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One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction: An Interview with Erica Garza

At various points, I’ve written about the difficulties women encounter when trying to recover and heal from sex, porn, and love addiction. For starters, they can be more difficult to diagnose because they tend to speak about their issues in terms of relationships, dating, and intimacy, even when they’re having just as much sex, the same types of sex, and the same general consequences as a sexually compulsive male. Often, women talk more about their failed relationships than their sexual behavior because they don’t want to be denigrated as a “slut,” a “nympho,” or a “whore”—all of which are labels that our society routinely affixes to highly sexual women.

For this reason (and many others), it’s incredibly important for female sex, porn, and love addicts to tell their stories of addiction and healing. When a woman does this, her bravery reduces the stigma attached to female sex addicts, gives other female sex addicts a story with which they can identify, and helps us understand the occasional differences between male and female sex addicts. Journalist Erica Garza is one of the few women to date who’s dared to step forward and tell her story in this way, and I wanted to share a bit of her incredible journey with you in this article.

I first met Erica when she and I were guests on an episode of Megyn Kelly Today. Erica was there to talk about her recently published memoir, Getting Off: One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction, while I was there to provide expert commentary on the nature and treatment of compulsive sexual behavior. We struck up an immediate friendship, and I asked if I could interview her off-the-air for a series of articles on female sexual addiction. That interview is excerpted here.

What prompted you to write a book about your experience as a sex and porn addict?

I have often turned to writing as a source of comfort, so initially this was a way for me to seek clarity and to understand my life. I just wanted to understand myself better. Then I started to share parts of what I’d written online. I think that I published my first essay on sex addiction in 2014. The response I received from other people, especially from women, was really uplifting. I was hearing from women saying they were so glad to see somebody talking about this issue because they’d thought they were the only one dealing with it. That’s when I started to think I could do something that might help a lot of people, and I wanted to do that. I started working on the book after that, just hoping to help as many people as I can.

I don’t think anything fuels addiction more than silence and shame, and female sex and porn addicts have been living in silence and shame for too long. The only good way to defuse that is to talk about it.

That brings me to my next question. In your book, you talk a lot about the link between pleasure and shame and how, for you, that spiraled into an addiction. Can you talk a little about that here too?

When I started to masturbate, I was 12 years old. I was raised in a Latino, Catholic household where nobody ever talked about sex. We definitely didn’t talk about masturbation. So, when I made that discovery, it felt good, but it also felt scary and shameful. I thought I was doing something wrong because nobody was talking about this kind of thing. So for me, right from the start, tied up with a sense of sexual pleasure was this great sense of shame. I started to watch porn not long after that, and nobody was talking about either. So now there was another activity that I felt shame about. Going forward, I never really knew how to separate that feeling of shame from the feeling of pleasure. And I needed to have that combination to feel satisfied. Eventually, I started looking at porn clips that produced that feeling of shame in me, that produced a feeling of shock or a feeling of disgust in me. I almost needed to be turned off to be turned on. All the time, I knew that I didn’t want to be doing this, that it didn’t feel quite right. But I needed to have that feeling of shame to also feel the pleasure. Later, I found that I needed that same combination when I would sleep with people. I just didn’t know how to feel OK with my sexuality.

I often wonder what would have happened if I had just felt like sex was something normal, not something bad, and that pleasure was something I was worthy of. Maybe I wouldn’t have become addicted without the shame component. I often wonder about that.

I see that cycle all the time with sex addicts. You feel shame about your sexual behavior, and that pushes you to escape through porn and other sexual behaviors, and those behaviors create more feelings of shame and more need to escape.

Yeah, escape is a big word here, because that was a big part of sex for me. I used it to escape from emotional challenges that came up that I didn’t know how to deal with in a productive or healthy way. Not long after I started masturbating and watching porn, discovering that part of my personality, I was diagnosed with scoliosis and I had to wear a back brace for two years. I think that was the beginning of me feeling completely self-conscious, afraid of social rejection, and just plain insecure. And I learned that the more porn I watched, the more I masturbated, the more relief I could get from those big scary feelings. That’s when I started to use sex as a crutch.

A lot of people, when they contact me, they ask me to define what sexual addiction is. What’s too much sex? What’s too much porn? And that’s a hard question to answer because if you watch porn every day, it doesn’t mean you’re an addict. Addiction has much more to do with how you feel about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, how it’s affecting your life, and if you want to stop but feel like you can’t. It’s not like watching porn five hours a week is OK, but six hours a week is an addiction. Addiction is not something you can measure with a number. It’s more about taking a hard look at your actions and asking yourself, “Am I using sex to escape? Am I feeling disconnected from other people? Is it causing problems for me? Do I feel powerless about stopping?”

