whomever he could find or pay. The important thing for the addict is the fantasy that accompanies the act, rather than the act itself, which is often disappointing. Fantasy transports him from his real life. Sex blots out what is really happening inside him. And what is happening inside him is terrible, debilitating shame.
Why does the distinction between being addicted to sex and being addicted to sex fantasy matter? Perhaps it doesn’t. But it helps to understand the fantasy component because then it makes sense that he’d engage in sex even when his physical sex drive is low, even if he can’t get an erection while doing so, or even when he’s getting plenty of sex at home.
Other pieces fit together when you think of it as a fantasy addiction, a means through which he can escape from reality, rather than a hedonistic search for better sex. The rituals that come before an episode of sexual “acting out” have been observed to be very similar to those used by narcotics addicts before taking a drug. A state of hyperarrousal (not sexual arousal, as such, but a kind of awakened excitement of the addict’s entire being) precedes the event, and sex addicts enter a state they often refer to as “the bubble” in which they are completely consumed by the planning and execution of their next sexual encounter.
The addict then does everything he can to elongate the time that sex occupies in his mind, to stay in the fantasy. His experience of addiction begins with these first moments of anticipation. He may or may not have any specific partner in mind or any specific act, but this preamble to sex pulls him away from negative feelings about himself and his life at least for a while.
Before I understood this idea of “the bubble” my husband’s rituals of trawling through web pages or magazines pages or clubs made me think he had no compunction about what he was doing. Four hours on porn? Surely, he’d have given me a thought at some point during the marathon? But one of the more common traits of sex addicts is how incredibly self-absorbed they are. Once “inside the bubble”, not only can an addict not imagine how much pain his obsessive pursuit of sex might cause his wife, he can’t think of his wife at all. Sex addicts think they are doing something to themselves, medicating themselves, and that as long as you don’t find out, you won’t be affected. It isn’t that he deliberately pushed you away from his thoughts. It is that at a certain point in his addictive acting out, his thoughts about sex subsume all others and you are swept away with the rest of rational thinking.
Once the act is completed (the fantasy being dashed ultimately by the awful reality) the addict despairs. First, because the act was so fruitless—he’s back where he started, the same as last time. The sex almost certainly wasn’t what he’d hoped for, and didn’t accomplish whatever he’d imagined it might (yet again). And now he’s opened the possibility that you will find out and the only real love in his life will be taken away. He regrets what he’s done. He’s deeply sorry; he has almost unbearable shame.
Even worse, he knows he is likely to do it all again.
If you consider your husband’s “slips” (and the lies that accompany them) personal affronts, devious and self-serving, I know how you feel. I felt exactly the same way. If you don’t understand how he can do such things, I get it. I didn’t either. I didn’t know the first thing about addiction. I couldn’t understand why my husband didn’t just stop. Or why he found it so difficult not to cheat on me. It was baffling and painful.
Moreoever, I didn’t want to learn about sex addiction because the process of learning about it was also excruciating. I’d hear an addict talk about how he began to mix fantasy with reality so that every woman he met became a character in his invented sexual world and I’d positively glow with anger. Or I’d listen to a woman tell me who her partner was triggered by everyone from the woman next to him on the train to the teller at the grocery store and I’d want to rip her out of that abusive relationship. I was angry at myself for not “doing something”, but what was I suppose to do? And I was angry at the world because it had apparently become a place geared up to get my husband aroused. Meanwhile, every good thing in my marriage seemed to be turning to dust.
I searched the internet for hope. But I’d go to one website and find dreadful railing against sex addicts and an insistence that anyone who stayed with one was “sick” herself, a co-dependent, a co-addict, etc. The name-calling was horrendous. I’d go to another website and the compassion would be almost entirely for the addict—that poor addict with his troublesome, angry spouse, a person much “sicker” than the addict who only got in the way.
I wonder how many women find the notion of addiction and all the controversy surrounding it so painful they’d rather divorce their husbands than confront it. I don’t think that’s a wise way to proceed, but I can understand it.
Copyright © 2016 by TheWife. All rights reserved.