Voice Over: You are listening to Sex Talk. A podcast all about sex. In this episode expect to hear some colourful language and conversations of a sexual nature. You may want to pop on a pair of headphones for some privacy during this programme.
Erica : I found that if I watched more porn and if I masturbated more then I can get a break from those big scary feelings.
Voice Over: Sex talk. Starting a conversation about sex. -
Adele : Hi, welcome to the third episode of Sex Talk. I'm Adele Roberts and I'm joined once again by my wonderful co-presenter Hiliary Ineomo-Marcus.
Hilary: Adele, once again it's always a pleasure to be with you. How are you?
Adele: I'm good thank you Hilary, love your jumper. Throughout the series we'll be delving into different aspects of sex, from sexual health to addiction, sexuality and religion to sex and alcohol. Joining us on this journey will be a host of doctors, therapists, experts and sexperts who share their experience and advice on how to stay safe and healthy. So in the last episode we looked at Sex and dating. In this episode we'll be focusing on Sex Addiction! Hilary, you've been out and about this week haven't you? What have you been up to?
Hilary: Adele, I wish I could tell you I was down in sunny Spain, Marbella with the sunshine and everything but no, I only went down to Plymouth. It was grey, it was raining but we pushed through and I was given the opportunity to see a sex addiction clinic and I meet an organisation called Horizons Counselling Services and I spoke to the founder, Mr Alan Stokes who helps people with sex addiction.
Alan: In general I think there's a link between all addictions. They can overlap. What we're trying to do is on the very basic surface level is feel better.
Adele: We'll be hearing more from Alan later on this episode of Sex Talk
Hilary: There is often a lot of confusion about what Sex Addiction actually is. Having a high libido, sleeping with lots of different people, and watching a lot of porn doesn't make you a sex addict.
Adele: For most of us sex is something pleasurable, so a lot of people find it difficult to understand how being addicted to sex can be a bad thing. But it really can have a massive negative impact on a person's life. It's an addiction, which like all addictions it's surrounded by guilt, shame and regret.
Hilary: Somebody who knows this only too well is Erica Garza. Erica is a writer, whose memoir 'Getting off', was published in January.
Adele : Erica doesn't hold back in this book, which is an open, honest encounter of her struggles with sex addiction. This is an extract from the opening paragraph of the book:
Revolting. I've been using this word and many adjectives like it to describe the things that have brought me to orgasm for more than two decades. I'm not just talking porn scenes either. I'm also referring to those scenes from my own life, co-starring semiconscious men in dark bedrooms and sex workers in cheaply rented rooms, where I prioritized the satisfaction of sexual release over everything else screaming inside of me Please stop.
Erica is on the phone to us now all the way from LA, hello Erica!
Hilary: Hello Erica.
Adele : Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us Erica, really appreciate it.
Erica: Thank you for having me.
Adele: Welcome to sex talk. Sex Addiction is not an addiction we hear much about, in comparison to drug, alcohol, and gambling addictions. How would you define sex addiction?
Erica: When it comes to defining it, it gets a little bit tricky when you try to be inclusive of all the different types of addicts there are, but the easiest way that I can describe it from my perspective is a feeling of a loss of control and powerlessness over your sexuality and engaging in destructive behaviour and feeling unable to stop that behaviour even when you want to. My behaviours had a lot to do with engaging in risky sexual behaviour with different partners and also binging on pornography and using sex as a way to escape from emotional problems that came up for me that I didn't know how to deal with properly.
Adele : And also I guess feeling like you're alone.
Erica: Absolutely. Feeling like you're alone, feeling guilty, feeling ashamed about your behaviour, a lot of negative emotions attached to sex.
Adele: When did it all start for you?
