When I got sober from drugs and alcohol this last time, I developed a raging sex addiction. Whether it was a repercussion of feeling sexually rejected in my failed marriage or my newest way to cope with unwanted, painful feelings, who knows? All I know is that I wanted out of those feelings and I craved validation. Sex worked — well, sort of, for a while.
I ended up in Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA). I felt like SLAA was extremist and pathologized my feelings and desires. The shares in the meetings triggered me so much that most of the time I was arranging a hook-up on my way from the meeting back to the parking lot. After that I tried Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA). At my first SAA meeting it was me crying in a room full of 12 men. I found some mixed-gender meetings, but I knew deep down that I was also a love addict, so the stories of porn and prostitutes didn’t resonate with me.
Just like with drugs and alcohol, sex had stopped working. I felt empty. I would cry driving home. I’d fall in love with people I knew were just one-night stands. Tinder, the hook-up app, was my bottom. It was fast food sex at the swipe of a finger and, for somebody like me, it was deadly. But just like with substances, I pressed on, deluding myself that it could and would be different the next time.
Then I had my first truly intimate sexual experience, a volatile four-month affair with a newcomer to AA who was 15 years younger. He said he’d only sleep with me once we had an emotional connection. Huh? He thought my energy felt “rapey” and that I was using him to get out of myself, not to connect to him. Whoa. Having sex with somebody who really cared about me and waited to get to know me changed everything. The emotion, the intimacy was the special sauce that made sex great. I sarcastically thanked him for “ruining my sex addiction.”
Don’t get me wrong; I tried to go back to my old behavior. I get lonely. I don’t want to have to book a massage with a 200-pound Korean woman to have somebody touch my naked body. But I’ve found that there’s no going back to how I used to act. It stopped working for me once I’d had something different, better, deeper. The adrenaline-filled anticipation of a hook-up is now followed by a day or two of deep depression wherein I feel emotionally stripped.
Without any sentiment, sex, to me, it’s is about as erotic as somebody putting their finger in my ear. One guy would hand me a hot, wet towel after we had sex, so I could wipe myself down, a habit that felt weirdly clinical, formal and definitely not sexy. Somebody handing you a hot, moist towel should be saved for sushi restaurants and airplanes, not for after a journey inside your body. Similarly, a high-five or a parting “be well” from a sexual partner is a poor replacement for being spooned all night while somebody strokes your hair with smiling eyes.
These days, I’m loathe to label myself as a sex addict or even a recovering sex addict because I found that it gave me permission to keep acting out in that way. The label became an excuse and a loophole. And moreover, it turns out it’s not so uncommon for women to go on a little sexual bender following a traumatic divorce. So now I choose to see myself as generally addictive, able and willing to cling to anything that will make me feel numb or better. The longer I stay sober, though, the fewer and farther in between those things are. As they say, “the road gets narrower.” But for now, five-shot lattes and nicotine are still my trudging buddies.