Can I Find Happiness With a Sex Addict?

Can I Find Happiness With a Sex Addict?

I just broke up with my boyfriend of almost three years. We had an amazing relationship. He was the first guy I fell in love with. He was my best friend and lover. We had talked about the future and had great relationships with each other’s families and friends.

Now, the problem. I recently found out that he had been responding to sex posts/ads online. When I confronted him about it, he immediately confessed and apologized profusely. He cried and said he’s so ashamed of himself. He explained that it’s a sexual issue/addiction that he’s had for years – even before he met me. He swore that he never actually met up and did anything physical with anybody; he had only exchanged messages. He said he’d go to counseling to get help. He asked me if I could find it in my heart to stay with him and give him a chance to fix himself and be a better man. He said he knows I deserve better.

I feel so betrayed, sad and angry. But a part of me also believes everything he told me, because it’s in line with his character. He had always been honest with me, even when we discussed difficult subjects.

I’m 25 years old and I’m attractive, intelligent, funny, etc., so I’m sure I can find another person in the future. The problem is, I don’t know if I want to. Is my ex-boyfriend “the one”? I’m not the type of person who magically “knows” or dreams about marriage, but being with him made me start thinking about the possibility of marriage. Does he have great character, make me happy and help me to be a better person? 100%. Did he hurt me? Yes. Do I think I can trust him again? I don’t know.

Like many people with addictions, he may be a good man with a pure heart, but if he can’t control his own actions, he fits the profile of a high-risk partner.

My rational side tells me that breaking up was the right thing to do and that I should never look back. My emotional side tells me that I should give him a second chance, but only once he’s made progress through counseling. What do I do? I don’t want to do anything stupid. I don’t want to fall into a bad case of clouded judgment due to loss of first love. Unfortunately I don’t have enough experience with love to know. I need your help. –Zoe

Dear Zoe,

A very thoughtful letter and a very tricky situation.

And, to echo your sentiments at the close of your email, unfortunately I don’t have enough experience with addiction (much less sex addiction) to be able to rightfully guide you.

A quick trip to Wikipedia is informative, however.

While sex addiction is not listed in the 2013 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is pretty much the bible for mental health diagnoses, it’s still prevalent enough to have been studied extensively.

One short description on the page sort of leaped out at me:

Whether it’s a choice or a disease doesn’t matter. He can’t control his urges.

“Jennifer P. Schneider, MD, PhD identified three indicators of sexual addiction: compulsivity, continuation despite consequences, and obsession.”

In layman’s terms, that sounds like some serious shit.

Like many people with addictions, he may be a good man with a pure heart, but if he can’t control his own actions, he certainly fits the profile of a high-risk partner.

In other words, would you be remotely surprised if you got back together and he told you in one year that he spent $5000 on online porn that year? Or maintained a Craigslist “Casual Encounter” ad?

It sure wouldn’t shock me. And even despite that, I wouldn’t doubt that he truly loves you. He’s just an addict. Whether it’s a choice or a disease doesn’t matter. He can’t control his urges. As such, you’re taking a highly calculated risk that he doesn’t backslide.

The one thing I can weigh in on with some measure of authority is this:

You WILL fall in love again.

You’re 25. You don’t seem to lack for attractive traits or self-esteem. You’ve been able to maintain a three-year relationship. You had the confidence to walk away from a boyfriend that you love whom you don’t trust. These are all signs of a highly healthy young woman.

Listen, I believe in second chances as much as the next guy. Hell, if my wife cheated on me, I’d absolutely give her a second chance to make it right – because I know it’s anomalous and not part of her character. Unfortunately, Zoe, your ex-boyfriend’s behavior is not anomalous; it’s chronic.

If anybody is going to give him a second chance, it’s going to have to be the next woman who finds out he’s a recovering sex addict.

As for you, I think you should get back out there, date a bunch of new guys, and see who surprises you. My guess is that he’ll be everything that your previous boyfriend was – without the addiction and trust issues. Keep us posted.