Erica: I started to masturbate and watch porn when I was 12 years old. I was raised in a Catholic Latino neighbourhood, a very safe family but we just didn't talk about sex, so when I started to become curious about it I had this deep sense of shame around it, feeling like I was alone, that there weren't other girls doing this sort of thing and just feeling really bad. That sort of shame was tied up in the pleasure and I never really learned how to separate those two feelings from each other. But what shifted it for me was not long after that I was diagnosed with scoliosis and I had to wear a back brace for two years and that was the beginning of me feeling very insecure and self-conscious and I found that if I watched more porn and if I masturbated more then I could get a break from those big scary feelings that I didn't know how to deal with. I just kept using sex going forward as a crutch to deal with anything that came up for me that was big and scary and things spiralled out of control from there. The internet became bigger around then and I had much more access to porn. I don't want to blame porn completely but it was just very much aligned with my sexuality, the boom of the internet.
Hilary: Do you think you perhaps had friends around that age going through exactly the same thing as yourself?
Erica: Absolutely and I know that for sure now, after releasing this book and writing about how many people I hear from that say 'oh my god I'm so glad that you're talking about this I thought I was the only one I wish we talked about it back then because we would have felt much better about it and less alone'. So yes lots of people went through that and are still going through that now. I mean sexuality is just not something – especially when it comes to masturbation and porn, is just not something we talk about openly and I think we need to open the conversation a bit more.
Adele : Totally understand, and when you were actually having sex and were going through addiction how did it make you feel?
Erica: When I first started having sex it was a huge relief for me because I had fantasised about having sex for so long that when I had sex I didn't feel like I was successfully filling that hole of emptiness that was inside of myself that I'd wanted to desperately fill for so long, and I kept trying to use sex that way to connect but it wasn't working.
Hilary: Erica when most people have an addiction they don't think of the risks of trying to find the next fix.Can you think of any times when you put yourself in risky situations?
Erica: The riskiest things have to do with not using protection with sex and shame was so tied up with my ability to feel pleasure that I felt like I needed that feeling of shame to be there as well and not using condoms was a way to feel that shame. I couldn't believe I was putting myself in these situations and taking these chances but it felt really good to do that. Terrible things could have happened and a lot of things could have gone wrong – and they did go wrong emotionally for me but as far as my safety I'm very lucky that nothing worse happened.
Adele: That's great to hear. What point did you realisethat your relationship with sex was getting out of control? And maybe you then sought that diagnosis of addiction?
Erica: So when I was in my 20s I had a pretty good idea that I had a problem with sex and I was engaged to somebody when I was living in New York in my mid 20s and he was an alcoholic so he'd been in AA for about 5 years and he had mentioned to me 'I think you're a sex addict' and I thought about going to sex and love addicts anonymous meetings which I had looked up and he had suggested but I also had all these ideas of what that might be like. I thought they would tell me to stop having sex, I thought I was going to be the only woman there so I didn't go then. I ended up just ending that relationship because that was much easier to do than dealing with a problem and then I ended up in another relationship and one that I really valued and sabotaging that one as well. I realised that I was in this cycle of sabotaging relationships that mattered and not facing my problems. It became very clear to me at that point that that's what was happening and that was my pattern and if I carried on like this then things would be really bad for me going forward. I just decided to prioritise self-care and pay attention to the kinds of things I was telling myself and reflect on my actions and when I was in that clear headed space is when I met the man who became my husband. He was also on a similar path of wanting to do things differently and also in recovery for drug addiction and alcohol addiction and we were able to meet each other on this similar path of wanting to do things differently and we confessed things to each other and held each other in that space and I felt completely supported enough to tell him that I was a sex addict and I thought god this feels so good to just be real and be honest and expose myself and that's when things really started to shift for me.
Adele: That's great to hear because it sounds like you've had to do a lot of this on your own and that's why your book is so important because there's going to be other people that see this book, no matter what age they are, no matter what gender they are and go 'that's me!'. And hopefully a happy answer now, what is your life like today?
Erica: It's so much better than it was.
Adele : That's good.
Erica: I'm married, I have a 2 year old daughter, she's almost two.
Adele : Congratulations.
