My name is Ema and I’m a sex addict. I have been sober for 27 hours.
That is how we start every meeting.
There are meetings.
I read that people think about sex 15 times a day. Only 15? Really?! Fifteen times a day for a half-hour fantasy? Fifteen times a day while fingering yourself in a bathroom? Is it a fleeting thought or a behavior or a longing?
For me, sex is a five-senses activity. I savor all the smells, sounds, tastes. Every moment is an experience of mind and body melding into one. Everything else clears away. I am living in the moment. I am truly experiencing. I am real and true and authentic to myself. Every touch has significance. Every movement has a purpose. I never want to leave. I never want to stop. I never feel full or satiated or complete.
Men have a God-given off-switch. Their bodies decide when they have had enough, even if their brain has not. But I am a woman. I have no off-switch. I am never done. There is no marathon too long or ocean too wide. I can do this. All. Day.
And I did.
I was raised as an Orthodox Jewish girl. I got engaged by 18 and married at 20. I waited till my wedding night to have sex for the first time because that was the expectation. I covered my hair, popped out baby after baby, and wore long skirts — and I loved sex. Over 13 years of marriage, I turned my, sweet, nurturing Jewish husband into a human sex toy. He was conditioned to get hard when I needed him to, even though he rarely came. Twice a day turned into four times and then six and then eight. I’d wake him up in the middle of the night and early in the morning. I’d call him home from work in the middle of the day. I’d insist he come home early or have sex with me in the car at his office, or threaten to find someone else if he didn’t meet my needs. Shabbat afternoons were spent “napping” for hours. I would refuse Shabbat meal invitations so we could have sex all day. I told myself he was lucky.
I didn’t know that sex addiction existed. None of my religious female friends seemed to enjoy or think about sex like I did. Their long skirts seemed to not only cover their knees, but also their needs to lust and be lusted after. I began seeking friends outside the Orthodox community to find others that thought like me, but even in the secular world, women would look at me with variations of awe, shock, disgust, and confusion when I spoke about my relationship with sex.
Only men seemed to understand the intense need and desire, but even the men had learned to curb their needs to meet the limited desire of their wives. Speaking to Jewish, married men about sex would be considered adulterous in my community, and so I sought out men outside the community to find like minds. Just as I had learned in my Judiac Studies classes, talking about sex with men leads to thinking about sex with those men, and, ultimately, translates into action. But my religion had taught me self control. My food, my body, my clothes, my words. I had learned that a higher power trumps my internal urges. The same concept we speak about at Sex Addict Anonymous. I was married and refused to cheat. I leaned on my higher power.
I stopped doing the other things I enjoyed because there was nothing better than sex. I didn’t want to go on dates with my husband because I would just rush him home. We would go to an event and I’d pull him into closets, or empty corridors, or behind a wall. At a shul dinner, he had to take me home early because he refused to have sex with me in the synagogue. We would go on vacation together and only take breaks from the hotel room to eat.
It wasn’t enough. I was never full. There had to be more and different and more risky. My husband felt like he was failing me and that he wasn’t enough. I didn’t understand then that there would never be enough. I was chasing the most wonderful dragon. What I couldn’t see is that there is one thing that all dragons have in common. All dragons kill.
What I wish I knew then is that I was running from so many things. My perfect marriage wasn’t perfect. My religious life was putting too many restrictions on my free spirit. I was suffocating. I needed freedom from my husband. I needed freedom from rules. I needed freedom from the eyes of the traditional Jewish community. I used sex to clear my head because I didn’t love what was inside. I mastered fantasy to take me away because the alternative was to think about things out of my control. Withdrawal from my life was a conscious choice. I would tell myself to stop thinking about the negative and I would substitute the thought with a fantasy. I thought that’s what you are supposed to do. Push bad thoughts out; replace them with good thoughts. I was an expert. I never felt pain of any kind. Even physical pain. Long term physical pain disappeared along with the emotional pain. I could replace it. I was self hypnotizing and replacing my emotions, my body, my mind… I was replacing myself — with sex.
And I loved it.
Honestly, I still do.
When I have a hard day… I can call a friend to come over, I’ll have sex with him, and my bad day is gone. When I am scared, or jealous, or angry, I don’t react. It appears to others that I am extremely patient, but I don’t react because I am mentally at peace. In my head, I am not experiencing the real or the challenge. In my head, I am in bed, or against a tree, or in the back seat of my car with the stranger whose number I got at Starbucks. I haven’t spoken to him, but I can already imagine what noise he makes when he cums. I can taste him and feel him and smell him and I don’t know his full name. We made eye contact. Once. I put my phone in front of him and told him to put in his number and now, he has found a role in the mental movie I play to escape. He is a sum of his parts, strong arms, big chest, broad shoulders. I collect men like someone else would collect baseball cards. I know their names, the positions they play, and every once in a while, I’ll move an MVP to the top of the pile. He is now one of my baseball cards.
I divorced my husband. The moment he handed me the get, the Jewish divorce, when he placed the ink, handwritten, folded paper into my hands and said the obligatory words “You are free to any man,” we made eye contact at that moment and we both cried openly. I have removed myself from Orthodox Judaism and my marriage and now I don’t experience shame or guilt or embarrassment. I don’t feel bad about having sex. I actually feel empowered. I’m not filling a void or trying to find my value in someone else’s eyes. I’m not trying to find a worthwhile man. I had that. I married him. He is wonderful. He is free.
I get STD-tested every two months. I use condoms, but I can’t be too careful. I told the doctor I was a sex addict and she tested me for every disease ever discovered. I tried to explain to her that a sex addict is different from a prostitute, but she didn’t see the difference.
There are alcoholics who will drink nail polish remover to get their fix, but most choose their favorite drinks and vary when they need a different texture. Same with sex addicts. There is always a chance that we will get desperate and will make dangerous choices. That is why I go to treatment, so I don’t become lost and make choices that could hurt me. I have my high-end bottles that I go to again and again, and I like to try different versions and tastes and textures, but I don’t grab the nail polish remover on a dry night. I go to treatment, so I never get there.
Most sex addicts are not deviants. Some are. But most are not. They are addicted to porn or attention from the opposite sex or the adrenaline of an affair. They are peeping Toms, the people who expose themselves, and the men and women who can’t stop sexting. They are the people who lie about sex because they know they are different. I am not a deviant. I have consensual sex with single adult men and occasionally single adult women.
It is socially acceptable to tell a room that you are addicted to coffee. Or chocolate. Or food. It has even become brave to talk about your struggles with alcohol, mental illness, and sexual orientation. But it is NOT socially acceptable to be a man or woman with a sex addiction. It is not a topic for the Shabbat table. All talk about sex with other religious people is treated as a taboo topic.
I want that to change. I would have gotten help years ago had I known. It might have saved my marriage and prevented the pain I caused my family. I might have left earlier or never gotten married. I might have understood myself and my choices and become more self-aware.
It’s a shame that I have to write this anonymously because I am afraid I will lose my job if it comes out. It’s a shame that seeking help means that I am met with concern, judgement, and fear. People can get addicted to anything they enjoy. I wish I knew then what I know now. I wish someone had told me about sex addiction for women. I wish sex and addiction, in general, were spoken about at the Shabbat table.
I am writing this to start a conversation.
Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
It’s time to change the things we can. And that starts with education and acceptance.
My name is Ema and I’m a sex addict. I have been sober for 28 hours.