"Getting Off": Erica Garza Discusses Recovery from Sex and Porn Addiction

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"Getting Off": Erica Garza Discusses Recovery from Sex and Porn Addiction

By Helaina Hovitz 01/29/18

The common narrative about women who are sex or porn addicts is that they must have been sexually abused. But sex addiction can happen to anybody, it doesn't have to start with abuse or a big trauma.

Image: 
Erica Garza, Author

Erica Garza and I have a lot in common. We both needed to heal the 12-year old-girl inside of ourselves in order to recover from our respective addictions; hers wanted to be loved, and mine wanted to feel safe. We both drank in order to allow ourselves to make decisions about sex that we likely wouldn’t have made sober. And we were both initially misdiagnosed and incorrectly medicated when we sought out specialists to “fix us.” My ultimate diagnosis was PTSD and alcoholism; Erica Garza’s was sex and porn addiction.

Addiction takes many forms, both in its active state and in the way we heal it, but at its core it’s the act of using something to distract ourselves from real or perceived negative feelings, memories, thoughts, and beliefs. Erica’s addiction, sex, is something she has to figure out how to make friends with and engage with in a healthy way, while my big task is abstaining from alcohol and drugs altogether.


So what does sex and porn addiction look like, where and how does it begin, and what does recovery look like? Following the release of her memoir, Getting Off: One Woman’s Journey Through Sex And Porn Addiction, we spoke with Garza about her journey, from first touch to major awakening.

The Fix: Looking back, which parts of your journey were part of a natural and healthy exploration of masturbation, and when did it start to cross over into unhealthy?

Erica Garza: Everything started off normally when it came to exploring my sexuality. I started masturbating and watching soft-core porn on Cinemax when I was 12. I think most 12-year-old girls and boys, they're curious when they come across images like that. I did it a lot, almost every day, normal stuff. Around the same time I was diagnosed with scoliosis, and that's when I started to feel insecure about my body—ugly, different from everyone, so I started closing myself off and keeping away from people. My mind was always racing with worry, and I found if I watched more porn and masturbated, I could take a break and not worry about what people thought of me. It was a release and an outlet for frustration and I never stopped using it that way. As time went on and new stresses came up, technology became more sophisticated, and every time I may have ‘gotten over’ looking at porn, my needs were met with more enticing images to keep me hooked.

As one of your footnotes, you cite a finding from an article in The Atlantic that said exposure to porn was a strong predictor of hypersexual behavior, more so than sexual abuse of a child. Why did you feel it was important to include that statistic?

The common narrative about women who are sex or porn addicts—and men, sometimes, but more so women—is that they must have been sexually abused. “What happened to you” is one of the first things people ask; even in therapy, it’s one of the first questions. “Do you think anyone abused you?” I wanted to expand that narrative to show sex addiction can happen to anybody, and it doesn't mean you were abused. We need to open up this conversation. Sex and porn addiction doesn't have to start with abuse or a big trauma. Yes, some traumatic things happened to me with the back brace, and that trauma doesn't compare to something like sexual abuse. But if people did not experience abuse, they may not feel like they can share their pain because [they think] it isn't justified and I wanted to provide space for them to see that their experience is valid.

In its most basic form, what does and does not constitute sex addiction?

It's tricky to answer because every addict will act out in a different way. Someone may act out by cheating on their spouse, watching a lot of porn, hooking up with prostitutes, there are different ways you might use sex negatively, but sex workers and pornography aren’t inherently bad. People can do these things in a healthy way. I used sex and porn to deal with my problems or escape my problems, to numb myself. I sabotaged a lot of relationships. I didn’t know how to have loving sex, or be in a healthy relationship. I needed to have shame and I needed to feel bad. That's the only way I knew how to have pleasure. I was hooked on that combination. I can't say, “If you watch porn two hours a day, you have a problem.” You can't measure sex addiction that way. It’s for everyone to take a hard look at their actions and decide for themselves if they're using it in an unhealthy way.


You find yourself engaging in relationships with at least three men in AA at different times in your life. One is actively still drinking, the others are actively sober. What do you think it was that drew you to them? Was it coincidence?

