Portrait of the couple in an embrace; the author couldn't quite see what was going on when she took it either.
There is life after divorce. But if yours, like mine, was of the traumatic, brutal variety, you just might be ripe for some traumatic, brutal dating. After losing my husband, my ability to have children, and failing to get my book published, my self-esteem was in the toilet. It didn't help that I couldn't seem to find anyone even close to willing to date.
"Let's put an expiration date on this up front," said the closest thing to a boyfriend I'd had in years. "OK," I said. And we stuck to it.
Then along came Jon.* Jon of the aquiline nose, curly hair, and abs you could bounce a quarter off of. This guy wanted to be my boyfriend? OK!
But it was not to last. After a disastrous joint trip to California -- during which he stayed with his friends while I stayed with mine -- I realized we weren't building intimacy, and ended things. A couple of weeks later, while researching an article, I recognized a close call. I'd just broken up with a sex addict. And not because of the sex. In fact, our sex life was wickedly hot.
A little porn is exciting, right? He loved the fact that I didn't judge him for it. Why would I? He didn't judge me for the number of sex partners I'd had. Quid pro quo. Besides, I'd discovered a use for porn myself a few years earlier. Prior to my 30s I'd found pre-taped sex kind of horrifying, but the plethora of online choices presented a whole new world.
My divorce had taken place while I was living in a Muslim country where dating was illegal. Porn plugged the gap just fine, and still could occasionally. Who was I to judge someone else's habit? But once I started looking into it, it became pretty clear that he was using porn addictively.
Compulsive sexual behavior, the more clinical phraseology for sex addiction, is a progressive disorder. This doesn’t mean an addict is bound to become a sex offender. But the addiction does have the same traits as any other: escalation of behavior; loss of control; preoccupation and obsession; tolerance and withdrawal symptoms; and increasingly disastrous consequences.
Sex addicts prey on others with low self-esteem. The charm and attention acts as a salve to someone who’s been sexually, verbally or physically abused, but ultimately will reaffirm negative image patterns.
So what does this actually look like? Below are five signs I discovered that rang true in my experience. Had I known about these red flags, I might have saved myself the hassle and ended things sooner. I'm just glad I ended things, unlike my friend Megan.
"I'm not prudish, I didn't care about his porn," she says. "Until the doctor told me I had chlamydia, which my husband finally confessed he'd gotten from his brother."
Five signs you might be dating a sex addict:
1. He's a flake/liar.
He's always late, and always has an excuse. Sex addicts lose time to their addiction, everything else comes second. They will say whatever is necessary to cover.
2. He hates condoms.
Unsafe sex is a sign of someone willing to engage in dangerous behavior. It's merely the tip of his thrill-seeking when it comes to sex.
3. He's never drawn a single breath.
This guy is always in a relationship, going from one partner to the next, often with a history of cheating. News flash: you aren't going to change him!
4. He’s stuck in childhood.
Maybe he attributes feelings of guilt and shame to his [insert religion/parent/etc here] upbringing. The watchwords are guilt and shame. Addicts are ashamed of their sexual behavior.
5. You’re asking.
If you're wondering if the guy you're dating is a sex addict, ask yourself if you're prone to catastrophize situations or are genuinely concerned about the blister he's given himself masturbating.
In fact, it doesn't matter why; if you’re uncomfortable with your partner’s sexual preferences, there’s no reason to tolerate them. If you're dealing with an addict, eventually the lack of trust will build and intimacy will erode. There are ways to recover, but it's a challenge. Consensual sexual behavior is complex, and no one wants to think of herself as a prude. Until the chlamydia.