Perhaps, like me, you hear the words "sex addict" and roll your eyes. But sometimes you hear about something that totally changes your attitude. Even if, yes, it's called "Confessions of a Toxic Bachelor."
I had exactly this reaction when I started Casper Walsh's tell-all in the Independent. Great, I thought. Another laddish tale of conquests and self-indulgence played off with Duchovny-esque excuses and crocodile tears. As women, we've grown cynical about what often seems a very convenient disorder. (Maybe not just women - when I raised the subject with my boyfriend, his response was "bullshit. That's just code for infidelity.") And, yes, the author initially comes off like your typical "I'm honest, that's all that matters" type so common in the world of the first person.
I'm sensitive; to people, places, sounds, everything. Discovering how to use this sensitivity to my advantage was key to getting what I wanted with women. I'd walk up to the best-looking woman in the street and nervously start talking. I'd be exactly how I felt: fundamentally shy, sweet and honest. The threat of humiliation and rejection was intoxicating. What truly disturbed me was my ability to use my honesty to get so many women into bed under the guise that I was interested in them long term. Back then it was never going to be anything other than sex...I got blamed for my behavior. Blacklisted as a "typical bloke". "You're all the bloody same." I was confronted, shouted at, slapped, punched, threatened with a shotgun, a handgun and an oversized knife. All it did was make the hit of success that much sweeter. I was always clear at the beginning of each encounter: "I'm not available for a relationship, I like you, think you're gorgeous, smart and I want to sleep with you." It never ceased to amaze me how often this worked.
We hear about the author's many conquests, his unhealthy relationships and dead-end affairs. I was getting irritated, and then I came to this: "I objectified women in bed, in magazines and on the screen. There was a lurking sense of the absence of morality and human decency in my behavior but as long as I kept a constant stream of women in my life, the potentials, actuals and the fantasies, I could keep the creeping demons of guilt and shame at bay." That sentence stopped me cold - it seemed, in those lines, that Walsh had stumbled onto something fundamental - not just about sexual addiction, but about our society.
You can read his journey for yourself; suffice it to say, reality comes to roost and he realizes he has A Problem. He begins the truly agonizing process of recovery - and if, like me, you continue to harbor skepticism about the condition's validity, this may help lay it to rest. It may not be Trainspotting, but the struggles Walsh recounts are very real, very painful, and very deep-seeded.
I carried on going to the support groups; made friends with people I would normally cross the road to avoid and began to look deeper into why I'd been running so hard for so long. My addiction to sex was, in part, my way of dealing with the abuse I experienced when I was 12 by a man old enough to be my father when my real father was in prison. I'd buried this under the sincere belief that because I was consenting I had no justifiable complaint – another barrier of denial. I contacted the police and went through excruciating interviews in a bid to track down my abuser. We never found him. The process was enough to lay the ghost to rest. ...Today, I put as much energy into my recovery as I did my addictive sexual behaviour. I go to my recovery meetings weekly. I attend a men's group, have mentors and mentor others. I work with sex offenders and help lead the recovery meetings that, in a nutshell, saved my life. It is still very hard work at times. But most of the time, I love it.
He ends the piece happily married and stable, even volunteering with sex offenders. It's a triumphant story, albeit a sobering one. As he says, "sex was a separate, dark and destructive part of me, set up as a child to keep me safe and separate from a world I saw as dangerous. At last, I'm integrating my sexuality into my life in a way that is boundaried, healthy and genuinely loving." This is no wink-wink tale of "what's a guy to do?" but rather an indication of the way abuse can scar. I know I'll give the subject more thought - and judge more harshly when people try to confuse this with mere self-indulgence.
Sex Addict: Confessions Of A Toxic Bachelor [Independent]