Jennifer (not her real name), 36, lives in Miami. Although she’s never touched drugs or alcohol, she has an addiction all the same—sex addiction. Although not an official psychiatric diagnosis, Jennifer’s sex addiction has caused her tremendous pain and suffering over the years. Her compulsive behavior, which she thinks may have been triggered by childhood abuse, destroyed relationships and ultimately wrecked her marriage. She sought treatment and has been sober for six years.

By As told to: Sarah Klein
February 29, 2016

woman-sex-addictionSex Addicts Anonymous is a 12-step program that can help.Getty ImagesYou often hear stories about sex addicts who have multiple partners, or who have sex in parking lots, or hook up with strangers they meet on the Internet. That wasnt my style.

I had long affairs. I wanted sex, but I also wanted somebodys soul, in this really ego-driven way. My life was a constant juggling act of at least two men, making sure they didnt find out about each other. I was unfaithful to every boyfriend I ever had.

I thought that getting married would cure me. I hoped that I would never look at anyone else but my husband again. I remember praying the week of my wedding, “God, please let me be faithful.” Two weeks later, I started looking around. I got married in January 2000 and by April I was in a full-blown affair.

Overall, while I was married, I had two 2-year affairs with only a four-month break in between the affairs.

I felt like I got love from my husband, but as the intimacy level went up, my sex interest went down. My husband was really good-looking, nice, smart, funny—everybody says hes such a great guy—but because he was so familiar I was tired of him. Im just sort of wired wrong. Other women get turned on by a romantic date with their husbands. Me? I wanted to have sex if I had 10 minutes and there was a broom closet nearby. If we were in a fight and I wasnt sure if he was going to stay with me, thats when I felt really aroused. Ive spent the last six years trying to rewire my brain when it comes to sex.

More about sex drive

We all have things in our past that set up a template that informs our sexual preferences later in life. Thats why some guys are turned on by schoolgirl uniforms or some people like spanking; something happened in their childhood that set them up for that. When I was young, I was sexually abused in a very large house, probably six rooms away from my dad. So what got me really excited was acting out with my boyfriend when my husband was probably 50 or 60 feet away.

Next Page: Sex addiction is like any addiction [ pagebreak ]Marriage didnt cure me
Were the same as heroin addicts; it just usually takes us longer to get caught because the symptoms arent as noticeable. You can tell when an employee is coming into work high or drunk, but its harder to identify sex addiction. Most of us are very productive and good at our jobs. Were compulsively efficient. Were clever, manipulative, and a little evil. I never touched drugs or alcohol; sex was my drug of choice. I thought I was better than other addicts. The truth is that I was not.

Before I got married, in the 1990s, I went to two therapists and told them exactly what was going on. They didnt understand what they were dealing with. It was like how therapists in the 1930s told alcoholics to drink less. They told me I should masturbate instead of being unfaithful to boyfriends. They didnt understand thats just not possible. Today it seems ridiculous, because now a therapist would never say something like that, but Ive heard the same story from a lot of people.

I got caught when my husband found a bunch of sex emails between me and my boyfriend. He Fed-Exed the emails to my grandmother, my parents, and my brother, saying, “Im filing for divorce from Jennifer, and heres why.” It was very clear through the emails that we were having a very sexual relationship. I said all sorts of things because it never occurred to me anyone else would read them. I remember telling my dad that I really loved my husband and wanted it to work. He said, “Well, its hard to tell.”

My husband confronted me and asked me over and over again, “Why did you do this, why did you do this?” I dont remember ever hearing the words sex addict before that moment, but they just popped out. I said, “Because Im a sex addict!” I remember thinking, I wonder if thats true? I was so used to lying that I would just say things like that. I went home and bought a book by Patrick Carnes, PhD, called Out of the Shadows, and I read it and realized it described me through and through.

Getting help
Just being able to say “Im a sex addict” was such a powerful beginning. Naming it was scary and upsetting, but at least I finally knew what to do. I decided to go for eight weeks of treatment at the Meadows because Carnes was the clinical director at that time. My family was incredibly supportive. But I still feel like they never needed to know about any of it; they never wanted to know about any of it. Then I started attending Sex Addicts Anonymous, worked the steps, and tried to get sober.

The first meeting I ever went to I was really lucky because I immediately identified. I knew I belonged there and that these were my people. The meetings are always predominantly male, but we have started a female-only meeting because there are just some things you can only talk about in front of women. Working the 12 steps is really what got me sober and has helped me stay sober to this day. I continue to go to meetings and work with my sponsor, and I also sponsor other women. I try to do all I can to help still-suffering addicts.

After I got sober, my husband and I tried to make a go of it. We lasted another two and a half years before we got divorced. There was just too much damage done.

I will always be a recovering sex addict. Thats true of most sex addicts. We believe sex is the most important need, more important than food. If my partner says he doesnt want to be sexual with me, I read that as he doesnt love me. Its been hard to retrain myself to realize that it doesnt mean Im not worthy, but just that hes tired and has had a long day. Now when I have sex, Im present for it. Im there with the person that Im with. But its been really hard to reprogram my brain to think like that.