I am a recovering sex addict and my husband has decided to stay

  • Maya Golden is an Emmy-nominated multimedia journalist.
  • Her nonprofit organization, the 1 in 3 Foundation, provides recovery and counseling resources to survivors of sexual trauma.
  • Her memoir, The Return Trip, is about addiction, perfectionism, and making sense of trauma. It is available November 14th.

During a writing retreat with a group of strangers, I shared a personal post about recovery and sex addiction. “I don’t think you’re an adulterer,” said one of the women I met two days earlier after reading my story.

Her words carried a sobering clarity. I am indeed an adulterer. The remainder of that journey became an inner retreat into my wrongdoing during my thirteen-year marriage. The word repeated itself in a loop in my head. Maybe I should sew a scarlet “A” onto my chest for the rest of the world.

My husband had never called my behavior adultery, but we had tearfully and furiously admitted the two emotional affairs I had had online. The first took place five years after our marriage in 2013. The second took place in summer 2021.

My husband has been patient throughout my addiction

My sexual addiction and the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder didn’t come until after the first affair. One of the symptoms of PTSD is sexually impulsive behavior. I was abused between the ages of five and eleven. By my twenties I had developed the ideology that my hypersexual desires were my own sexual revolution and not a by-product of trauma. Therapy has helped me connect the two. I learned that I was reenacting the abuse by clinging to toxic men.

It was this diagnosis that got me a discharge card for the first time. My husband has done therapy with me several times.

“I know you didn’t do it with malicious intent,” he said. “You felt like you were out of control.”

I did. When I entered sex chat sites, I looked for highs with strangers that had nothing to do with my sex life at home. It wasn’t like sex with my husband was boring or tedious. I was looking for something that no one who truly loves you would willingly do to you: harm. All I knew during my formative years was danger. I didn’t know how to function sexually without fear until I met my husband.

My husband knew that then. Perhaps it was his psychology minor that made him realize he had married his own case study. My sex addiction didn’t emasculate him, and it wasn’t a barometer of his productivity. I was conditioned to abuse even if I found it repulsive.

Trauma led to me having multiple affairs

There are a number of reasons I still feel guilt and shame after my relapses. My husband knew I was a sexual abuse victim when he proposed to me in 2008, but neither of us realized how deep the trauma was ingrained in my bones. I broke my vows. Chatting in sex rooms, sexting with strangers via apps like Kik, and hanging out with two men got me an A.

“If there’s something you don’t understand about me, I’d like to say it,” he said after I confessed to the second affair. My online lover had put me through a psychological war under the guise of getting me into the BDSM community and I lost every battle with him. I was so drained from the experience, so drained to the point of my emotional breaking point, that I told my husband in hopes of feeling less shitty. It wasn’t that I was sorry, although I did. It was like I felt down.

My husband gave me freedom. He didn’t try to hide his anger, but he didn’t take it out on me either. That made him different from any other romantic relationship I’d had as an adult; he stayed. He tried what everyone expects in a partner: understanding. Society and the stigma surrounding sex would likely urge a man to leave a woman like me as an “adulteryt”.

“I know it still hurts you. I know part of you is still that little girl. I feel like if I had walked away and not supported you in healing, I would be no different than everyone else who has hurt you,” he said.

I hope to be able to help others through the recovery

My husband is stubborn too. His parents have been married for more than fifty years and believe in sticking it out for better or for worse. Neither of us wants the other to suffer, and I don’t want to cause them any more of it. This is the “worst”.

The “for the better” is beautiful. We turn song lyrics into bad marketing jingles for products in our pantry. We explore caves or take sunset cruises to refresh our spirits and marriage.

It helps us share our journey together. Sex addiction is often associated only with men. In the online sex chats I once visited, there were hordes of men with “married” in their usernames looking to get along with someone. It’s part of their game, the “unreachable” man.

My husband has watched me work to heal and enable recovery for other survivors of sexual trauma. He knows I try to stay sober every day. Not for him, for me. Because when I love myself enough to stop looking for hurtful men, I feel worthy of my husband’s unconditional love.

Maya Golden’s memoir The Return Trip will be available for purchase on November 14, 2023 (Rising Action Publishing, 2023).

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