How Can I Stop This Reckless Sexual Behavior?

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Reader’s Question

I am a 29-year-old male from the Caribbean. I was sexually molested by my uncle once when I was a child, and soon after that I experimented with my male cousin and took things a step further. Since then I’ve always tried to have, and enjoyed doing, risky sexual acts with girlfriends, mostly involving having sex in public places. A few years ago I cheated on my then girlfriend of four years due to a lackluster sex life. For a few months I was in a love triangle with both women. When they both found out and left me, I was very hurt. At that point, I got rebellious and had sex with an underage girl, and with numerous other women, then abruptly left them. I’ve noticed that I even get aroused while playing with young girls (age 5).

I feel like I’m becoming dangerously out of control, so I’ve abstained from sexual relationships for nearly a year. I’m afraid I’ll get an STD, or arrested for having sex with young girls. I’ve also lost female friends because I keep trying to include sex in our friendships. I desperately would like to live a normal life, meet someone, get married, have kids, etc., but I feel guilty for what I’ve done or might do, and I also feel I’m not good enough for anyone new. How do I overcome this problem?

Psychologist’s Reply

What you have described appears to be early sexual abuse and then sexual acting out, or even maybe sexual addiction. You did not mention that you coerced anyone into non-consensual sex, which is good. However, you are right to be concerned that you have had sex with a minor. By law, when an adult or considerably older child has sex with a minor, it is considered statutory rape in the U.S. Eighteen is generally considered the “age of consent.” This is because prior to this age, people are considered vulnerable and less able to make decisions or set boundaries. The age difference creates a power differential between the older and younger person. This puts the younger person at risk of being coerced or persuaded to do something that is harmful to him or her. Good for you that you have recognized a problem and discontinued this behavior.

You began by mentioning that you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. This is an important piece of your story, as early abuse can be a risk factor in later being a perpetrator of abuse or engaging in compulsive sexual behavior. You also noted that you are engaging in sex as a way of managing your feelings of being hurt or being angry. In this way, sex has become a way of coping, rather than simply a pleasurable activity or a way of deepening your connection with someone else.

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There is still a lot to learn about the causes of compulsive sexual behavior. There are different views with regard to sexual addiction and compulsive sexual behavior. Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) is a support group that is based on the idea that sexual addiction is a disease in which someone pursues sex as a way to escape pain and a sense of worthlessness. Their website has an online quiz that outlines compulsive sex as something that is difficult or impossible to control, and that is pursued to the detriment of work and relationships. In contrast, this article offers a review of definitions, causes, and risk factors that are associated with compulsive sexual behavior (Fong, 2006).

The good news is that you are admitting there is a problem, and that you were able to make a decision to discontinue sex and stick with that. To me, this demonstrates that you have insight and self-control, two important skills. Now that you have been able to identify and stop the negative pattern, it would seem that the next step is to create a positive way of incorporating sex and intimacy into your life. Building connections with others that are long-term, intimate, honest, and mutually satisfying is something that we all strive for, as humans. Based on your difficulties, you might find that you need help as you consider how to approach sex and relationships in a new way. Some find that the help of a mental health professional is useful in determining healthy ways to create and maintain relationships. A first step might be to ask your health professional for a referral to a therapist, counselor, or psychologist. When you reach that person, you might ask what experience that person has in treating compulsive sexual behavior or sexual addiction. Best of luck as you begin this next chapter.

Fong, Timothy W. (2006) ‘Understanding and Managing Compulsive Sexual Behaviors’, Psychiatry 3(11): 51-58.

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