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  1. 1

    It seems really scary that you could be with someone for three years and just now find this out. Good for her that she’s only 25, but what if she was 37 and looking to start a family only to discover such a deal breaker? How could a problem like this be detected earlier? Were there red flags? I ask all this because at 28, and having been single for many years, the next guy I get in a relationship with I would hope we are on a path to marry, I don’t have time anymore for deadends. I don’t know what I’d do in this situation. 

  2. 2
    Grace Pamer

    Wow, tough, tough decision to make here. Addiction is such a difficult issue. He no doubt totally loves you but, at the same time, struggles to control his urges. I’m sure he regrets it totally but how often will he have such regrets in future each time he err’s.
    If he’s aware of the problem and willing to seek counselling that’s a start and one that should be applauded. If you truly love him then by all means be there for him as a friend through the process but keep it on a friendship basis until such time as you can judge how effective the treatment has been.  If you truly love someone then sometimes you have to take the extreme good with the bad.  Only you can decide whether that is something you wish to do, whether you wish to get hurt again in future or whether you believe there is enough good in him and determination to beat his addiction.
    You will be taking on a heavy load if you do get back together, it will be the elephant in the room you try to ignore but which may always be at the back of your mind and there are no guarantees so you need to think it through.  As Evan said you are young, good looking with a great deal going for you and young enough to know you will no doubt find someone else so there are plenty of opportunities ahead of you.  Whether you find anyone you love as much as him is the great unknown but you can’t live in fear of that.  I do not believe you will find others you will love.  As to whether he is “the one”, well, there are many potential “the ones” in life but they come by only so very often so its important to think it through before letting go of one potential such person.
    Good luck

  3. 3

    Great advice Evan. I liked the comment “sounds like serious shit” …

  4. 4

    Break up with him, your too young to waste years of your life with someone with such a serious problem. He may change for a while but it unlikely he will change permanently. Consult a professional on the matter and get their advice.

  5. 5

    I have to say I’m in two minds about the recent fashion for classifying this sort of thing as “sex addiction.” Whilst its true that there are some people whose sexual behaviour is so frenetic and so high risk that it can be conceptualised within an “addictions” type framework, at the same time I do think there can be a bit of a cop-out in declaring yourself a “sex addict.” What is simply bad/immature behaviour and what is “sex addiction”?
    By declaring oneself an addict, it is as though the person in some way abdicates resonsibility for their behaviour: “I can’t help it, I’m addicted.” “No officer, I’m not a reckless driver, you have to understand, I’m a velocity addict.”
    In this particular case, the boyfriend gets a thrill out of sexy online chat. If as he says he never actually meets up with these women, then this is really only one step beyond oggling cute women in the street. Whilst I understand the OPs concern and hurt, I do think her boyfriend has taken the easy way out (yet at the same time scared her)  by saying he’s “an addict” , which makes it sound as though he has some sort of medical condition… serious, (aren’t all addictions serious?) and possibly incurable… when  the fact of the matter may be  that he is simply a rather immature guy who has to learn to accept  that you can be single  – and act single – or you can be in a relationship, but you can’t be both at one time.

