Don't believe the hype.
I'm a sex addict. Well, actually, I'm not; I'm a serial monogamist who enjoys seducing and making love to beautiful women outside of a relationship. I can be promiscuous, and I've made a few decisions I've come to regret. In other words, I'm no different than many other men who've had ample opportunity (and, some may say, questionable judgment).
Nevertheless, I was promoted as a sex addict when my memoir, Laid Bare: One Man's Story of Sex, Love and Other Disorders, was published in Australia and New Zealand.
In the book, I tell with brutal candor the story of my divorce from my wife of ten years, my subsequent free-fall into the toxic coliseum of online dating, and my quixotic search for the incomparable feeling of being truly, madly, deeply in love.
I met my (now-ex) wife when I was 23. She was the most wonderful woman I'd ever known. Gorgeous. Doting. Passionate. We married when I was 25, had a baby daughter together when I was 30, and at 34, it was all over. She left me for another man. My charmed life fell apart. I was suicidal. In many ways, sex kept me alive because it made me feel alive, however fleeting. Inside, for the most part, I was dead.
Over a period of five years following the split, I slept with a few hundred women — including a handful of prostitutes — most of whom I met online. In my experience, casual sex isn't hard to come by if you're committed enough to the task. And I was.
Running on adrenaline, I burned through my savings on bar tabs, hotel rooms and air tickets. I slept with models, celebrities and the ex of a famous Hollywood leading man. I even fell for a hooker in San Francisco (who I also met online). In one harebrained moment, I suggested she get out of the business by starring in husband-wife porn movies with me. I was happy to quit my day job as a sportswriter in Sydney if it meant I could save her from the escorting business.
To outsiders, it may well have appeared as if I were having a ball. And I was, at least for some of the time. The women I was getting involved with weren't always having a blast, though. I was frequently cavalier, impatient and judgmental. I hurt some women's feelings along the way. I had gone from committed husband to committed player and rarely stopped to consider the impact my philandering was having on other people.
But at the end of the day, was I really addicted to sex to the point I couldn't get through the night without it? No. In fact, there were times I could go months without wanting to have sex. I turned offers down. For all the women I bedded, the one thing I truly wanted (sex with love) felt like the most elusive thing in the world.
Admittedly, I didn't choose the best medium through which to find love. Online dating holds out the tantalizing prospect of finding true love easily but often makes it nearly impossible. Spoiled for choice, clutching increasingly lengthy checklists of what we will and will not accept in a partner and with geography no longer a barrier to making connections (it's as easy to meet a girl in Kamchatka as it is Kentucky because of the internet), commitment is getting harder, not easier.
Eventually, I met a girl who gave me that "glimpse of eternity," but the relationship lasted only six months. The important thing was that when we were together, being with another woman physically was the furthest thing from my mind. I was totally monogamous, totally in love and totally in control.
Sexual addiction is the ailment du jour of powerful men (and it does seem to be mostly men) who get caught with their pants down and are looking for a readymade excuse for their crappy choices. Society is fixated on it because sex and spousal betrayal is a heady and very sellable cocktail, perfect for the covers of trashy weekly magazines.
"He slept with how many, again? But his wife is so lovely. How could he do this to her?!"
I've never cheated on a partner. I've never sought medical help for my sexual choices. And I don't take medication for anything, including my obsessive-compulsive disorder. I keep that in check with exercise, a good diet and cognitive behavioral therapy. I'm a perfectly healthy man with a perfectly healthy libido.
As I explained in my book: "I never saw myself as a sex addict. What I was addicted to was the rush I got from being desired, the thrill of graduating from introductory emails or pick-up lines to getting a wink in a text or a tongue in my ear, and knowing that virtually whatever I did next I was 'in', metaphorically and literally. My self-confidence was restored each and every time I logged on to my laptop."
All the same, "sex addict" it was going to be when Laid Bare hit the shelves. My publisher wanted to use "sex addiction" on the back cover, even though I'd addressed the phrase in the book and thought I'd adequately debunked it. We differed on what it meant. I let it slide.
Was this really how the rest of the world saw me? In short, yes. It's very easy to scandalize behavior that deviates from the norm. But is this label accurate? Was I an addict just because I was engaging in more sexual encounters than most people would? Was I in need of help or was I just loose? How was this label even valid when there's a view among some experts that sex addiction isn't even a diagnosable condition?
Dr. Marty Klein, a sex therapist in Palo Alto and author of the book Sexual Intelligence, said as much in a piece for The Humanist: "In 31 years as a sex therapist, marriage counselor and psychotherapist, I've never seen sex addiction. I've heard about virtually every sexual variation, obsession, fantasy, trauma and involvement with sex workers, but I've never seen sex addiction."
Dr. David J. Ley, author of the book The Myth of Sex Addiction, also said in The New York Post: "Sex addiction is nothing more than a pop-psychology phenomenon, serving only to demonize sex, enforce moral views of sex and relationships, and excuse irresponsible behaviors ... [it] has been rejected by the American Psychiatric Association, time and time again, because there is no scientific evidence that it exists."
So what drove my behavior? It was a combination of a number of things: unhappiness, heartache, grief, loneliness, horniness, opportunity, testosterone, desire, the need for affection, and even my OCD.
I may have been compulsive, impulsive, and even a bit stupid at times, but I've always been in control. I've made choices about the women I slept with. I was able to walk away. And I had standards.
Addicts of all kinds will use or take whatever they can get to achieve or closely approximate the high or relief they seek. I didn't suffer withdrawal symptoms; I was able to function socially if I couldn't get sex. Which is why I still have an issue when the term "sex addict" gets thrown at me by a reporter doing a story or a potential date who does a bit of digging on my romantic past. It comes up in a Google search of my name. The elephant in the browser.
"What? You're a sex addict? Forget it."
As we've seen with the ongoing and robust debate in America about sex addiction, those are two words not easily explained away. There are clinicians who hold that sex addiction is a very real illness, one that requires rehabilitation. Just look at celebrities like David Duchovny, Russell Brand and Charlie Sheen.
So be it. I view sex addiction as nonsense. To some of you, we will always be sex addicts; our actions offend your moral sensibilities. Fine. But we're not sick.