The first time I ever walked into a sex shop it was at the behest of my boyfriend, Greg. I remember meekly shuffling around the aisles with my eyes bulging out of my head in complete terror. As a self-described prude who considers shower sex to hit the upper limit of my experimentation threshold, I didn’t understand how that could go there. No, thank you.
How had I, a straight-laced, missionary-loving individual ended up in a relationship where anonymous threesomes, online porn and sex toys had entered our standard vernacular?
Before we started dating, Greg and I had been friends for two years. There was always a palpable sexual tension that existed between us, and I think deep down we acknowledge that it was only a matter of time before things escalated. I knew everything about him—his regrets about failing out of college, his strained relationship with his family and his struggle to stay sober after a year-long drug-and-alcohol-fueled spiral following the death of a close friend—but we never discussed taking our relationship to the next level.
All that changed in December 2013. We were both at a requisite holiday party thrown by a mutual friend, plotting ways to escape so we could avoid socializing with a room full of people we didn’t know wearing Christmas sweaters.
My personal filter had been disabled about two drinks ago, and I figured now was as good a time as any to ask Greg why we never hooked up or even contemplated dating. I took another swig of my rose and mustered up the courage to ask him if we could, in theory, ever date.
“I don’t think that’s a very good idea…for a lot of reasons,” he retorted.
I was a little pissed. I didn’t understand how he could manage to blatantly ignore the fact that we both wanted to be together.
“That’s not a valid reason,” I stammered. “You need to at least have an actual reason!” I proceed to shove a handful of peanut M&M’s into my mouth in an effort to diffuse the tension.
“Well, for starters, I’m a sex addict.”
I half laughed/half choked at his response, unintentionally spewing a fine layer of masticated chocolate across the back of my friend's couch. She wasn’t going to be happy, but my best friend who I had a huge crush on had just told me that he was a sex addict.
He started to elaborate—probably thinking that he had my best interest in mind—explaining that he watched porn daily, cycled through various women with reckless abandon and couldn’t maintain anything resembling a healthy relationship. I had always known that he had been through a string of tumultuous relationships in the past, but I had no idea the extent of it.
I was at a complete and total loss. In a moment of panic, I excused myself to the bathroom muttering about needing to find floss (I’m not that smooth under pressure) and hid behind the locked door Googling “sex addiction.”
There is some debate as to whether sex addiction is a real disorder, and many cite the fact that it was excluded from the DSM-V (the unequivocal “Bible” for all psychological diagnoses) as a rationale for denying its validity.
That said, many psychologists assert that it is a real condition, but at it’s root, it’s not about sex at all—sex is merely the mechanism that these folks use to hide from deeper emotional issues. Given that Greg had previously been an addict, it made sense.
It was incredibly difficult for me to wrap my brain around this—this wasn’t the person I knew. The person I knew was one of the most caring, sensitive and all-around amazing people I’ve ever met in my life. He’d been there for me in some pretty difficult times throughout the years we’d known each other, and I trusted him implicitly.
Fast forward a few months after this bombshell revelation, and the unthinkable had happened—despite every single rational fiber in my body, Greg and I actually started dating. It happened rather gradually as we began spending more and more time together.
I continued to see him as the person I’d gotten to know over the course of our friendship, not as this self-described sex addict. Our values and beliefs lined up perfectly. I trusted him implicitly. I felt safe. I knew that I could tell him anything, regardless of how dark or serious or sensitive the topic. It was really the first time in my life I could call my boyfriend my best friend.
On top of that, the sex was good. Like really, really good. Then it began to take a turn. It started with some porn in the background here, the odd bizarre request there. I could tell he wanted his sexual relationships to mimic what he saw on screen, and I grew increasingly uncomfortable and self-conscious.
Greg started to become more distant and detached, and I sensed that he was having a tough time processing sex as part of our relationship. I went along with it, thinking that we were just working out the kinks (no pun intended).
Then came the threesome proposition. I’m not sure if there’s ever a good way to ask your partner about having a threesome, but I can certainly say that over text a mere six months into your relationship is never a good call. But here I was, sitting at work typing away on some mind-numbing document when a little alert flashed across my phone.
“I just asked a girl I used to hook up with if she wants to have a threesome with us.”
I think I must have either audibly yelped or something, because my coworker immediately popped her head over the edge of our cubicle to make sure I was OK and hadn’t caught my finger in the stapler again. Frankly, that sounded preferable to a threesome with some random girl my current boyfriend used to have sex with. Literally anything sounded better.
That night, I made a pros and cons list to help me sort out what I needed to do. Under “reasons to break up” I wrote:
- Don’t want to have a threesome (I underlined this three times, for clarity’s sake)
- I’ll never be enough for him
Then, I jotted down the pros:
- I’m happy when I’m with him
At its most basic level, happiness is the crux of any successful relationship. Strip away all the of the complications that arose out of our sexual relationship, and this was the happiest, most secure relationship I’d ever experienced.
At the same time, I could tell that I would never be enough for Greg. There always had to be something else, something more interesting, something to push the envelope further. It was like I could never satisfy him. I know that Greg wasn’t doing this to hurt me, but at his core he had some very deep-seated issues to work out.
It was hard, but we mutually agreed to take a step back and reorient as friends. I know that Greg’s addiction is ultimately the reason we had to break off our romantic relationship, but I don’t fault him for it. What couple doesn’t hit stumbling blocks? His addiction didn’t make him any less of a person, and it didn’t make our relationship any less real or valid. It doesn’t change the fact that, in retrospect, this was the happiest, most secure relationship of my life.
I’ve realized that red flags aren’t always something to run away from—they can also be an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and the people we love.
With the right person, these types of issues (and yes, that even includes sex addiction) are totally navigable. I really do commend Greg for being open about his struggle, and I know that I walked away from the experience with an entirely new respect and understanding for what makes a solid relationship.
That, and I can now walk into a sex shop without covering my eyes.