“My acting out really escalated towards the end, even after I got into recovery,” she says, but she’s grateful for the way her life is now. Three years after entering recovery, she’s currently a stay-at-home mother to her first child, and she feels fortunate that she’s been able to salvage her marriage. She maintains her sexual sobriety “by not crossing my bottom line, which is no sexual contact outside my marriage.” Each addict’s definition of sexual sobriety is different depending on the nature of their disorder, but it’s generally understood as abstinence from the addict’s problematic or “bottom-line” sexual behaviors, not necessarily total abstinence from sex.
While Alison doesn’t believe she was sexually abused growing up, that’s not true for many of the other female sex addicts she’s met, like Jenna*, an avid runner, yogini, and former model in her early 40’s. Jenna’s stepfather began molesting her when she was nine, marking the start of many years of secrecy and shame around her sexual behaviors. Though she didn’t recognize it until later, she eventually realized that she had been depressed and anxious since early childhood, and “had been using everything at my disposal to try to keep myself from feeling bad,” she remembers. “Like a shark who must constantly swim to stay alive, I would move from relationship to relationship, party to party, job to job, city to city, pregnancy to pregnancy, house to house, wanting to find that place that would make me feel like a safe little girl again.”
Though she initially resisted the “sex addict” label – she couldn’t even bring herself to say the words at first—Jenna now identifies as a sex, love, and relationship addict, and finds relief in that admission. She explains that she was addicted to “intrigue,” always depending on men who admired and paid attention to her. She’s not sure whether the sexual double standard affected her much, since she “identified as sexually powerful, and acted in much the same way that male sex addicts act.” Either way, her life was eventually filled with lies. “I know I looked like a sweet neighborhood mom,” she says, “but I was really a [professional dominatrix]." Jenna did sensual massage, as well as “sessions with men who liked to be dominated.”
“I know I acted married to my husband, but I was really cheating.” Her self-esteem, health, parenting, marriage, and friendships suffered extensively. Finally, she recalls, “I hit a bottom… when I realized I could no longer stomach doing sensual massage, and quit my six-figure business cold turkey—no more sex work.” She started getting counseling and found SLAA, and has been sober for five years. For Jenna, sobriety means not cheating on her husband, or even having “emotional affairs.” She and her husband have been together for eight years (married for almost three), and Jenna and her children are thriving. She’s now a certified life coach who helps other women struggling with relationship problems and difficult career choices, as well as “dancers, escorts, etc., who want to leave the business.” “When I look back on how far I’ve come, it's miraculous,” she says.