You might be surprised to know that the greatest amount of healing I’ve done in my battle with sex addiction happened not through painstaking efforts to avoid sexy behaviors that might have gotten me into trouble in the past, but even more painful efforts at opening my heart, honestly and fully, in relationships of all types.
As a recent article in The Atlantic explained, so many of the people portrayed in fictional media as having sex addiction are men. Sex addicts on the shows “Californication” and “Desperate Housewives,” and in the movies “Shame” and “Thanks for Sharing” have largely been men. We see them as manly men, consumed by lust and unable to commit.
There used to be times that I’d announce, “I’m more like a man,” referring to my habits and desires, but that was bogus social shaping at work. Was I really supposed to prefer pink to blue or was it just more acceptable to my grandparents and therefore, my parents? Honestly, black is my color.
I was always sexually curious. I couldn’t seem to get enough of the intensity, the drama, the intrigue involved in being pursued by someone I’d only know momentarily but passionately. Of course, this didn’t make me like a man doing what men are just gonna do; it made me a “slut” in the eyes of the world. A cyclone—unable to tame whatever must be tamed for a woman to be considered presentable, acceptable, lovable, worthy. I had somehow bought into this notion even as I railed against it with every new conquest.
I don’t fault any man who may or may not have had it easier than I have. No one willingly wants to love a man who cannot be committed to her and so I don’t imagine they have it much better, but I resented the fact that the rules were supposed to be different for me and so I refused to conform for a long time, possibly to my detriment. Still, it was never conformity that I needed; it was the ability to open myself, to be truly honest.
Being vulnerable when I was a child meant risking everything; it meant being torn apart. There was no closeness that wasn’t painful and damaging. I survived by being guarded in the heart department. It’s no wonder that the only kind of closeness I evolved a taste for was sexual. You can get in and get out without having risked anything—oh, except your life, of course. But that’s just a small thing, really. This had been my thinking.
So when I went in search of healing for what I discovered was “hypersexuality,” a term frequently used interchangeably with sex addiction, I discovered that the vast majority of the literature and the people sitting in support groups and 12-step groups were men. Where were all the women? I wanted to know. Surely I wasn’t alone in my desires; surely I wasn’t the only woman who was experiencing a problem with compulsive sexuality. And I wasn’t, but no one wanted to talk about it. Women and sex is a complicated enough issue all on its own without bringing addiction into it.
The truth is that many more women experience sexual addiction than previously suspected. In fact, a study on the symptoms of hypersexuality as experienced by bipolar disorder sufferers revealed some interesting results. It indicated that twice as many women as men experience the intense desire for sex during hypomanic or manic symptoms. An article about the study published by NAMI went on to say that the reason most people aren’t aware of this is because mental health professionals by and large have been uncomfortable addressing sexual behavior with women in their care; these issues are too personal, they feel. But opening up, getting honest and being willing to talk about the things that need to be said is the way we as sex addicts begin to heal, regardless of gender or sex. Someone has to be willing to have the conversation. Will it be you?