Sex & Relationships

A Sex Addict Goes on a 50-Day 'Boytox'

When I hit crisis point as a sober sex addict, I had to detox from all the men in my life and work on my sex inventory. It was hard, but it was worth it.

Like an addict with a $500-a day habit, seeing four guys at the same time was not easy, but—in my eyes—I was managing.

On our second date, David, a freelance graphics designer and filmmaker, took me to a Moroccan restaurant with rose petals on the table, followed by a documentary at the Film Forum. It was perfect. But so was Tom, a standup comedian and novelist who worked at a literary agency. As we walked my dog along the promenade, he put his arms around me and we gazed at the moonlight bouncing off the water. I thought he might be the one. But then there was Andrew, tall and handsome in a Clark Kent-y sort of way, successful—he worked in publishing—and smart. We argued theories of identity over artisanal pizza, followed by a hand-in-hand walk through Washington Square Park. It was spring and I was newly single, out of a long-term relationship that had consumed all six years of my sobriety.

Andrew seemed ideal, but then came Jimmy. Again and again and again. Within the first three hours of meeting each other, we were doing things I hadn’t done in years—and a couple things I’d never done. The sexual energy was intense. I was in LOVE, I thought. He was a carpenter—like Jesus—and an Afghanistan vet. He hung my curtains. We trauma-bonded. Meanwhile, I wasn’t sleeping or eating very much; up-all-night sex sessions with a rotating cast will have that effect. I had started slacking at work, spending less time with my girlfriends, forgoing my morning meditation practice, and not going to as many meetings.

Sure, of all the guys that I was dating, Jimmy and I had the least in common, but for some then-unknowable reason (which I now realize had mostly to do with his extra-large penis), I chose him to be my boyfriend. Lucky for both of us, he didn’t choose me.

Cue floor.

These were the circumstances that precipitated my “boytox” on March 23 this year. Down came my online dating profile, up went the actions that had turned this alcoholic-Al-Anonic-sex- and love-addicted mess into the datable person I had become that I was now at risk of unbecoming.

“Maybe you should take some time off from dating,” my sponsor gently suggested when I sobbed to her about Jimmy’s rejection. It was a suggestion I'd heard before, but this time I heard it differently. Though not as stunning as other points in my history of sexual addiction—sometimes our bottoms aren’t—at just over six years sober, my tolerance for pain was minimal. I was willing to take her suggestions—even the ones I had spent the last six years avoiding.

A “boytox” is probably the most common suggestion when it comes to dating in early sobriety. "Just don’t do it," goes the advice. Not in your first year. In some cases, not for a significant amount of time after a breakup. Or, not until you’ve worked such-and-such step. The reasons are obvious: Keep it simple, and keep the focus on yourself. It sounds like a good idea, but it’s easier said than done—especially for self-proclaimed slutty sluts like me.

Even though I didn’t follow the suggestion in my first year, it wasn’t too late to reap the benefits of a period of time away from sex, dating and relationships. It would be an opportunity to develop my relationships with friends—women in particular.

By taking a period off from sex and dating, I would have an opportunity to glimpse at my true self, apart from my outsized sexual identity. I hoped to come into closer contact with my emotions without all the confusing feelings brought on by romance.

I also intended to get to know my body. Having plentiful access to sexual partners for all of my adult life, I’d never really been much of a masturbator. But having sex with just anyone because I was horny was not a great reason to have sex. Talking to other women on the subject, I learned I wasn’t alone. Some days into my boytox I forced myself to use a vibrator I hadn’t touched in nearly a decade. It wasn’t as fun as sex with a partner, but it did the trick. And the next time, it came easier (pun intended).

I had made the commitment: No sex/no dating/no relationship for as long as it took me to complete my sex inventory, something that, in all my years of sobriety, I had somehow avoided doing. A sex inventory is a thorough listing of your sexual and romantic encounters, with an assessment of how and why these relationships turned out as they did. I could have put this list together while I was dating or in a relationship, but my boytox might allow me to be more honest in assessing my patterns.

And yet, listing every sexual encounter seemed impossible. For one, I’d had sex for money. All my years in the program, I’d let myself think that this made me different—exempt from this critical step. I suppose I was scared of what might be revealed.

I'm far from the only recovering alcoholic who’s had sex for money, or plenty of casual encounters for free. The way women interpret our sexual experiences, for pay or for free, has a lot to do with stigma. Step work creates an opportunity for us to make sense of these and other stigmatizing sexual experiences, such as rape, sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse. It allows women in recovery to ascribe new meaning to our past and learn how to potentially avoid future harms, including predatory behaviors both inside and outside the rooms.

For me, the greatest tool of the program was working with a sponsor who is not shaming, and who in no way felt she had to force me to do this work. This was true, too, for a lot of my female friends. As one of them, Meg, put it, “Considering women can be the worst slut-shamers of them all, having a female sponsor who is not compassionate can cause a lot of problems.”

They say that when the pain is great enough, we change. After 30 days of no sex/no dating, I felt like I had eaten fire ants. There was still pain, only the pain was...different. Maybe it wasn’t pain at all, I began to realize—just discomfort. The discomfort of being alone, present with my fears, free from distraction.

Like many alcoholics, my fear of intimacy was rivaled only by my intense desire for love in my life—the kind of “true partnership” the Big Book says we are incapable of. My sex inventory helped me to acknowledge and call into question my preference for transactional relationships—the way I objectified men and used them for quick sex, and then resented them for using me the same way. If I continued to treat men like commodities, I realized somewhere down the list, I would continue to be treated in kind. If I wanted more from men than a free meal, an affiliation with someone popular or successful, something fixed in my apartment, or a chemical high, I would have to start behaving as such. Like lots of alcoholic women, I had a broken “picker.” I was attracted to emotionally unavailable people as a way of never having to be fully emotionally available myself. If I wanted a chance at that true partnership, I would have to allow myself to be vulnerable.

Of course, I didn’t do it perfectly. For the 50-something days I wasn’t dating—the time it took to complete and turn over my inventory—I kept seeing David, pretending as if he and I were just friends. Thanks to the sex inventory, I recognized this was yet another pattern of mine, and I was able to call it off when David and I (inevitably) fell back into having sex.

The morning of May 12—50 days later—I woke up alone, still not dating even though I was now “allowed” to. (My first date, after this fast, came eight days later.) I sat down with my journal, which had become a daily habit. I was well rested, and had plenty of energy. It had been a productive month at work. Lately, I’d felt better able to concentrate. I’d spent weeks pursuing my ambitions beyond sex and romance. This felt good. I looked forward to plans that night with girlfriends. I sat there, unattached—but the discomfort was gone. I felt comfortable with my own company and entirely comfortable with my life just as it was. When I did happen to meet someone, I knew then, I’d have something to offer besides my body. It was a feeling better than sex.

Melissa Petro is a regular contributor to The Fix. She last wrote about her imperfect sobriety.