I never thought I’d sit in a room full of strangers and say the words “I’m a sex addict”

I didn’t even know my problem had a name – all I knew was that I couldn’t control my sexual behavior. For me, sex had become omnivorous; a way of living. I returned to the same behaviors over and over again despite the consequences (for me and my family) getting worse and worse.

My behavior has certainly become more severe over time. Problems that I have also heard of such as: uncontrollable sexual behaviors, high levels of promiscuity, compulsive masturbation, excessive use of legal and illegal pornography on the internet, use of chat rooms and dating sites, multiple anonymous sexual encounters, exhibitionism, sex work… and much more.

Sex addiction is a shame-based condition. Most addicts use the powerful stimulus of sex to escape toxic feelings of shame; and in this way, sex addiction is no different from other addictions. What drug addicts do is use sex the same way others use alcohol or drugs, gamble or overeat. We do it to survive the intolerable. We get high on it; enter trance or stasis states, where we can block out our difficult feelings.

When I first went to a sex addiction recovery group, I discovered that my sex addiction was a disease. It helped me tremendously to know that it was a disease that affected my mind, body and spirit; that it wasn’t my fault.

Discovering that I was not alone was a liberating experience for me. It is a great comfort and relief to know that the fellowship of addicts in recovery exists and that we have someone to turn to when the going gets tough. I never thought I’d sit in a room full of strangers and say the words “I’m a sex addict” – but others did and I listened. And, as they shared their own experiences and talked about the progression of this disease, I knew I was in the right place.

In the meetings I attended, led by other members, I gradually emerged from my shame, my secrecy and my fear and became part of a community that shares a common goal: the liberation of sexual compulsion. Isolation is one of the biggest problems for all drug addicts. By joining a group of people who were like me, I had begun to move out of isolation into fellowship—and then, ultimately, into recovery.

Paradoxically, my first meeting was a liberating experience – I met other people like me and heard their stories. It didn’t seem to matter that I didn’t identify with everyone else’s behavior. But it was clear that we all had a common problem. I was amazed to find others who shared the same challenges with sex addiction as I did.

There are no outside professional facilitators, but I saw people speaking honestly and openly about their own issues and I felt I could speak frankly about myself. It was nice to know that we met on an equal footing; one drug addict by helping another. The goal? To achieve sexual sobriety and start practicing a new way of life.

Due to the sensitive nature of sex addiction and society’s views on it, the meetings I regularly attend are now ‘closed’ – they are for those who wish to stop addictive sexual behavior. I feel more secure knowing that the practice of anonymity and confidentiality is so respected. It is a relief. I only have to use my first name and everything I say is confidential.

In the beginning, I had a temporary sponsor – a Fellowship Fellow – who had abstained from addictive sexual behavior for a while and was able to guide me through what he had learned. The program I went to (AAS, although others are available) is based on the 12 steps and 12 traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Although the 12 Steps use the word “God” to describe a higher power or spiritual way of life, the community itself is not affiliated with any particular religion, belief or dogma. It simply offers a spiritual solution without any specific set of beliefs and practices.

I had wondered how I would define the specific behaviors I wanted to avoid. In AA, it seems clear: people just want to stop drinking. So how do you stop having sex?

After all, as human beings we need to eat and we probably “need” to be sexual; so instead I learned to define what was “unhealthy” versus “healthy” sexual behavior for me as an individual. I found it quite simple to isolate things that I kept doing repetitively. I knew what was threatened by my behaviors: my health, my job, my freedom, my relationships – even my life. Yet, it still seems like a paradox that those severe negative consequences weren’t enough to stop me from doing it myself.

What I learned is that sex addicts come from all walks of life: young and old, gay, straight, bisexual or asexual, cis, non-binary or transgender – and so many other combinations. We come from all ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Some of us experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse growing up. Others grew up in families where addictions were already thriving: such as codependency, alcoholism, eating disorders, workaholism, and sex addiction itself.

We are neither bad nor unsalvageable. Many of us struggle with a poor self-image. The media and society sometimes view excessive sexual behavior as distorted and perverted, when in reality, sex addiction is a long-term condition that needs to be managed.

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While most people might think that sex addiction is about sex, it’s not. It is about deep feelings of unworthiness and shame. These are bad childhood experiences of attachment, rejection and abandonment. It is about our inability to use the healthy self-soothing methods that others have learned in the face of distress and negative emotional experiences.

In the meetings I go to, I respectfully listen to what others say and then share my own experiences. I’m learning not to judge people, not to tell anyone what to do, or to solve someone else’s problems. And I’m now starting to have the healthy, enjoyable life that I never had when I was “playing”. I stay in touch with friends and fellow students, volunteer, follow my passions and live by my values.

Learning that I have a sex addiction – and being able to say it out loud and then ask for help – has really changed my life: for the better.

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