  6. 6

    Wow, Zoe.
    This must have been so very hard for you.  I’m sorry that you’ve went through this.  I’m this has been really painful, confusing and hurtful time for you.
    I think it is very loving on your part to consider continuing in a relationship with your boyfriend.   Because your situation is so much like one I faced several years ago, I want to share my story with you.
    I had a close group of friends in college and eventually started dating one of the guys in our circle.  We had a lot in common, our friends all approved of the relationship, we got along with each others’ family and he wanted to marry me.  We had so much fun together — talking, spending time alone and with friends.  We loved going on “adventures” together and doing generally off-the-wall things just because we were young and carefree.   
    He wanted to marry me and we started going to counseling together to talk about it.  At some point he came to me and told me that he was getting fired from his job at a high-rise condo community in the city.  He had been going through people’s mail because he had found pornography once by accident and compulsively started a habit of opening mail that looked like pornography on his night shift. 
    This was before the internet boom and not many people knew about sex addiction.  We broke up and I didn’t know if I had done the right thing because I missed him like crazy.  Nobody really understood about sex addiction back then.  I just knew that I couldn’t live through this man that I loved so much cheating on me.  I hoped that he would get help and come back to me.
    We both went our separate ways and didn’t talk after our breakup because it was too painful for both of us.  We both married and then went through divorces and got back in touch with each other about ten years later.  What I learned was that he ended  up cheating on his wife.  Not only that, he married a second time and also ended up cheating on that wife, too.  He is still a kind and loving person and I still care about him as a friend, but he is an addict.  He has tried to get help, but it didn’t prevent his adultery.  (An aside:  he seems to be holding steady now, but smokes a lot.  I honestly believe the smoking is keeping him from acting on his sex addiction, but that is not such a great trade off.)
    I also ended up marrying a sex addict whom I loved, had great conversations and sex with.  He still ended up acting on his compulsions and even though he made certain promises and sounded completely sincere in his efforts to change, he still went back to his old ways.  It look a lot for me to get away from him with my sanity.  There was immense pain and my self-esteem and trust levels plummeted.  It was easily the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through.
    Moral of both stories:  a person can be loving, kind, seemingly sincere and even bonded to you and continue to engage in sexually compulsive behaviors.  Trying to figure him/her out will only result in  frustration.  The nature of addiction is that it doesn’t make sense and people only change when they are ready – you are completely powerless over it.
    Some takeaways:  I disagree slightly with Evan’s assessment that you will find someone who is just as good.  You might not and that might make you want to go back to this guy.  In my opinion, it is not worth the heartache.  Another guy might be a little less exciting, but that will serve you better over time.  Also, because the sex addict puts so much time and energy into sex, you might find that other guys aren’t as passionate and/or as skilled.  However, if you feel basic attraction to them and they are good guys, don’t give up on them.  Open-minded, loving people can and want to learn, so that aspect of a relationship can be improved upon over time.  (This is something Evan really preaches and that I’ve learned to appreciate over time.)
    I also look at my own need for excitement and realize that I’ve gotten it through unhealthy relationships.  I now recognize and acknowledge this and try to get my needs met in healthy ways such as through outdoor activities, dance, etc.  I also look at the guys I’m dating and try to assess if they are “adrenaline junkies” — if they are, do they have healthy outlets for these drives?  Or do they live off monster drinks/coffee, cigarettes, etc?  These are clues to me that they might have a higher need for excitement which is a yellow warning light to me for a possible addiction.
    If you are really struggling, there are support groups for people who have or had partners who are sex addicts.  I’ve found a lot of understanding from these people.   The most common ones are S-Anon and COSA and some have online meetings.  They won’t tell you what to do, but their platform will help you keep your sanity and maintain healthy boundaries in any relationship.
    I wish you wisdom and strength as your navigate this dilemma, Zoe.  :-)

  7. 7

    To be honest, I do not understand whether sexual addiction is high libido, or an actual disease. I mean, realistically speaking one man/one woman is a relatively new thing. In the past (and no, i do not approve, just state the fact) there was one man/many women. Something about men trying to propagate their genes to as many women as possible.
    However since you love him, and naturally it bothers you that he has sexual addiction and will most probably end up cheating on you due to inability to control his sexual addiction, it’s better for you to look for someone else. 

  8. 8

    Well said Sarahrahrah, very well said and sound advice. 
    Great post Evan and well advised also. 

  9. 9

    You can always give him a shot if he is serious about counseling, but know your limit.  Or you can take a break, date other guys, etc, with the consideration (I wouldn’t promise) you would give him a second chance.  Or, you can go to therapy with him.  Not addiction counseling, but you should probably also do relationship counseling on your own.
    It’s pretty obvious you aren’t ok just throwing in the towel after three mostly happy years, and I actually think that’s a good thing.  Addicts in general don’t make ideal partners, but I think for your sanity, regret-avoidance is the best path considering you have (mostly) happily hit the 3-year point.  If this man is truly capable of over-coming his addiction, I feel you should see great improvement.
    You do have to know your limits, though, and let him know that you are willing to walk away if he does not overcome this.  1 in 5 people meet diagnostic criteria for some mental health issue.  I think people are coming down on you b/c sex addiction seems like a betrayal.  It’s not.  It’s an addiction and has nothing to do with you.  I say give him a chance, let him discuss his addiction openly and honestly without shame and take your emotions out of it.

