Sex Addiction Equals Intimacy Issues
Meika, a successful producer and TV writer, had always liked to joke that she was a world-renowned womanizer. Her predominantly heterosexual colleagues (though there were several openly gay folks in her industry) seemed to take Meika’s proclamations in stride. With her short-cropped hair and identifiable swagger, she stood out in a crowd. She was friendly and funny and had a collection of longtime friends, among whom she was infamous for attempting to pick up women any time she was out.
At 44, Meika was a fairly frequent drinker and never turned down coke. Even so, she still got up early for work, and would often be the last to leave, even after wild nights of partying. Fairly regularly, she’d call her closest friend to complain about the women she dated. Jack felt it his duty to remind Meika that she was looking for perfection and no one would ever measure up.
As much of a hound dog as Meika was, she seemed to lose interest in sex in the context of committed relationships. As soon as she became emotionally bonded with a woman, the sparks fled, and if you believed Meika, it was always because of something this or that girlfriend was doing wrong—giving up on being sexy, making smacking sounds while chewing—that sort of thing. Still, she could never stop herself from pursuing the next lover with all the attention and romance she thought any woman would kill for: fresh-cut flowers, five-star dinners, surprise trips to beach destinations. But Meika was never faithful; she cheated recklessly and often. Among the lesbian circle in her California town—never a big circle, no matter the town—Meika was known as a player. The reputation was starting to wear on her. She wasn’t young anymore. She wanted to settle down, but she was starting to see that these habits she’d collected were her own; she couldn’t keep blaming her objects of half-hearted affection. She needed to find another way.
Sex Addiction Is an Intimacy Disorder
When a celebrity is outed as a sex addict in the tabloid news, or when a friend privately discusses her husband’s recent admission of sexual addiction, we’re often shocked by what we imagine would have been obvious to us: we’re certain all that compulsive lying and cheating would have been transparent. But, of course, not everyone with a problem of sex or relationship addiction knows they have a problem, and when they’re open about the symptoms (like Meika), but clueless about the source, their friends and loved ones are often just as lost for answers. The bottom line of sex (and relationship) addiction is that these are intimacy disorders, which surface in an aversion to genuine emotional connection.
Symptoms of the Sex Addict’s Intimacy Disorder
Sex addicts are people who cannot tolerate feeling emotionally vulnerable with another person. They confuse the intensity of sex or the drama of early romantic relationships with true closeness. Sex addicts are people who frequently use drugs or alcohol in combination with sex; often they feel they have to have these substances in order to have sex at all. They may be workaholics or alcoholics whose other addictions take precedence over their relationships. Sex addicts are people who may need to bring fantasy into their sexual relationships in a primary way; the fantasy overrides reality because reality feels too real. Sex addicts are people who tend to use distancing tactics in order to hold partners at arm’s length: they may be aloof or critical, condescending or cold. Sex addicts are typically people with an intense focus on sex, but this focus often diminishes after a commitment has been made. After committing, they may become ambivalent about sex. Sex in the context of committed relationship may be too intimate, and thus, too frightening. Sex addicts are frequently people who focus heavily on the more superficial aspects of relationships: amping up the Hallmark moments while neglecting genuine communication. They may send flowers, but they never quite open up.
Each of these traits reveals the underlying bastion of sex addiction; it is a problem of disordered intimacy. The compulsive sex and disaffected relating are unconscious ways the sex addict can remain safe. When a sex addict gets caught, the focus is on the sex—on whatever behaviors of sexual compulsion the addict is manifesting. But it’s important that partners look for and engage sex addicts on the subject of intimacy long before (and also after) the subject of sexual betrayal comes up. This, after all, is the primary problem for the addict, and it is the issue that most strongly affects the lives of people who come to know and love the addict.
Getting help for disordered intimacy equals getting help for sex addiction. But first, it takes seeing there’s a problem deeper than sex.