As high-profile male sex addicts become old hat in the media, outlets are inevitably starting in with the think pieces asking “Where are the female sex addicts?” It’s an important issue that I guess I’m glad is getting attention, but the general cluelessness of those writing about it rankles, as does the constant refrain: Where are they? Where are they? Where are they? ‘Cause I mean, WHERE ARE THEY? ALL I CAN SEE ARE THESE EFFIN TREES EVERYWHERE.
They’re on Craigslist, mostly, where the ability to anonymously connect with sex partners provides from the privacy of their homes provides the perfect outlet. Or they’re in strip clubs and dungeons, where they’re rewarded financially for acting out their addictions. They’re on the pages of Playboy and starring in porn videos for 3,000 dollars a scene. They're wearing practically nothing, drunk on sexual attention at clubs and bars, or they're dressed in jeans and T-shirts but quietly going home with a different guy every night . They’re having sex with Tiger Woods and Charlie Sheen (because hello, all those male sex addicts are acting out with someone else.)
The more important story is where they aren’t – they’re not getting help.
My history of sex addiction is pretty much the same as most men’s – risky behavior with anonymous partners, an escalating need for more frequent and more dangerous encounters, a craving for shameful and degrading scenarios.
But my recovery story is different, because even when I was at my bottom, I wasn’t capable of seeking help in mostly-male environments. I’ve since found those rooms to be very welcoming places, but when you’re scared, desperate and accustomed to using men as a weapon against yourself, it can be pretty hard to take your seat. Women come once and never come again, if they even make it through the door.
So I struggled to get and stay sober (which for me means no sex outside of a mutually committed relationship) both because this is a bitch of a disease and because I didn’t have access to the same resources as the men did. A 12-step group of women like me, a female sponsor, a therapist knowledgeable about female sex addicts, or a therapy group made up of even one other woman. Some of those things, like group therapy for female sex addicts, just flat-out didn’t exist.
It’s only in the fairly recent safety and calm of sobriety from drugs and alcohol that I’ve been able to start picking through the wreckage of my sexual past – both the trauma that started me on the path to addiction and the years spent retraumatizing myself by acting out with sex. I’m in group therapy now (with all men) and attend 12-step meetings (with mostly men). It’s only because I’m much healthier now (and in a relationship with a supportive, monogamous partner) that I’m able to do so.
Seeking treatment is scary no matter what, even more so when you’re the only female face you see. And admitting a problem may be more damaging to women than men, staying an active sex addict more rewarding, especially to those in the sex industry. Think how hard it would be to quit smoking crack if you were getting paid to do it.
Addiction is by its nature secretive – as the opening line of a recent Time article on the topic puts it, “A difference between an addict and a recovering addict is that one hides his behavior, while the other can't stop talking about it.”
Hence the “invisibility” of female sex addicts. We’re still hiding the behavior, because there’s nowhere for us to talk about it.