  10. 10

    this is kind of what happened to me. the point is that the guy that i experienced was so deceptive, that i didn’t know the extent of his deception until many months after our relationship ended. the point is that this guy deceived zoe for three years and only admitted to what seems to be half truths (he never met up with any of the women he was chasing) in order to appear honest to try to keep zoe.  the guy i experienced did the same with me. admitted that he had a problem, wanted to get help, but, i found out afterwards, the reality was so much worse. he never got help.  addicts are so mixed up in the head that they don’t know who they are, they don’t know what they want, and they don’t know how to love and respect themselves, so how can you expect them to be able to love and respect others.  addicts try to keep hold of “hostages” because they struggle even more when they’re alone. if he’s a sex addict, women are objects of his addiction. how is zoe different from any of the others he focuses on?  she’s just the poor women who is his emotional “crutch”.  he is deceptive, a liar, a user and a cheat.  if you love and respect yourself, you will walk away and not look back. if you don’t, and you give him a second chance, you will learn after you have suffered with him for far longer than you would wish on your worse enemy, that had you loved and respected yourself, you would have walked away from him at this point.  that’s what i learnt from my experirence. life is far too value to waste on people who don’t have your best interest in mind.

  11. 11

    @Angie 9
    Sex addiction is an addiction, but would you marry an alcoholic, a drug addict, gambling addict or an adrenaline addict? When in the throes of addiction getting  the fix becomes the number one priority at the expense everything else (family, job, money and even personal safety). Prioritising an addictive activity over the needs and emotional or physical safety of a partner and family is a more profound betrayal than cheating.
    The partner of an addict will learn that she can’t count on him to follow through and be there in a pinch.  The partner of an addict will never feel safe and supported and secure.
    After three years, it is understandable that you want to suspend things for a while and see if he cleans up. You are young, so you have time if two years from now you are back in the same position. If you decide to wait for him for a while, ask him to document his participation in 12 step programs or counseling, but most important of all make sure he wants to get well for his own sake, not for your sake or the sake of the relationship. Unless he chooses to do this for himself, he is likely to relapse. Your dilemma is you will not be certain why he is in counseling, and even if he wants to get better for himself, he still might relapse. He will always be a recovering addict. You must decide if you can have a happy life with that question hanging over you.

  12. 12

    i also wanted to add that even people who don’t have addictions per se, but have characteristics that cause problems in their lives …. have you seen how difficult it is for these people to actually change? even if they really, really want to change, often, as it is happening at a subconcious level, often they don’t change. again, they are wired like this, and the wiring often takes years and years to change.  bruce lipton (scientist) talks alot about this in his talks.  i’ve seen this in my own life. i’ve seen people who actively do 12 step programs take a long time to change.  i’m talking years, not months. and often they really only change when they have lost virtually everything and everybody and have to face the shit within themselves that they have been so successful at running away from all their lives. of course there are exceptions, everybody is different. but i am speaking in generally.

  13. 13

    Zoe needs to run and run fast.  No way would I knowingly take a partner back that confessed an addiction to anything.  Life is hard enough as it is.  On the flip side, if they were married and he became addicted during the marriage, totally different situation. Vows for better or worse have been taken, so you deal with it together.  No vows, no deal.

  14. 14
    Some other guy

    How much would feelings change were the word “Sex” removed from the title?

  15. 15

    Try if you are already married, but remember no marriage is unconditional. As soon as an addiction develops, the marriage vow is broken. The spouse has fallen on the priorities list, displaced by addiction.
    @Some other guy
    How about:
    “Can I find happiness with a drug addict?”
    “Can I find happiness with gambling addict?”
    “Can I find happiness with someone morbidly depressed?”
    The advise is yet to run.

