Our Christian pastor gave sexist, misogynistic advice on sex addiction and infidelity that still has me fuming mad

My first step after I caught my husband sexting with a stranger was to confide in some friends, and I’m so glad I did.

Not only did they enlighten me about sex addiction — I had never heard of it before — but they also gave me other advice. Therapy with professionals was already on my must-do list, but these friends also suggested that husband and I should meet with our pastor as soon as possible.

I figured more helpers couldn’t hurt, so I scheduled the appointment right away. It was a horrible experience, and this week I am putting a letter in the mail to our pastor’s supervisor.

During our meeting with him, the pastor rambled about male sexual needs, told us that “all men masturbate,” that men need to orgasm approximately every 72-hours (yes, that infamous and completely outdated myth), and actually told me that my husband was unfaithful to me because I did not have sex with him often enough.

“Men need sex. Women don’t need sex,” pastor said.

The pastor repeatedly referenced Men Are From Mars; Women Are From Venus —  a pop psychology book from the 1990s, which I certainly don’t think qualifies as an acceptable pastoral guidebook.

It feels like you’re in the twilight zone when your unfaithful, barely-begun-treatment, sex addict husband has to explain to your Christian pastor that this is a load of nonsense.

My sex addict husband told the pastor that he was wrong; that I actually have a higher sex drive than he does and that we had sex plenty, but that this is irrelevant because sex addiction has nothing to do with sex drive; and that he — like other sex addicts — acted out sexually because he wanted to escape depression and self-hatred, and regulate his moods. He explained to the pastor that it wasn’t arousal or libido that would lead to sexual acting out. It was the other-way-round: negative emotional states would cause him to seek out arousal in order to avoid the negative emotional states.

I won’t be turning to this pastor for help, ever again. His victim-blaming and condoning of sexual infidelities could be so harmful to any couple that may come to him in the future for sex addiction or any type of infidelity, that I feel I have to let his supervisor know about this. I choose to forgive him, but I need to do something about this before another woman is hurt. I feel sick every time I see this pastor and have begun attending services on Sundays elsewhere so that I can spend my time at church thinking about God, instead of thinking about how hurtful this man’s words were. (We belong to a large denomination, so it’s easy for us to switch to a location in another town.)

So much harm can come from this type of misogynistic thinking, which is also quite insulting to men, of course, implying that they have no control over themselves while also insisting that women are to blame for men’s every sexual misdeed.

What if I didn’t know better? What if I was inclined to blame myself anyway, and this confirmed guilt and made me feel it was all my fault? What if my husband was emotionally abusing me by placing all the blame on me, and this pastor aided him in doing so? What if I did not have a clear idea of healthy human sexuality, and did not know my value as a person? What if I did not know that I am never a sex object for anyone’s use, including use by a spouse?

Sadly, I am certain that my experience is not an anomaly. I have seen enough so-called “Christian” advice columns and opinions to know that there is a prevailing belief that it is somehow divinely ordained that women exist to fill the sexual needs of men and that a holy marriage is one in which the wife is some sort of domestic servant and sex slave, never permitted to say no and obligated to appeal to the husband at all times in a frantic competition with the lurking dangers to the man, whose male sex drive is supposedly ever-ready to strip him of free will, force him to break his vows, violate his own integrity, and treat other human beings as objects.

I have heard horror stories of counselors, even professional, secular ones, advising women to have sex with their cheating partners more often in an attempt to control the situation.

If you were raised in an atmosphere that embraced this toxicity or a version of it, or if you have been confronted with this as a hurting adult, please, please know that you are a person in your own right. You don’t exist to be used by or to please any other human being. Your needs matter. You were right to say no when you wanted to say no, and to say yes when you wanted to say yes. And there is nothing you could have done differently that would have prevented your partner from being a sex addict. He was a sex addict long before you knew him, regardless of when his addiction escalated. This is not about you. This is not your fault. It’s not even about sex.

Have you had a bad experience with a pastor or other authority figure? If so, did you address it?

Self-Esteem

In her book, “Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Can Cope and Heal,”Dr. Barbara Steffens argues that rather than meeting criteria for codependency (more on that in another post), partners of sex addicts frequently exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Dr. Linda Hatch and others agree that sexual betrayal is always traumatic. Steffens writes that the degree a particular partner is traumatized by sex addiction depends on what trauma that person has already experienced in life. The harder life has been for that person, the harder it will be to deal with the trauma of sex addiction.

I think the same thing can be said about self-esteem. I think the more confident and comfortable we are in our own skin, the less the betrayal hurts. The more insecurities we have already, the more it hurts and the harder it may be to recover.

