When you think of a sex addict, you might think of Michael Fassbender in Shame: someone, usually a man, who has a ton of sex with a ton of people. But the reality of sex addiction is far more varied, less sensationalist, and more human. Getting Off by Erica Garza gives an emotional glimpse into this reality.
In her memoir, Garza writes that starting at age 12, masturbation became an escape from bullying from her peers, isolation from her family, and rejection from her love interests. For years, she used sex and porn to avoid painful feelings. Then, after going on a yoga retreat and falling in love, she began to come to terms with the fact that she had a sex addiction. Through therapy, writing, and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meetings, she gradually learned to feel her emotions instead of masking them with sex.
Garza's story may sound unique on the surface, but in many ways, it isn't. It's the story of someone who experienced struggles nearly anyone can relate to and dealt with them using coping mechanisms that became destructive, like many have. It also clears up many common misconceptions about sex addiction. Here are a few of them.
Myth #1: All Sex Addicts Have "Troubled" Childhoods
Garza traces her addiction back to age 12, when she dealt with scoliosis and had to wear a back brace, which made her feel like an outcast among her peers. She used to wonder if she needed a bigger trauma to justify all the pain she felt. Especially as a woman, she felt she was expected to have a history of sexual abuse in order to become a sex addict. But we all have trauma in our pasts, if not in the classic sense, and all our responses to it are valid.
"I wanted to show that sex addiction can happen to anybody even under normal, stable circumstances," Garza tells Bustle. "Because [otherwise], if someone is struggling with sex addiction and they don't have that kind of trauma, they think 'something is inherently wrong with me,' then they don't feel safe telling their story." The more people with "ordinary" childhoods open up about their pain, the more everyone will realize their own pain matters.
Myth #2: All Sex Addicts Are Men
Many women are afraid to open up about their sex addictions because women are shamed for being sexual at all, whether it's healthy or destructive, says Garza. As a consequence, she believes we underestimate how many sex addicts are women.
"Men and women say pretty much the same thing. There's a feeling of powerlessness, a feeling of shame, and feeling isolated."
Since she began writing about sex addiction in 2014, Garza has gotten messages from many men and women struggling with the same issue, and she hasn't noticed any major gender differences. "Men and women say pretty much the same thing," she says. "There's a feeling of powerlessness, a feeling of shame, and feeling isolated." But as isolated as sex addicts may feel, they're not alone.
Myth #3: If You Have A Ton Of Sex, You're A Sex Addict, And If You Don't, You're Not
You can't assess a sex addiction by how often someone has sex, watches porn, or masturbates, Garza says. Rather, it's about how they're using these things. "I used to use it to escape from my problems or to keep distance from another person because I was so afraid of intimacy," she says. "It's for each person to take a hard look at their decisions."
Myth #4: Sex Addiction Means Promiscuity
Garza's main addictions were to masturbation and porn, leading some people to take them less seriously. But what makes the behavior harmful isn't what you do; it's how it makes you feel. "The biggest problem was feeling bad about my choices and spending so much time isolated and feeling like nobody would understand me," says Garza. "And those experiences took up a lot or my time and a lot of my mental energy."
Myth #5: You Have To Swear Off Sex To Recover From A Sex Addiction
It's possible to have a healthy sex life after sex addiction. In fact, Garza now enjoys porn, sex, and other things that used to be destructive for her.
"My problem has less to do with porn and sex and more to do with the shame I attached to those things."
"Only when I started dealing with those things did I realize my problem has less to do with porn and sex and more to do with the shame I attached to those things," she says. There's nothing inherently addictive or harmful about porn or sex; again, it's how we use it.
If you have sex or masturbate a lot and it's not causing you any harm, there's no reason to treat it as a problem. But if you think you're using these behaviors in unhealthy ways, you aren't alone, and help is available.