Girls Gone Wild: Female Sex Addiction on the Web
(page 3)Yes, I have had sex with him, too, a few years ago. I met him at a sex club. Apparently his stomping ground is large. On the face of it, our addictions are so different, but we ended up in exactly the same place, getting spit on by the same guy.
While Sheri doesn’t use online dating compulsively yet, she is worried about her behavior with the men she meets through it, since she has immediately had sex with almost all of them and had unprotected sex with the admitted sex addict. She knows there is potential to abuse the technology itself.
“I’ve been very cautious about doing online dating because of my ability to become preoccupied with it," she says. "I feel like I’m on the edge and if I continue to pursue it, it has the potential to get a lot worse.”
Thirty-eight-year old Sandra’s addiction took the form of elaborate fantasy relationships with men she met online. “I started using the Internet to connect with exes I knew were still obsessed with me, and landed on message boards and social networking sites where I could get fake boyfriends to have cyber-sex. I specialized in friend-of-a-friend unhappily married dudes who may have been out of my league when we were younger (thanks, Facebook). We exchanged dirty pictures, I exercised my filthy talk skills, I got presents in the mail and I was always on the verge of meeting somewhere between our two cities. I liked to have multiple people who were ready to leave their wives for me. All while in another relationship myself.”
Both Sandra and Sheri could be described as love addicts as well as sex addicts, although almost everyone who is one has some of the other. The Internet is perfectly suited for love addicts as well—the false intimacy of online communication and the ability to portray yourself in multiple ways make it the ideal petri dish for unchecked fantasy. This can be just as dangerous as real-life sexual activity, as in a case in pioneering sex-addiction researcher Patrick Carnes’ Out of the Shadows, in which a Colorado woman became involved with a man on the Internet who kidnapped her for six weeks and then murdered her. In fact, Sandra tells me that when she got on a plane to meet the Internet paramour who would become her husband, she had decided she didn't care if he killed her. Instead, he ended up getting her into recovery.
My own time in that online fantasy world became more and more powerful with the passage of (not very much) time, until I was spending hours and hours of my workday posting, responding and emailing, once even using my work phone number to verify my account.
“When I start feeling really shitty about myself again, I go to those deep and dark places on the Internet and find what I need,” Carly says.
My anonymous email inbox—a generic, naughty-sounding screen name @yahoo.com—became the cluttered, pulsing shame center of my addiction. The first thing I would do when I started emailing with a new potential sex partner was search my inbox for his name, half the time to realize that I had emailed with him before or even had sex with him in person previously. Or I would receive an email from someone I had met and had sex with and be unable to summon any recollection of the occasion, even with a picture and a description of our encounter. Whole sexual encounters were missing from my memory like a sexual blackout. I had had sex with so many strange men that they had been rendered one nameless, faceless blur.
When I mention this to Sarah, she recalls something that happened to her during the years she was responding to ads seeking a “non-pro,” a popular Craigslist term with a nebulous definition that seems to boil down to “a woman who hasn’t had sex for money before or doesn’t do so regularly.”
“One of the most devastating moments of the whole experience was getting an email back that said, ‘No, actually you’re not a non-pro because you’ve contacted me like 12 times, and you’re a prostitute.’ It was true. This person just called me on my shit.”
But the more ashamed and desperate we feel about out behavior, the more we turn to it in order to help us feel better.
As your sense of shame increases, which really goes along with that sense of secrecy and a double life, it almost becomes that drug effect, where you really long for some kind of escape, Dr. Wish says. "The greater your shame, the more you do the thing that gives you shame. You feel bad about yourself, you’re lonely, you feel low self-worth, you don’t have enough endorphins to make yourself feel good, so you go back to the addiction because it pleases you and punishes you at the same time.”
More plainly, Carly says, “When I start feeling really shitty about myself again, I go to those deep and dark places on the Internet and find what I need.”
Still, I struggled desperately to stop. I swore to sex partners that “this time was the last time” so many times that they stopped even reacting. I would delete my email addresses, only to reactivate then delete them again endlessly in the following weeks. When I couldn’t access my old email addresses anymore, I would just use a personal one. More than once, someone I corresponded with tracked down my real information and threatened to inform my partner and employer about my online activities if I didn’t meet them for sex. One guy would IM, call and email 20 to 30 times in one day, demanding that I take naked photographs for him and describe sexual scenarios that he could masturbate to. He was unmoved by my pleas to please, please, please just leave me alone.
At perhaps my lowest point, one of those men threatened me into leaving work and meeting him in the middle of the day, at which point he steered me into Central Park and coerced me into giving him oral sex in a bush while kids played nearby. I entered treatment.
Today, I know the number-one thing I can do to stay sober is to stay out of the Internet’s dark corners. My life still presents plenty of other opportunities for my sex addiction to flare but there is nothing quite as readymade as the Internet.
The Internet’s power to enable sex addiction pulls Sandra as well. “I’ve been sober for 22 months. Masturbation and seeking ‘inappropriate attention’ on the Internet have been my biggest struggles. The Internet is crazy because I know all it takes is a tiny typed innuendo and I could be meeting up and taken out of my life.”
Sarah, who has maintained her sexual sobriety for over three years, says, “I didn’t go on Craigslist for a long time, not even to buy a couch. I couldn’t. I have a real healthy fear of it.”
Again, the freedom of sexuality online isn’t a bad thing for most people—I’d argue it’s done more good than harm, decreasing shame by connecting like-minded and often-stigmatized people, and allowing women to discover their sexual agency in new ways. But for sex addicts, it can be the ultimate enabler. For those of us in recovery, it is a constant reminder that, like alcoholics and drug addicts, we are just an arm’s length from a slip.
Emma Lee is the nomme de plume of a writer and editor who lives in New York City.