Someone asked me today if I thought it was wrong to lust after your husband. Good question. Alcoholics remove the alcohol from their homes. Smokers get rid of the cigarettes. Sex addicts toss the porn. But what about sex? Sex is good, sex is fun, sex is nice and most of us want to do it with someone we love. Recovering sex addicts have to figure out the difference between healthy sex and addictive/compulsive sex. Since most of that difference is in our heads, it’s a tough job.
Activities like Internet porn and orgies are pretty obvious, but what about phone-sex with your husband when he’s away on a business trip? Intercourse with your husband should be okay, right? But what if you need a rape fantasy to reach orgasm? Should you try to imagine your husband in that scenario or keep it anonymous? What if your husband likes you to read romance novels to “get ready” for sex? These are actual examples taken from conversations I’ve had over the years with other women in recovery from sex addiction.
Let me digress for a moment. I’m sure there are women who are sex addicts who weren’t molested. I haven’t met them yet. Being sexual with a child ALWAYS hurts that child.
What I tell these women is that since the exact same sex act can be “sober” or “unsober” you have to be rigorously honest with yourself and your partner. You can’t just say intercourse in the missionary position is healthy and intercourse on the kitchen table is not. I know from personal experience that you can dehumanize your partner and use him or her as a living blow-up doll during straight forward, 100% vanilla sex. By the way, if you’ve done this with someone you have a long term relationship with, they know. You owe them an apology. They might not know exactly what you were thinking, but they know something is off. I have heard many wives of men in my s-recovery fellowship talk about how empty and alone after sex they felt. I thought my husband didn’t have a clue. He did. He assumed he felt that way because he wasn’t a skillful lover. Once he knew the truth about my sexual addiction, it relieved him of a huge burden of performance anxiety.
Healthy sex is all about giving and sharing. If I’m not off having some private fantasy while I’m using him as a high quality blow up doll, we can connect with each other because I’m emotionally available instead of disassociated. This kind of sex isn’t always rose petals and love songs either! It’s dehumanizing your partner that makes sex unhealthy. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with working up a sweat! Of course, there are things we don’t do in bed because they’re too triggering. That varies from one individual to the next, but keeping your eyes open and avoiding positions where you can’t look at your partner’s face seem to be fairly universal. And you must talk to each other. Whether that’s during sex or during breakfast, talk is the absolute key to a healthy, satisfying sex life, whether you’re a sex addict or not.
Trying to sort all this out can be a bit overwhelming, especially in early sobriety. If a husband is watching his wife in the shower and getting aroused, is that good or bad? You see? Confusing. My opinion is that men are visually triggered. At home, this is good. At Hooters, it’s bad. Same for women. When I’m thinking about my husband, daydreaming about how much I love him and how glad I am that our marriage survived, depending on the time of the month, that can get sexual. That’s a good thing. When I’ve been on the phone with my mother and all of a sudden I’m preoccupied with different sexual scenes, that’s bad. Even if my husband is starring in those scenes.
Another analogy I like to use is making dinner together. If you’ve ever done that – sometimes it’s really fun, and other times you’re ready to smack him with a spoon because he’s adding too much salt and cutting the vegetables too big. Actually, in my house it’s my husband that gets mad because I don’t bother browning the onions before adding the ground beef. (’Cause it’s a waste of time is why! Duh!) But usually you don’t get really angry and usually the food turns out okay, but sometimes it’s a disaster and you have to break out the peanut butter and jelly. Some nights it’s candles and soft music, other times its hot dogs on a paper plate. Every once in a while you make something truly delicious and memorable.
The simple truth is that sex is so much better for both of us now. All the times we had that disconnect because I was off in a fantasy while being sexual, he knew something was off. He never mentioned it because he was sure it was because he’s not a good lover. Now that we’re honest with each other, we’re more connected. He tells me when he feels inadequate and I tell him when I think my arousal is addictive. And yes, those are strange conversations. “I got a call from my mom today and I’m horny as hell.” And yes, he has said (jokingly) that he doesn’t mind what got my engine started, he’d be happy to take a ride. You gotta laugh at some of this stuff! But here’s the thing. I almost died. Although I had a really bad therapist, I’ve been compulsive about sex my whole life, well before puberty. And I don’t want to be like that any more. Compulsions suck. So we have those strange and embarrassing conversations. Our marriage is stronger. I’m better. And we’re less embarrassed to show our true selves to each other, which means our marriage continues to grow stronger and deeper.
It took me a long time to be able to figure out the difference between healthy sex and acting out sex, since the actual physical act is the same. Going to treatment and having that time of abstinence REALLY helped. Now, I don’t think treatment is always called for, but I do think a period of abstinence is absolutely necessary. That can be a tough conversation to have and it is possible to make things worse. So get some help from a certified sex addiction counselor and your sponsor. It’s also very possible things can get better. The did for me and my husband.