  16. 16

    Sexual addiction leads to behaviors that are both self-destructive and destructive to others.  When the urges cannot be control, it then becomes a character issue.  This is not how tall is he, how much money does he make, etc.  This issue has the power to do some real damage.  Lust is never satisfied.  It will demand more and more.  I submit Zoe is better off to cut her losses and find a healthy partner.

  17. 17
    Michele McCauleu

    Trust is the bottom line; without trust no relationship can be successful.  It’s one thing to love but without trust, you heart will never be fulfilled.  There will be someone else that you find love with and will not have these trust issues.  Be good to yourself and listen to your heart.

  18. 18

    Addict Shmaddict. The guy got caught and he is saying he is an addict so as to make it seem it was beyond his control and couldn’t help himself. Thats all. Everyone here is basing their commentary on a self proclaimed diagnosis by a boyfriend that got caught. If he had a mental health professional diagnose him as a sex addict then that would be one thing. But to have him self proclaim he is an addict as a way of mounting a defense is so obvious. Cant believe that so many people got taken in by that.
    The bottom line is the same- she should dump him. But lets be real. He isnt an addict. Just a lousy boyfriend.

  19. 19

    I think people have a hard time believing that sex addiction is a real thing b/c so many public figures have been abusing the term when getting caught with their pants down.
    But I think people can and are addicted to a variety of things and there is a difference between someone who can stop and someone who cannot.
    Take the word sex out of the phrase and look at any addict.  They cannot put down their addiction even when their entire life, family, job, etc. are on the line.  They will hurt people that they really love.  They will hurt themselves.
    So a gambling addict will blow all of his money and keep digging into the hold, the alcoholic or drug addict will endanger themselves and others, and the sex addict is the person who will do the same.
    I mean, I saw a show of some type where people were talking about it and you had people who talked about  engaging in certain activities to the point where they were injured and bleeding, and people who lost job after job b/c they couldn’t leave the computer at home or b/c they couldn’t not look at porn at work.  And this included men and women since I know that many people act like this is only something men deal with.  One of the women said she would go out, meet strangers, and go places with them which she knew was totally dangerous in a lot of ways.  
    The fact that some people go to rehab to avoid the public eye/deny accountability doesn’t mean that others don’t have a very real problem.  

  20. 20

    I agree with the advice to leave this guy.  I too am baffled she just found this out after 3 years??  Did he hide it that well?
    Just one comment for Eleanor #15:
    Do you have your own version of marriage vows?  Last I checked they included “In sickness and in health”.  Guess that doesn’t mean anything to you since you said you would throw away a husband if they developed an addiction to anything!!!  How many ‘other’ conditions do you put on a marriage? 

  21. 21

    whether it,s real or not, he,s not figuring that out on my time. Sucks if you already married them though.  

  22. 22
    Karl R

    Evan said: (original post)
    “sex addiction is not listed in the 2013 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”
    I’ve heard it classified as a form of impulse control disorder (312.30 Impulse-Control Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) which was listed in the DSM-IV.
    helene said: (#5)
    “I do think there can be a bit of a cop-out in declaring yourself a ‘sex addict.'”
    I believe it’s often used as an excuse for bad behavior by people who get caught in some type of compromising situation.
    helene asked: (#5)
    “(aren’t all addictions serious?) and possibly incurable…”
    I’m physically addicted to caffeine. If I don’t get at least 2 cups of coffee per day (or the equivalent), I go through physical withdrawal. If I don’t get my daily dose of caffeine, I’ll get a splitting headache for hours which can’t be managed by any form of over-the-counter painkiller (and the headache affects my mood, just like any other physical pain).
    I can either give up caffeine completely, or I can manage a constant daily intake of caffeine at a safe level. That’s about as benign as addictions get, since caffeine is legal, cheap, readily available, and has health benefits which balance out the side-effects when used in moderation. But it’s still not curable. Even if I stop drinking caffeine for months at a time, I’m not cured. All it takes is a cup of coffee and the physical addiction is back at full strength.
    Zoe said: (original post)
    “Do I think I can trust him again? I don’t know.”
    If you can’t trust him, you can’t have much of a relationship. Since you’re unsure about whether you can trust him, I think it would be a struggle, at best.

