July 18, 2013 | by Michael Radkowsky
Fleeting pleasures
Sex Addiction, Fleeting Pleasures, Gay News, Washington Blade, Michael Radkowsky

Sex addiction happens for many reasons, including that it can provide the high of knowing that another person finds us sexually attractive. (Photo via Bigstock)

Dear Michael,

I spend a lot of time pursuing sex and am concerned that I have a problem.

I hook up regularly on Grindr and also check craigslist for hot possibilities. When I go to the gym, I often hang out in the steam room afterward hoping for some kind of action; sometimes I cut my workout short to be sure I’ll have time for any fun that might materialize. I even have occasionally lingered in men’s rooms when something good seems to be brewing. And of course, I’m always scanning for interested guys, on the street and on the Metro.

I’m pretty much looking for sex all the time. In that respect, I don’t think I’m different from many of my friends. But I’m not happy. For starters, I think I’m wasting a lot of time. Also, I’m not sure I‘m enjoying this never-ending pursuit. The hunt is exciting and when I’m about to have sex with a new conquest, I feel great about myself, attractive and successful. But as soon as we start messing around I start to feel less great; and after I come, I feel ashamed of myself and kind of empty. Yet the next day (or sooner) I’m at it again.

The bottom line is that I feel trapped. I keep chasing a good feeling that I get a taste of when I start to hook up with someone new, but the feeling quickly dissipates and I wind up feeling lousy. I know this, yet I can’t stop chasing that feeling. Is there a way I can just stop feeling bad and enjoy all the sex I’m having like my friends do? Or is there some way out of what feels like a compulsion?

Michael replies:

You really are stuck in a vicious cycle of addiction: continuously chasing an elusive high that you never really fully experience and continuously feeling ashamed of your ongoing pursuit of that high.

First, please know that addictive behaviors, including sex addiction, are extremely difficult to stop on our own. Therefore, I suggest you go to a meeting of Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) or Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA) to get a sense of what they’re about. Either of these two similar recovery groups can help you get out of the miserable spot you’re in. Both provide wonderful support, a feeling of community and connectedness with others who are working on the same issues and excellent tools you can use to manage your sexual acting-out behavior. Meetings are easy to find and some are designated especially for gays.

While you wonder if there’s a way to stop feeling bad and simply enjoy pursuing lots of sex, I think it’s worth paying attention to your feeling that something is wrong with the current situation, rather than ignoring it.

Consider that you might not only feel bad about yourself for pursuing sex the way you do, but you also might be pursuing sex as a result of feeling bad about yourself to begin with. We use addictive behaviors to change how we feel or to avoid our feelings.  Sex easily becomes addictive for many reasons, including that it can provide the high of knowing that another person finds us sexually attractive. Such validation may temporarily boost low self-esteem, but when the hookup is over, we’re likely to feel even worse. And without addressing the underlying reasons for why we feel bad about ourselves in the first place, we’re likely to stay stuck in this endless and fruitless pursuit.

I understand that you may want to ignore your concerns, given that many of your friends are behaving similarly. But keep in mind that they may be caught in a similar cycle, continually chasing a temporary good feeling and mistaking another’s sexual interest for some sort of meaningful commentary on their worth as a human being. Sad to say, the gay male world is saturated with the notion that our worth depends on our sexual attractiveness, and far too many of us believe this pernicious nonsense, which surely contributes to poor self-esteem among gay men.

Good luck to you. I am sure you will find the recovery fellowship helpful to your getting off the road you feel stuck on. I also recommend that you start working with a therapist who is knowledgeable about sex addiction, both to address the reasons you’ve been craving so much validation to begin with and to figure out ways to feel good about yourself that aren’t based on your being sexual and that don’t actually tear you down.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay individuals and couples in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

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