CRAIGSLIST CONFESSIONAL

What it feels like to battle a sex addiction

This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala has been meeting people via Craigslist and documenting their stories for over two years. Each story is written as it was told to her. Bala says that by listening to their stories, she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. By sharing them, she hopes to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed, at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. Read more here. Names have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.

This article contains adult content and coarse language.

Harrison, late 40s

My day is filled with pitfalls. They are honestly everywhere I look—tits, asses, bare midriffs, and short skirts worn by women barely old enough to drink, or sometimes women old enough to be my mother. Or sometimes men young enough to be my sons. I don’t discriminate. I don’t even see people anymore; I just see body parts. For me, it’s all the same. And I know that maybe for you, that’s hard to believe. You probably think that this is just an excuse to cheat on my wife.

My first sexual “encounter”—let’s call it that, because I’m not sure it was abuse or any of those other labels that people throw around—was with a seventeen year old neighbor. I was ten. I used to play tennis, and he asked me if I wanted to play a few matches. Afterwards, he bought me a Slurpee and invited me over to his house. He had a basement bedroom, and he showed me these 8mm porn tapes. They were very graphic, and he had a closet full of them. We watched two or three; I remember feeling turned on, but also really conflicted. He said, “Do you mind if I touch myself?” And I just kind of shrugged. I had never masturbated before, so I just watched him and he watched porn. He told me I could touch myself, too, if I wanted. But I didn’t. I went home and I rubbed myself awkwardly—I didn’t finish. The next time I saw him, he pointed a BB gun at me and ordered me to take my pants off and play with myself. I refused and I started crying, but that didn’t scare him off, so I did it. He then put butter on my genitals and had his dog lick it off. I felt so humiliated and scared, but I kept going back to his house after that and I didn’t tell anyone.

I wonder why. I wonder if everything would be different now if I had just told someone. Or had I just stayed away from him.

I think that most of the sexual choices I’ve made haven’t really been choices at all. I started having sex with my sister when I was 15, with one of my guy friends when I was 13, and then with his sister shortly afterwards. I really have no recollection of how all of that came about; I just know that it happened, and it all seemed out of my control. I never differentiated between male and female, relative and stranger, good or bad—because to me, sex is sex.

My wife and I have been married for a few years now, and she doesn’t know any of this. I have repeated extramarital affairs with both men and women. I am not gay; in fact, I have a strong sexual preference for women. However, as the saying goes, beggars can’t be choosers. I have unprotected sex whenever I can, and sometimes with prostitutes. I take part in large orgies with as many as twenty people or more in the room. I go to Korean spas—they’re called jjimjilbang, which I find hilariously pertinent—and have sexual encounters with men. I had sex with a woman during a cocktail party once, and she vomited on me. I had to pretend that I’d gotten sick on myself. I know that this puts me at risk, and I know that it puts my wife at risk. I feel immensely guilty about it, but my way of working through any feeling—whether it is anger, guilt, or sadness—is through sex.

A couple of years ago, I tried to really pump the brakes on my addiction. I tried to stop having sex altogether, and instead attempted to replace sex with masturbation. At first, I was masturbating several times a day but between work and family, that started becoming difficult. So I read online about this practice called edging, which is when you have one really long session of masturbation. My wife was away that weekend, and I spent all of my waking hours sitting in front of the computer and jerking off in a sea of tissues and pizza crusts.

Sex is unlike any other addiction because the high, at least for me, wears off the second I orgasm. As soon as I’m finished, I immediately start thinking about another—more extreme—way to get off. It’s a total torment. I don’t think I can think of any point in time when sex hasn’t been on my mind in some capacity, whether it’s feeling guilty about sex, trying to find someone to have sex with, trying to hide from people that I just had sex…or trying to avoid thinking about the health repercussions of my sexual activity.

I feel guilty because I’m a religious man and I go to church. I’m torn between the family man persona, and the person I know myself to be. Every time I think I’ve hit a new sexual low, I end up doing something even worse. Everything I do is totally antithetical to how I carry myself in public. I take no pride in any of this. I know that it’s not okay. I know that it’s wrong. But I cannot stop.

I don’t think I’m smart enough to figure out how I turned out like this. I think it’s because of what happened; I feel extremely guilty about the fact that I kept going back. And I know people love to say— “oh, that wasn’t your fault/you were just a kid/you have to learn to forgive yourself”—but that’s all just psychobabble bullshit and I know it. Was it really against my will if I returned out of my own volition? I didn’t even have to tell anyone; I could have just stopped going. It was completely in my own hands.

So I often find myself thinking: was I like this even before what happened? Or did I become like this because of it? And I think it’s definitely the latter. You know sometimes when you’re groggy in the morning and you try to put on your button down shirt? Sometimes, you’ve buttoned it all the way up when you realize that you’re one button off, so your whole shirt is askew. You have to start all over again—and it was all because of that first button that you got wrong. I wish I could start all over again. My whole life feels askew.

Read more Craigslist Confessionals here. To share your story with Helena, email her at craigslistconfessionalqz@gmail.com. Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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