Hmm…Like attracts like? People who were addicted and acting out; it felt like we were both in the same space. They were emotionally unavailable, so was I. When I started to be with recovering addicts, I think I was getting closer to trying to face my problems. Inching toward it. It didn't happen overnight, it was a series of gradual progressions and realizations about myself. I was heading towards healthier relationships and they were able to help point out things about myself that were true and hard to look at.

Despite trying Al Anon, CODA, and being around folks in AA, you weren't willing to consider SLAA for a while, because it would mean abstinence—even though, at the time, it seemed that you weren’t having much active sex. What was it that kept you away?

Part of it was that I thought I was going to be the only woman at the meetings, even though another woman told me about it initially. I thought maybe it’d be me and one other woman. I felt there would be an overwhelming number of men and it’d not only be uncomfortable for me, but it could trigger a lot of my fear to be there. I wasn't having a lot of sex but I was still looking at a lot of sex and a lot of porn. I wasn't ready.

It seems like as women, we feel we need social lubricant, no pun intended, before we hook up. You mention getting drunk several times in the book, do you think you drank so that you could put yourself in situations you might normally not have?

Some women may use drinking to do things they wouldn't do sober. I would sleep with men that I knew were not good for me whether I was sober or drunk. I made those choices either way. The drinking I often did just because I had a lot of social anxiety. I felt uncomfortable having conversations with people without the constant chatter in my head. I drank to feel comfortable in my body or talk, to feel looser socially. With sex, I didn't really use the drink to convince me to do something.

You also include a study about how drugs aren’t really an effective way to manage compulsive—or addictive—behaviors. Why did you feel this was important to include?

There are no approved drugs to treat sex addiction, and I think that’s a reason it’s not seen as a “real” disease. The pharmaceutical companies can’t prescribe the medication and can't make money off of it. No other therapist [outside of the one I mention in the book] ever told me I had OCD again. I hadn't spent that much time with that doctor before she made the diagnosis, so I think that was clumsy of her. She wasn't being careful there. It was too fast a diagnosis. She gave me Zoloft and Xanax and turned me into a zombie. I wasn't dealing with my problems in a healthy way after that, I was numbing myself more. You have to deal with things, talking through it is harder and longer to do, and a process. It’s about more than just taking a drug.

What are some of the paths to recovery from sex addiction that you took, and that other people might take, before and after they arrive at SLAA or check into a rehab?

It's important to try a lot of things. There isn't one way to become a sex addict, and there isn't one way to deal with it when you find yourself grappling with that struggle. I’d love to know what Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey do when they check into these places, but for me the first big step was when I started doing yoga and meditation in Bali. My 30th birthday had happened, and I was trying to make the decade better than the last. I was unhappy and stuck and realized, I have an issue with sex, what do I do about it. I really paid attention to my thoughts and put myself first. I saw what was going on my head, so much negativity, and in that space was able to meet my husband. That was the first time I felt like I could reveal things about my past. He didn't run away. I saw I could be supported and listened to and encouraged to say more. Meditation and yoga gives you a nice supported space to look inside and get in touch with yourself. I was constantly looking outside.

You did finally make it to SLAA. What was that like?

The 12-step meetings were another space that I could reveal things to people and feel supported by people who went through other struggles. Having the connection was helpful. Being able to talk to other people with things that I kept secret for long…that had been a huge wall. I thought, if people find out things about me they'll run away, nobody wants to deal with someone as disgusting as me who does all these bad things, but in those rooms there are people going through similar struggles. We can have a connection instead of this wall.

So now you’re married—what does a healthy sex life and self-love life look like, in your opinion?

It’s important for us as women not to be afraid of our desires, and to admit what turns us on. We should feel worthy of pleasure. I don't have to be ashamed by liking what I like or when I look back over my path. I’ve made messy choices and mistakes, but I think the most harmful part of it was feeling bad about my choices instead of empowered by them. I could have prevented a lot of hardship myself if I just felt worthy. In the early stages of my recovery, I thought had to stop watching porn and become someone else and never experiment outside of my marriage sexually. I set strict guidelines for myself because I thought that's what a person in recovery does, and I realized I was cutting off a big part of my sexuality, and that didn’t feel authentic to me. I didn't want to totally kick porn or stop exploring with other people. My husband and I aren’t in an open marriage but we’re open-minded in our marriage. It’s just about being honest with each other and what we want and like and having a good honest open discussion about it.

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