You mention that the ways in which sex is affecting your life is a factor in identifying sexual addiction. I completely agree. Can you talk a little about the consequences that pushed you over the edge and into recovery?

The biggest consequence for me was feeling disconnected from other people. I didn’t know how to relax into intimacy and love, or even that I was worthy of something like that. I felt like casual, no strings attached, risky sex was all that I deserved. And it kind of felt like I was connecting with another person because, you know, we’re in the same bed together. But I was never willing to go fully into a relationship or to care about the other person, or to let them care about me. If I felt like I was caring about another person, or they were caring about me, that was all too risky and scary emotionally, so I would back away and sabotage the relationship. That caused me to feel really isolated and lonely for a long time.

That’s a horrible consequence. But people don’t usually think about addiction consequences in that way. They think addiction consequences are about losing your job and your reputation. But really, for most addicts, especially sex addicts, it’s about feeling completely alone and miserable in your own skin.

People ask me, “What was the bottom? What was the lowest point?” And that’s an interesting question to answer. There was a lot of unprotected sex, a lot of going home with strangers, a lot of putting myself in situations where terrible things could have happened. But for me, I feel the bottom was a gradual realization that I was so unbearably lonely and disconnected. I didn’t know what real intimacy felt like, and that was a major consequence that pushed me into getting help. It was like a slow painful death. It was not a happy way to live, and I really wanted to believe that I could live in a way where I could experience real love and intimacy.

For women, there can be a lot of roadblocks to seeking help for sex and porn addiction. Can you talk a little about the things that stopped you from reaching out even when you knew you needed help?

In my twenties, somebody I was engaged to was in recovery for alcohol addiction, so he was familiar with addictive behavior and what it looked like, and he suggested I might have a problem with sex. I looked up Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meetings, but I didn’t go. I thought I would be the only woman there. I thought they were going to tell me to stop having sex completely. I thought all sorts of things that kept me away. And I think a lot of women go through that same process because the way that our culture talks about sex addiction is that it’s a man’s problem, even though women are right there too. We’re just doing it more quietly. We’re not speaking about it openly. And that keeps a lot of us away. Plus, we don’t want to be associated with the common language that we reserve for women who have a lot of sex. Sluts, whores, all the other bad language.

For women addicted to sex and porn, what do you recommend in terms of moving past the shame and getting started in a process of recovery and healing?

I think the biggest thing is talking about the problem and finding a community of support. That’s true not just for women, but for all addicts, regardless of gender. But for women, if you don’t feel comfortable going to a 12-step meeting, then there are support groups online that you can go to. But I tell people to try 12-step groups as a first option because they’re a safe space to go and meet like-minded people. I think that’s a fantastic place to start. It’s helpful just to know that you’re not alone, and there are other people out there like you.

I don’t, however, think that 12-step programs are the only solution. There are a lot of different avenues. My own healing process was varied because I like to try a lot of different things. I tried yoga, I tried kickboxing, I went to talk therapy, I wrote about my experience, I did meditation, and all those things helped me in some way. For me, it was important to try a lot of different things to see what worked for me. In the beginning, I was searching for the one solution that was going to help me, but now I understand it was a combination of things that helped me to grow and to continue to grow.

One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction: An Interview with Erica Garza

Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S

Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is a digital-age intimacy and relationships expert specializing in infidelity and addictions—most notably sex, porn, and love addiction. An internationally acknowledged clinician, he frequently serves as a subject expert on human sexuality for multiple media outlets including CNN, HLN, MSNBC, The Oprah Winfrey Network, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and NPR, among others. He is the author of several highly regarded books, including “Out of the Doghouse: A Step-by-Step Relationship-Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating,” “Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction,” “Sex Addiction 101: The Workbook,” and “Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men.” He blogs regularly for Psychology Today, Huffington Post, and Psych Central. A skilled clinical educator, he routinely provides training to therapists, the US military, hospitals, and psychiatric centers in the US and abroad. Over the years, he has created and overseen more than a dozen high-end addiction and mental health treatment facilities. Currently, he is CEO of Seeking Integrity, LLC, being developed as an online resource for recovery from infidelity and sexual addiction. For more information or to reach Mr. Weiss, please visit his website, robertweissmsw.com, or follow him on Twitter, @RobWeissMSW.


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APA Reference
Weiss LCSW, R. (2018). One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction: An Interview with Erica Garza. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 18, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2018/04/one-womans-journey-through-sex-and-porn-addiction-an-interview-with-erica-garza/

 

Last updated: 10 Apr 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 10 Apr 2018
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.