Life as a sex addict: ‘I thought I’d be better off without a penis’

David’s sex addiction drove him to the point of trying to castrate himself

David: “I would come out of a sex worker’s place and be straight on my phone searching for my next encounter. There was no satisfaction.” Photograph: iStock

David: “I would come out of a sex worker’s place and be straight on my phone searching for my next encounter. There was no satisfaction.” Photograph: iStock

 

David started to masturbate several times a day when he was 12. That is not so unusual. Now in his late 30s, the Dublin-born man would go on to spend hours trawling the internet for sex workers he would then visit and have penetrative sex with. He would visit different women several times a day, “but I would come out of a sex worker’s place and be straight on my phone searching for my next encounter. There was no satisfaction.”

When he was young, as it is for many, masturbation was part of a pleasant exploration. For David, it was a way to escape the anxiety that arose in a family ill-equipped to deal openly with feelings or emotions. He was bullied at primary school and it would follow him on to secondary school.

He didn’t tell anyone.

“Looking back on it, I was hyper too, which didn’t help. Now they might call it ADHD. Things have changed a lot, but at the time I had no skills or knowledge about how to deal with it,” he says.

When David was seven or eight, he would self-harm and then pick at the scabs left on his body. The pain distracted him from the anxiety at home and the bullying at school. He says he felt “very isolated”.

By 12, David had found a new way to escape. He would hurry home after school, hide himself away and masturbate. “I couldn’t wait to get home because I had found a safe place to go.”

There wasn’t any internet in those days, he points out, aware the constant availability of porn online has changed the game and spawned new issues. “We might see the odd copy of Playboy and see page three of the Sun, but it was mostly in my head.” He sees a need for a new discussion about online porn. “It was all-consuming enough without that.”

Sexual addiction was an addiction that came easily to David. He grew up isolated, bullied and struggling to make relationships, particularly with the opposite sex. He would be in his 30s before he got a girlfriend.

That sex is everywhere, selling products from washing powder to cars, did not help David to stop his addiction to thinking about sex – all day, every day. Statistics from the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health in the US led the organisation to think that between 3 and 5 per cent of the population could meet the criteria for addiction to sex.

In Ireland, that could be more than 200,000 people.

“Where it used to be 40- to 50-year-old men seeking treatment, now there are more females, adolescents, and senior citizens,” says Tami VerHelst, vice president of the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals. This includes “grandfathers getting caught with porn on their computers by grandkids, and grandkids sexting at 12,” she says.

“People think that sex addiction started with the internet, but it didn’t,” says David. “You can be addicted to sex in the same way you are addicted to cocaine.”

He went to college after he finished school with the Christian Brothers, “who were not known for dealing well with sexuality”, he says, but he still hadn’t lost his virginity and was getting anxious, thinking his peers were laughing at him. David had not had a girlfriend; in fact he had not had a relationship, so he decided he would visit a sex worker in Dublin, away from where he lived.

Sexual intercourse, not social intercourse, was his priority.

Sex worker

David visited a sex worker and had sex, but the sex wasn’t what made the greatest impression on him. “She held my arm as she spoke and said some nice things to me. She told me I was good person and no one had said anything like that to me before.”

Now everything would be okay, he told himself. Except that it didn’t feel ok a lot. He carried on having sex with sex workers, but as soon as he had left, he was thinking about his next encounter.

He felt terrible. He even came close to castrating himself.

“I got the knife and I only stopped when I realised that I would bleed to death before I reached the nearest hospital. I didn’t want to carry on facing this problem and I thought that sex was the problem and my penis was the driving force. I really thought I would be better off without it.”

It would take another 13 years for David to get help.

First, his work would take him overseas, where he would spend hours trawling the internet looking for sex workers. “I managed because I was good at my job and got it done quickly to allow me time for my other activities, namely spending up to 14 hours every day looking for sex.”

His addiction cost a fortune. He thought he would grow out of it.

He didn’t.

“The anxiety of being me and my whole obsession with sex,” became too much. David would try to take his own life twice. “After my failed suicide attempts, I knew I had a problem with sex and got an appointment at the Rutland centre. They agreed and two weeks after my initial consultation I began a five-week stay there.

“I knew I had a problem and I had become an expert in lying and manipulation to hide it,” says David. He was the only sex addict in the south Dublin centre at the time, “but I consider all addictions to be rooted in the same things. I just needed to stop the pain.”

David is happy now, not deliriously so, “normally” so, which is what he wanted. He is in a relationship and is not interested in revisiting his past. “When a sex worker rang me to see where I had gone, I was actually upset and told her not to call me again and to delete my number. I was upset, but I was able to handle it.”

Stopping feeling anxious was the key to recovery for David. When he stopped being anxious, he stopped thinking that he could use sex to self-soothe. He knew he was useful, not useless.

“People underestimate this addiction to sex,” he says, “but fear and lack of connection drove me there. For some people, masturbating three times a day is okay, for others it is not.”

He has changed careers and jobs, enjoys his relationship and has stopped being afraid for the first time in three decades.

“This is fixable,” he says. “It is worth trying.”

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