Erica: Thank you so much. In the early stages of my recovery I thought my life had to look a certain way. I had a lot of boundaries and guidelines for myself and I was very strict with myself and I got to a place where I thought I still want to be a sexual person and I just don't want to feel bad about it anymore, so now I'm at a place where I'm really trying to find that balance and I think sometimes people admit that they're sex addicts and then they think I can't have sex again and it becomes a whole other problem and they become sexual anorexia and they don't allow themselves to enjoy sex at all because they're so afraid of falling back into their old ways. I think it's really important and what I really tried to show in the end of my book is it's less about that and much more about balance and I feel like that's an ongoing effort but I'm getting closer every day and feeling less shame and I'm grateful for that.
Adele: Fabulous Erica.Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story. I'm sure you've given a voice to many people who are suffering in silence, and hopefully your book will start opening up a larger conversation about sex addiction.
Erica: Thank you so much for having me.
Adele : Hilary it's your favourite time again.
Hilary: What is it? Word porn?
Adele: It's when I get my sex book out just to help us be more elaborate with our language. Not for anything else.
Hilary: Of course not.
Adele: We don't take this home.
Hilary: I don't know whether you do but I definitely don't.
Adele: Okay we've thumbed through it. We have learned a lot of new words. So what we do is we pick a letter and we pick a word beginning with that letter and you or me try and guess what it is. So we've done C G A and D so far. So pick another letter.
Hilary: I think the obvious one is B. Let's go. I'll get my thinking cap on.
Adele: Alright one sec… Brandle.
Hilary: Oh my goodness, is that a place up North?
Adele: I am from Brandle. Brandle on Ribble that's where I'm from – I'm not from Brandle.
Hilary: Brandle. It means something.
Adele: It could be like a broom handle. Brandle.
Hilary: Yeah. Erm, is it to do something with your hands? Is it to pleasure your partner with your hands?
Adele: Well if you chose to do that yes but it is to masturbate the penis.
Hilary: Oh! So it doesn't necessarily what instrument or part of your body you use? It's just to please your partner?
Adele: That's true actually you could get creative with that, it doesn't have to be a hand.
Hilary: It doesn't, for those that are sexually liberated.
Adele: Can I just check did I say it right because I'm from up north I'd say brandle, what would you say?
Hilary: I'd say brandle. I'm sorry that looks like somewhere up north. It could be in Birmingham. Sorry pardon my ignorance.
Adele: North of Brixton is not north.
Hilary: North of Brixton is north.
Hilary: We just heard from Erica Garza, who was talking openly and honestly about her own sex addiction. Erica is the author of Getting Off and was talking to us from her home in America, but sex addiction is something which is also becoming more recognised here in the UK.
Adele: Last year a new clinic opened in Plymouth, to offer a service to the increasing number of people seeking help with sex addiction. We sent Hilary to the Horizon clinic to find out about the work they are doing there...
Hilary: And just to give you an idea of where I am right now, I'm in Plymouth, it's cold, it's grey, but for the love of this show I'm out here going to a wonderful organisation called Horizons Counselling and I'm going to be talking to the director there, Mr Alan Stokes all about the amazing services that they provide for people with a sex addiction. Stay tuned.
Alan: We initially just offered counselling services dealing with all aspects of mental health. Over the years as we've grown and become more established and took on experts in the field we've diversified. The main area of our work is still personal one on one counselling but we also do obviously relationship, we do CBT, we do play therapy and we also run the sex addiction and psychotherapy clinics as well here.
Hilary: What made you want to offer these especially, sex addiction counselling services?
Alan: The services have come quite organically really. We've started to fulfil a need. Over the years it's gradually grown, become more a part of the reasons people are coming to see me and become more acceptable for people to talk about.
Hilary: What is the definition of a sex addict?
