Tell Me About It: Have I been living with a sex addict?
I suspected my early-teen son had started masturbating, so asked my husband to have a man-to-man chat with him, to encourage him to try resisting those urges. But my husband blew a fuse, saying there’s no way he’d try to get our son to stop doing what he himself has been doing every single day since puberty.
I was shocked and horrified. Is the man I’ve been living with for 20 years some kind of sex addict?
I’m a practising Catholic, but I base my attitudes to sexuality on a more personal and humanist moral code. My problem with masturbation is that it is solitary and isolating, whereas sexuality should be about the deepest and most intimate connection between two people expressing their love for each other.
Also I worry that it’s a gateway to deviant/unhealthy fantasies and to using porn that’s highly degrading to women. (My husband says he doesn’t use porn,but he admitted indulging in fantasies that don’t involve me. The concern about porn is mostly in relation to my son.)
My libido has never been very high, so we generally only make love once a month, if even that. He long ago stopped asking for it, I suppose to avoid bad feeling.
The more I question him on this, the worse I feel. It turns out he does it in bed most mornings before I wake up (my mother, God rest her, used to say that I’d have slept right through the Blitz). Cue disgusted feelings. I’ve moved out to the spare room as a result.
He’s utterly unapologetic. His attitude is: “Well, what did you expect after denying me for so long?” He claims the problem is all mine, that I’m controlling and repressed, while he took the only reasonable option open to him in order to stay both sane and faithful. I see it as just as bad a betrayal as an affair.
How can I get him to see some sense, understand my feelings, and stop what he’s doing?
While I empathise with your distress and particularly the loneliness in your household, your husband is right. This is your problem. Don’t shame your teenage son. Leave him be. If there’s a discussion to be had, it’s about porn on the internet, a discussion all parents should have with their teens. Your concern about the objectification and exploitation of women in porn can be discussed openly, but in a different context.
Why do you feel he needs to “resist those urges”? Bernadette Ryan, couples counsellor with Relationships Ireland says: “You sound like you’re disgusted by this perfectly natural and age-appropriate self-sexual experimentation and exploration. So perhaps that is telling about how you feel about sex and sexuality, and particularly your own?
“If only this wasted effort and energy was channelled where it could actually make a difference – inwardly,” Ryan says.
Your question “how can I get him to see some sense, understand my feelings, and stop what he’s doing?” can be asked about the majority of difficulties between couples. You want your husband to see it your way.
You are a lonely couple; both you and your husband are feeling completely misunderstood. You feel he’s being worse than unfaithful; he feels wrongly accused.
“Intimate sex between a couple provides an opportunity for connection at a very deep level. Intimate sex is about loving and being loved, giving and taking, pleasuring and being pleasured, having fun. While masturbation can have its place, alone it can lead to isolation and disconnection,” says Ryan.
Difficulties with sex are not necessarily to do with sex. You need to find a way to engage in that most difficult task of all: an honest assessment of your relationship. Exploring this could be, with the right support, an opportunity for you to reconnect with your sexuality and move your marriage on.
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