He seemed normal at first (whatever that means.) Looking back, what should have been red flags I wrote off as the misunderstandings that can occur early in a relationship when you don't know the other person well.
I should have left him after he went AWOL for 48 hours. I should have left him after I found folder after folder of hardcore porn on his laptop. I should have left him after he signed up to a hookup site while I was out of town for the weekend. I should have left him after he told me he didn't see himself staying faithful to one person for the rest of his life. I should have left him after he criticized me in bed, told me I wasn't exciting enough. I should have left him after he turned me into a paranoid, suspicious, nervous wreck.
I was in a relationship with a sex addict.
After Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne's recent marriage issues, sex addiction has been a talking point, but a lot of people still don't get it. Being a sex addict doesn't mean you want to have sex all the time. A person who wants to have sex with their partner several times a night, every night of the week, is not a sex addict. Having a very high sex drive is not the same as being a sex addict.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders (Volume Four), sex addiction is "distress about a pattern of repeated sexual relationships involving a succession of lovers who are experienced by the individual only as things to be used." The manual also notes that sex addiction may involve "compulsive searching for multiple partners, compulsive fixation on an unattainable partner, compulsive masturbation, compulsive love relationships and compulsive sexuality in a relationship."
I knew nothing about sex addiction before I dated a sex addict. For some addicts, their compulsive sexual thoughts and acts don't go beyond compulsive masturbation, a reliance on pornography or expensive use of phone or online sex services. All of these applied to my ex. But it didn't stop there. He would drive to well-known local public sex spots to watch other people engage in exhibitionist sexual activity. I don't know if he took part; I suspect so. He fantasized about rape. On one occasion, he turned that fantasy into a reality. At the time, I didn't see it as that. I do now.
Our relationship got progressively worse as he increased the addictive behavior to achieve the same results. He turned to gambling to try to replicate the high he got from his compulsive sexual acts. Our relationship was in tatters, but he didn't care. He was an addict, and he couldn't stop.
It was, in a word, hell. But here's the thing. I'm glad it happened.
Being in a relationship with a sex addict undoubtedly changed me for the better — as a woman and as a partner. Before that relationship, I was pretty passive when it came to sex. My lack of self-esteem made me put my partner's needs before my own (both in and out of the bedroom), and I saw sex as validation. If a person wanted to be intimate with me, that meant he liked me, which meant I was good/attractive/interesting/worthy enough, right?
It took a long time and a lot of therapy, but after leaving the sex addict, I began to recognize where I had gone wrong in that relationship. I should have been stronger — for both of us. I stayed with him for years beyond the point at which I should have insisted he got help for his addiction or walked away. The biggest lesson I learned from the experience is that it's always, always, always better to be unhappy on your own than unhappy with somebody else.
I have a completely different attitude about sex now. I know what I want and I'm not ashamed to ask for it. I know the difference between a healthy and unhealthy sexual relationship. I no longer see my sex addict ex as a lying, cheating scumbag. He had serious issues and needed professional help. I should have been kinder to him when I finally realized the extent of his problem. I should also have been kinder to myself. His sex addiction was no reflection of me — as a person, as a partner or as a lover. It was completely separate, and way stronger than the bond between us.
Twelve years after my relationship with a sex addict, I can look back and say that it was one of those life experiences that changed me for the better. It made me learn to love myself and work out exactly what I wanted from a partner.
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