Alan: If we talk about any addiction it's a behaviour that's become out of control or become problematic for the person who's experiencing it. It's no different to the alcohol addict really. One person can drink a bottle of wine a day, for them it doesn't impact them whereas for someone else it might be a huge impact on their life. We look at how it's impacting that person. Their behaviour, how it's starting to increase or extend into different areas of their life. It can cover all sorts of areas from their personal relationships to the intimacy issues they might have around that. It's rarely just one thing, it's rarely people come for just sex addiction, there's normally other things that are driving that sort of behaviour. Very similar once again to alcohol or drug addiction.
Hilary: Do you find that there's a link between addictions?
Alan: I think in general there's a link between all addictions. They can overlap, this is what we're trying to do is one the very basic surface level is feel better.
Hilary: Is addiction learnt behaviour or something that is inherent within us?
Alan: The majority of our behaviour is all learned behaviour. We learn to talk, we learn to walk via repetition but the brain also adapts and colludes with that sometimes, it's very primitive in some of its functions so in a very generalist term. If I'm feeling down and I go and buy myself a bar of chocolate to make myself feel better then tomorrow if I'm feeling down my brain will say 'yesterday you did this'. So it becomes something, 'well why don't you try that again'. But as with everything it then becomes more and more entrenched and more difficult to deal with.
Hilary: How do we reverse it once we identify it as a behavioural pattern?
Alan: I think awareness is key. When it's a subconscious thing, if you find yourself – in my example earlier – just buying that chocolate bar in a news agents or wherever, you're not aware of doing it. You sit at home, I might eat the whole chocolate bar before I even realise. If I realise this is what I'm doing then we can take steps to changing little parts, doing little things to prevent it happening and taking control back.
Hilary: So Alan could you tell us, what are some of the normal things that people could do in their lives that can perhaps become a bit problematic?
Alan: We've seen an explosion, obviously a lot of people would generalise that with access we have to pornography but also at a detriment to something else. So for example if I was watching porn rather than spending time in a healthy relationship with my wife, that could be seen as having some sort of addiction. You might be doing it inappropriately by viewing porn while you're in work which would be frowned upon and again, if that need is there, that desire is there to do that then it might highlight that there's an issue and an addiction there.
Hilary: What sort of myths have you heard in your line of work?
Alan: I think there is a big myth around the image of a sex addict. It can happen at any point to any one of us. Sex isn't talked about in the great British society, we don't like to talk about sex. I think it should be a more open and honest conversation.
Hilary: Is there any one piece of advice around sex addiction?
Alan: Talk, communicate, look for the support. If things are going wrong it's easier to catch it early, to have the conversation, talk about sex, talk about sexual health, talk about any sexual problems.
Hilary: And if people wanted to get in touch with you how would they go about doing that?
Alan: There's my website horizonplymouth.co.uk, I'll always answer any questions people have.
Hilary: On my way to the clinic this morning I was thinking of examples of media personalities that have come out to talk about their addiction to sex and one that came to mind was Russel Brand. How much do you think that helps to empower other people that might not have come out to address these challenges that they have?
Alan: I think it's great, I think it's amazing. It can only help, but it's just opening those conversations really.
Hilary: Looking around once again you've got loads of things that I'm sure mean a lot to you, but I'm looking at a particular frame and I would love if you could read that out and tell us the story behind it.
Alan: This frame is something made for me from a client when she finished. A huge difference happened in this kind of work gave her in her life and she sent me this as a thank you present and it says 'anything is possible if you put your mind to it, you can chose who you want to be'.
Adele: What a lovely guy Alan is!
Hilary: Amazing. And what also struck me listening back to that now is how he said addiction can be wrapped up in other addictions as well and I think Erica touched on this earlier on as well, she said she had a void which she was always trying to fill with something and it just so happened that a sex addiction and addiction to pornography was what she used as a coping mechanism.
Adele: I think it was really good what you said about Russel Brand and you bringing it up, because that's what I know about sex addiction, how the media portray it and I think that's why people are taking a bit longer to connect with this and empathise with this because people see him as somebody who has a really privileged life and it's almost like, he's just doing what he wants. It's nice that Alan's there going well that's not necessarily the case, you don't know the life that Russel's lived, you don't know the journey he's been on and you don't know what started that behaviour.
