It’s a year since movie mogul Harvey Weinstein checked himself into a sex addiction clinic after the flood of rape and sexual harassment allegations that gave rise to the Me Too movement. The BBC’s Sangita Myska has been meeting people who say they’ve suffered from sex addiction, in order to understand whether it really exists, and if so, what it is.
Neila’s first job in the UK, after she arrived from Central Asia 15 years ago, was on the trading floor of a finance company dominated by what she describes as “alpha-males, earning million-pound bonuses”.
She was one of only two women on the team, and her male colleagues would sometimes try to provoke them by playing pornography on the big screens that should have been showing market data.
“I didn’t like it but I was at the start of my career, making my way in the city. It was good money and a glamorous job and I didn’t want to lose that,” she says.
“I knew the men in the office were looking for a reaction – they wanted to shock me. So I started going home and watching porn videos and DVDs on my own, so I could brush it off in the office.”
But quickly Neila got hooked. Her upbringing in a socially conservative family where sex was never discussed left her “defenceless” she says.
Every day she was thinking about how quickly she could get home to choose a film and a sex toy and start to masturbate.
She describes the process for me.
“It starts slowly. You get aroused. And then you just watch and simultaneously you switch on your equipment. All your senses are stimulated, watching something so exciting. Your mind goes elsewhere. You know it’s not going to stop until you press the button. You know you’re in control of it, of every aspect of your pleasure, and it gives you orgasms you just can’t have with another human being – and certainly not a man.
“The whole process of masturbating and coming will take you a maximum of five to 10 minutes but you pull back because you don’t want to exit this state you are in, which is basically like being intoxicated.”
Using this technique, called “edging”, she was watching porn for two to three hours, seven days a week.
Her behaviour was compulsive, she says. If she couldn’t watch porn, she craved it. She would also spend hours justifying it to herself, however detrimental it had become: “Everything is safe, you’re not going to catch an STD from watching porn, you don’t have to wear make-up. Everything on your terms and with guaranteed results.”
But to continue getting those guaranteed results, the type of pornography she was watching took a darker turn.
“Usually you start watching vanilla porn – that means male-on-female or female-on-female, normal stuff – and after a while it doesn’t work any more. Your body gets used to this release. It’s similar to drug addiction, you need to increase the dose, so in order to increase it you watch more hardcore stuff.
“So you start watching anal, and then after a while that becomes a new normal for you so you need to watch something more hardcore and then you start searching for extreme stuff like gang bangs.”
This was very uncomfortable for Neila, who began to worry that she was “a perv”, as she puts it.
This issue of shame is a big one for every person who believes they are a sex addict. Shame simultaneously makes them want to hide away and drives them further into their compulsion. “It’s a cocktail of arousal and shame,” Neila says.
Porn also changed her attitude towards men. It meant that when she looked for a potential partner, their personalities and character became almost irrelevant.
“I would look through their shirts to see if they had a six-pack,” she says. “The average UK penis size wasn’t enough for me… but it’s not a good way to choose a life partner.”