  23. 23

    Locutus #20, I would think twice before telling people that they have to stick it out till death if they’re married to an alcoholic or a drug addict, cuz the vows. I really hope people do not take anonymous comments on an Internet blog seriously, because the advice you’re giving here is pretty dangerous.

  24. 24

    I agree with Goldie It is terrible advice to say that people have to stick it out in a marriage with a drug addict or alcoholic. Being married to someone does not give them a licence to treat u like shit
    At the end of the day, if you stay with an alcoholic or drug addict who persists in their addiction, they will destroy you as well as themselves. It is even worse if you have had children with alcoholic or drug addict, and stay with  your addicted partner. You may have chosen to knowingly go into a relationship with an addict but the children did not. The children are exposed to parental neglect, verbal abuse , physical abuse, emotional abuse etc etc The children end up damaged and it is just not fair to do that to them. Very often they end up partnering with an addict as that behaviour seems “”normal”” to them and the cycle repeats again

  25. 25

    I never stated that at all and it is not my adivce.  I just questioned Eleanor because she seemed to have a long list of conditional things about marriage.  If the spouse does not want to address the addiction or if it takes over everything then yes, but according to Eleanor I just read that she runs away at the first sign of trouble.  If someone developed a porn addiction and admitted it and wanted to seek help for it and did, would you right away divorce them?  That’s what I read from Eleanor’s post.

  26. 26

    Locutus @25
    I agree with you that Goldie is waaaaay over reacting to your comment. I read Eleanor’s post the same way you did. Seems like Goldie and Eleanor both jump right to divorce court without even trying to fix the problem first. Not cool.

  27. 27

    @Marymary, at no point did I saw anything about the letter writer staying with the sex addict.
    I was just commenting on people who said it wasn’t a real thing.  It is a real thing and anyone thinking of staying in a  relationship with an addict is in for a world of hurt I’m sure. I recall reading a blog (linked to my alumni list serv) from a woman who was married to a sex addict.  She didn’t mention other women but there might as well have been b/c the whole story was a huge mess (she later took the blog down).  His compulsions kept him from keeping a job despite having stellar academic credentials (and actually, professional ones except that his problem kept resulting in him losing his prestigious jobs).  She married later in life and I think she stuck it out to avoid having to start over but yeah, I had never read anything like that blog in my LIFE.  
    I’ve never been in a relationship with an addict but being aware of the things people can be addicted to and not doubting reality are probably pretty important in avoiding it.  
    For the record, I don’t see how any addict who isn’t in recovery (since apparently people can’t ever say they are cured) would be a good partner for anyone.  No matter what their other positive traits are.

  28. 28

    @Locutus, you are reading something different from what was written b/c this letter came from a 25 year old who left her BF.  Not a married person.  And she isn’t breaking anything by leaving him and even if she was married, this is a pretty serious problem that anyone dating OR married would be hard pressed to tolerate.

  29. 29

    @Locutus and John
    Was what I wrote in 15 what you misinterpreted or was it something else?
    Try if you are already married, but remember no marriage is unconditional. As soon as an addiction develops, the marriage vow is broken. The spouse has fallen on the priorities list, displaced by addiction.
    You presume broken vow with the end of  marriage. I do not. I said “try if you are already married.” That is not throwing away. I said only the vow has been broken. The addict is not able to protect, and loves and cherishes his fixes over his spouse. The vow is broken. I did not say abandon the marriage because of that, only recognise that your partner has broken his (or her) vows, and take the situation that seriously.
    Should an addiction endanger me, I would have very firm conditions whether I stay.  If my children are endangered by being left alone while looking for the next fix or by being intoxicated while in charge, or their future  through depletion of savings spent on fixes, they must be protected immediately. Even in that case, I would be separate and still work on the marriage. . .for a while.

  30. 30

    Zoe! You in danger girl! DO NOT! I repeat, DO NOT marry that man. If you do, you will be setting yourself up for a world of hurt. I know that this is a painful time for you right now, but be thankful that you found out BEFORE you married him.

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