Hilary: Now it's your turn to pick a letter and I'll go into the dictionary and find a word and you have to tell me what that word means. Let's get into the game Adele, what are you going to go for?
Adele: I'm going to be inspired by you, can I have a H please?
Hilary: Oh my goodness, you're probably this anyway Adele. No you're probably not this Adele. Okay it's hyposexuality.
Adele: Why'd you think I'd know that?
Hilary: Because you're brainer than I am.
Adele: Oh wow. Okay right hypersexuality – just the hyper part I get very excited.
Hilary: Well Adele it's hypo-sexuality.
Adele: Oh hypo with an o. Is that the opposite then, so hyper is a lot, very excited, hypo is not very excited so why do you think that I'm not into sex is that what it means? Okay so you're saying my sex life is tumbleweed? Thanks a lot.
Hilary: Hell no definitely not saying that!
Adele: What was it?
Hilary: Hypo sexuality.
Adele: Is it then a bit of a dry patch?
Hilary: Yes I'll give you that. So by definition it means a partial or total lack of sexual desire, interest and activity – I'm so sorry. That's definitely not you Adele. Not tumbleweed. I didn't read the definition, in my mind I saw hypersexuality and then I read hypo-
Adele: You think I've got no game thanks a lot.
Hilary: You're better looking than I am.
Hilary: Hello Dr Stuart.
Dr Stuart : Hi Hilary.
Hilary: Obviously Dr Stuart you're my go to guy for myth busting you're going to get tired of me saying your name Dr Stuart I do apologise. Obviously you're our resident doctor and I've been out asking people some really interesting questions. The questions I went out to ask this week was 'all STIs have symptoms' and people responded with either true or false so let's get into it and hear some of those responses.
I don't think they've all got symptoms. Sometimes you can have an STI and not even know you've got an STI.
I would say yes because if there's something wrong with your body there would be a reaction to it right?
I think so.
I mean it's an infection so your body should react towards it so I'm assuming you would display some symptoms.
Hilary: So Dr Stuart you just heard those responses what's your verdict?
Dr Stuart: So this is a bit of a tricky one because most STIs do have symptoms but lots of them can have periods when they don't have any symptoms. So for example there's an incubation period for most STIs when they don't show symptoms and then someone might feel unwell, they might have discharge, they might have pain when they pee and that could be a couple of weeks after they've been exposed to the infection and for something like HIV for example it could be several years before someone realises that there's a problem and that they're feeling unwell so I think it's important to realise that common STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and even things like HIV it's really important to get a check-up if you've been at risk even if you don't have symptoms.
Hilary: Thank you very much Dr Stuart for clearing that up.
Dr Stuart: Cheers Hilary.
Hilary: We've already come to the end of this edition of Sex Talk! In the next episode we'll be looking at Sex and Prison.
Adele: It's a subject we don't really hear much about so I'm looking forward to that one!
We hope you've enjoyed this edition of Sex Talk. We'd like to thank today's guest, author Erica Garza, and the Horizon Clinic.
Hilary: I'd particularly like to thank Alan Stokes who gave up his afternoon to talk to me!
Adele : Until next time, stay safe, and if you need to speak to somebody about Sex Addiction, Relate are an amazing charity who offer sex addiction counselling, you can call them on 0300 100 1234.
Hilary: You can also visit the Association for the Treatment of Sex Addiction and Compulsivity website, which is atsac.co.uk to find details of trained sex addiction therapists.
Adele: If you'd like to find out more about Sex Talk you can visit our website, sextalk.radio and if you've not already please do subscribe to receive this podcast every week so you don't miss a single thing!
Hilary: If you need further advice or support on any of the issues raised in this episode of Sex Talk contact your GP. They should provide out of hours contact details for emergency calls.
-Alternatively you can go online - www.nhs.co.uk