Most of what I know about intimacy, I learned from a sex addict.
A year and a half ago I met Patrick, a man with an amazing presence. I was immediately entranced. He was charismatic but with a sadness about him.
Our friendship began on Facebook. He was charming, intellectually engaging and in Mensa! I was hooked. I could not have been more surprised when after the first two days of communication, he told me that he needed to be completely transparent with me.
“I am a sex addict.”
My reflexive reaction was, “He does not look or act like a sex addict.”
Most of us hear the term “sex addict” and think of Tiger Woods and Charlie Sheen who were touted as sex addicts but really seemed to have used this as an excuse for their bad behavior. We think of some slick, sleazy-looking Casanova who preys on one woman after another to feed unquenchable sexual appetites. Like killers, drug addicts and rapists, sex addicts are supposed to have some “look” that we can recognize and steer clear.
As a newly widowed woman at age 46, I had been approached by numerous men who offered all kinds of “services” to me, all within just a couple of conversations via text. I had to lead every new conversation with a warning that if they asked for nude photos that would be our last conversation. This discouraged me about my worth and the nature of my relationships with men, so this honesty and new kind of interaction was a pleasant surprise.
Month after month passed, and this man had not said anything even slightly off color. Instead he talked about feelings, hopes, dreams and passed on priceless tools for my growth.
He valued that I was smart and could carry on a conversation.
He valued my resilience and sense of hope.
However, I was not so snowed by his charm that I disregarded the risk of dating a sex addict. Within seconds after hearing the words “sex addict” via IM, I Googled the terms and started educating myself, amazed to find out how little I knew about this disease.
Although sexual activity is the end game, sexual addiction is not about sex, and orgasm is not the high. I repeat: not about sex. It is an intimacy disorder…intimacy being our ability to be vulnerable and honest about our feelings and fears.
Therefore, one of the primary focuses of therapy/recovery for sex addiction is helping those afflicted learn intimacy skills. They must learn how to express honest feelings and cultivate relationships without sex being the goal.
This relationship can be difficult and not without challenges, but I chose and continue to choose for Patrick to be a part of my life. In his recovery, he teaches me the practice of intimacy and authenticity.
After a life of people pleasing, my first and most important lesson was to be comfortable with my emotions without fear that everyone would disappear if I was not always happy and agreeable. It is not necessary for me to hide my intelligence and boisterousness to accommodate the comfort levels of others. This will probably always be a struggle, but the awareness is much quicker now.
Gaining greater intimacy with him, has opened my eyes to more closeness and connection in all my relationships including my children, family, friends, and even strangers. Although sex is wonderful, there can be even more gained from deeper intimacy.
If you are interested in developing more intimacy, here are ways to develop connection in five different areas without sex.
1. Check ins are an exercise in developing emotional intimacy and one of the first techniques I learned from Patrick.
Most of us find the revelation of emotions whether negative or positive to be the most daunting of all kinds of intimacy. The chance of rejection is highest here. With a check in, we report what emotions we are feeling with possible triggers for the emotions. My check in right now would be, “I am feeling a range of emotions ranging from fear/anxiety to hope about whether this article will be well received and help people make changes for the better in their lives. I have a history of being obsessed with acceptance, so I want them to give a sh*t.”
2. Share your favorite book or concept to stimulate intellectual intimacy.
It is exciting to find out what someone else finds intriguing and thought provoking. One of the books Patrick shared was The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, which was life changing for me. We have also talked about everything from Johari windows to software programming, which prompts me to go into “grin and nod” mode. What can you share with your partner?
3. Mutual meditation can help develop spiritual intimacy.
We do not have to have the same beliefs to be supportive of each other, and spiritual practices are not all religious in nature. Meditating as a couple can be amazing, especially if we choose to keep eye contact throughout. This can also feel a bit odd. I have to concentrate to overcome my nervous giggling from the intensity of staring into another’s eyes for any length of time.
4. Head to the park to stimulate a sense of play intimacy.
This can develop through any kind of enjoyable activities together, but there is something added in allowing ourselves to be silly like when we were kids. Not everything has to be productive or serious to be of benefit. Laughter and fun can be the end game. Swings or Merry-go-round anyone?
5. Kissing, lots of kissing can enhance physical intimacy.
Kissing could be one of the most underrated and most intimate of all touches. Kissing can be a phenomenal exchange of energy and puts a premium on closeness. Remember what it was like to make out as a teenager?
Who would have known that meeting a recovering sex addict would allow me to learn to live and feel joy in keeping my heart open and being willing to risk rejection and failure? I have learned so much more about the fragility and the strength of human nature through my relationship with Patrick, who almost died from the shame and sadness of his addiction. I have been privileged to watch him blossom and get to a point where he identifies himself more as a human being than a sex addict.
I believe that although most of us may not realize it, we are all in recovery from something. Although not always as dramatic as a diagnosed addiction, many have struggles with issues such as fear of abandonment, obsessive people pleasing, or co-dependent behavior that can be emotionally crippling in a sneakier way. In his willingness to be authentic and share his struggle, Patrick gives those around him hope and support for whatever their battle is.
As for me, I am learning to be courageous and resilient as a more intimate human being. A willingness to be vulnerable and authentic allows me to feel joy in all facets of my life that I never imagined possible.