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The Sex Addict Defense

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Ben Maisani's loose lips photo via

By Scott Alexander Hess

10/07/12

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One tricky element for him, as a sex addict, was that he felt truly compelled to use sex to deal with pain, anxiety and feelings of emptiness. The stress leading to the wedding, for example, and facing a life of monogamy caused extreme anxiety, which spurred on a raging desire to act out sexually. Of course, the prospect of 'fessing up to all of this while expecting his husband-to-be to still toss the bouquet only aggravated his agita.

He admitted that if he were to cheat, and get caught, he would likely fall back on his sex-addiction label—but with little expectation of success. “I don’t believe my partner would buy me saying I cheated because I’m a sex addict,” he said.

Hoping for the best is a dicey strategy, to say the least. The sheer stress of keeping their addiction a secret may be enough to trigger the brief escape of a brief encounter.

This case confirms what Women’s Health magazine uncovered during a post–Tiger Woods poll: 63% of women said they view sex addiction as "an excuse for infidelity."

Yin Quam, a former dominatrix who is now an S/M educator and writer, asserts that using sex addiction as a rationalization for cheating indicates that while people may claim that they don’t disclose their sexual problems because “a partner may not understand,” this is not really the truth.

“I have come across a great many clients who use their desire for kinky sex as an excuse for infidelity. Many proclaim that their spouses would never understand or be judgmental,” Quam said. “However, since I've worked with clients through the process of coming out to their partners successfully, my belief is that many choose not to do so for their own reasons.”

“I don't believe that monogamy is the only route. But no matter what, honesty and compromise are the key elements.”

I spoke to several self-proclaimed sex addicts in relationships who said that honesty is the key—and building a good relationship requires admitting their addiction to their partner and dealing with it together. These men said that to stay sexually sober, they had to learn to see sex as an emotional connection with a loving partner rather than exclusively as sexual gratification.

Of course, this happy scenario requires that the cuckolded partner’s love can survive the betrayal. It remains an open question whether or not gay men, who are typically more open about sex—and have open relationships more often—than their straight counterparts, are more flexible when it comes to cheating issues, especially in the age of gay marriage. While gay men may have a tradition of easily separating sex from sentiment (and of having more than their share of “intimacy issues”), the desire or need for monogamy may be a deeply rooted part of one’s character independent of experience. Some people cannot love with it and others cannot love without it.

“If I cheated, we’d have to talk about why it happened and what was going on with us, not just the fact that I’m a sex addict. There’s more to it than that,” one man told me.

According to Jeff Schultz, many relationships can endure—and even become stronger—after the sex-addict partner admits their infidelity.

“When the sex addict stops cheating and acts with honesty and integrity, then his actions begin to rebuild broken trust and his relationship can begin to heal,” he said. “Little deposits of trust made over time can do wonders for a relationship harmed by sex addiction. With greater trust, there is the basis for intimacy, and with growing intimacy, a healthy sexual relationship.”

Quam agreed. “I don't believe that monogamy is the only route,” she said. “But no matter what agreement you make, honesty and compromise are the key elements.”

Bottom line, using sex addiction as a get-out-of-jail-free card—for citizens no less than celebrities—when one partner commits a sexual trespass tends to affirm monogamy as the best arrangement and betrayal as the worst offense. Faithfulness is certainly the time-honored model, but the high rates not only of divorce but of adultery (by men) suggest that it is honored almost as much in the breach as in the observance. Perhaps we invest too much in this one element in a relationship. As everyone knows, in every long-term coupling each partner disappoints the other in various ways.

Still, to expect a potential partner to jump feet first into a relationship with you if you are addicted to any substance or behavior is unrealistic and unfair. Disclosing that you have a disease is the responsible if risky act. Otherwise, you start the commitment already burdened with a secret. If your chosen one sticks around, your honesty will likely have helped tipped the scales.

As for Anderson Cooper and his beau, their silence about the entire affair, sex addiction or not, was refreshing. A few week’s after the smooch that, according to the tabloids, broke Cooper's heart and scuttled their supposed marriage plans, the two were spotted riding bikes together, baseball caps pulled low over their foreheads, in a most smiling manner.

No one can ever truly know the real deal in the privacy of other people's relationship, and for that we can be thankful, especially when the relationship involves two celebrities. But the apparently amicable outcome in the Cooper-Maisani business may affirm the wisdom that enduring love matches are about compromise, conflict and, when necessary, forgiveness. Just ask Bill and Hillary.

Scott Alexander Hess published his first novel, Diary of a Sex Addict, last August and has just completed a new novel, The Jockey, set in prohibition-era New York City. He blogs for the Huffington Post Books Section.

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