As I wrote about in my post “It’s Not About You,” it’s a normal reaction for any person who has been the victim of infidelity to feel rejected.

On the very first night that I caught my husband sexting with a stranger, I was shocked (Everything seemed fine! I had no idea! We were happy together!), deeply hurt (How could he?), terrified (What else has he done?), angry (Who would do this kind of thing?), and my head was spinning as I held onto his phone and asked him question after question.

In one sense, the timing was terrible. I was only about three months postpartum, having just given birth to our third child.

On the other hand, the timing could not have been better. The “baby blues” were ending and I had not felt any signs of postpartum anxiety or depression yet, unlike after my other two births. And more importantly, the timing was good for me because for the last two to three years, I had been actively working on self-improvement, personal boundaries, and trying to overcome some of the baggage I’d been carrying with me through life with the help of therapy and lots of reading.

If “D-day” (the day I discovered the infidelity) had been a few months sooner, when my youngest was a newborn; or before that, in the middle of a difficult pregnancy while I dealt with antenatal depression; or a few years before that, while I had bad self-esteem and so much anxiety — it would have been even more painful for me. In fact, in 2014 when I caught my husband engaging in non-sexual flirtatious text conversations with an acquaintance — my first “D-day” — that was probably harder for me to heal from — in large part because my self-esteem was so much worse at the time.

I feel lucky this time around. If it had to happen, if he had to “act out,” and betray my trust, I am grateful that it happened when it did. This time, I never believed that it was my fault. I never thought my husband was unfaithful because I was somehow lacking.

The night I caught him, that idea popped into my head for a split-second, and I was able to reject it just as quickly. My head was spinning as I tried to reconcile the man I thought I knew with a man who could do this kind of thing: cheat, sneak, lie. Was this because I had a postpartum belly now? Was this because I am not as physically affectionate as he is? Bull****. I look great. And it’s not about how I act, either. Am I perfect? Nope, but I have tried my best to be a good friend and loving spouse. This is all on him. There is no good reason for him to do this.

I’m certain that having decent self-esteem has allowed me to heal faster. Not that I’m all the way there, yet. But about seven months into it, I feel good almost every single day. Rarely — maybe once every couple of months — am I assailed by the anxious and fearful panic attacks that I lived through daily in the beginning. I would say that the trauma has subsided.

Having decent self-esteem means that I have not tortured myself with jealousy or insecurity about the women he used when he acted out. It means that I haven’t been tormented with feelings of inadequacy, wondering why he didn’t love me enough to be faithful, or why I wasn’t “sexy” enough, or anything like that.

Having decent self-esteem has allowed me to be open-minded and understanding when he’s explained why he acted out. If I were secretly convinced that this was about me and my deficiencies, it might be harder for me to believe him when he told me it was all about his self-hatred, or to feel compassion instead of anger or hatred toward him for all the hurt he has caused me.

And having decent self-esteem also allows me to look honestly at myself and notice that, at least for this household, Dr. Hatch is right when she says that both sex addicts and partners of sex addicts have an intimacy disorder, or they wouldn’t have ended up together. Without feeling overly defensive, I can admit that yes, especially for the first half of this marriage, before I started to work on myself, I contributed to an atmosphere where intimacy could not flourish, because of my narcissistic and critical, unloving behavior, where every disagreement was a fight. (More about that another day.)

I am especially grateful that having decent self-esteem means that when I think about the future, I can admit that I hope my husband is able to recover fully and be a good partner and dad, but I am not afraid to be alone.

On the night I caught him sexting with a stranger, as I took his phone and ran down the hall to see it where the baby would not wake up from the sound of my sobbing, I remember feeling a strange but deep sense of peace. On the most unhappy night of my life, I also felt a calm assurance. This was a living nightmare, but I was going to be OK no matter what.

That peace only lasted about thirty seconds before giving way to surges of cortisol and adrenaline that left me physically shaking and freezing cold, unable to eat without nausea for the next three days. But it has come back with time and healing, and as I wait for my husband to give his disclosure, I feel peaceful again. No matter what he did and no matter how it may affect me, I will be all right.

Dr. Doug Weiss and others have written that self-esteem is a pervasive problem for partners of sex addicts. In some cases, the addict and partner may have chosen each other because they were on a similar plane (i.e., both had bad self-esteem). Additionally, many sex addicts blame their partners for their acting out and reject them openly over a period of years or even decades. This emotional and verbal abuse causes bad self-esteem for the partner of the addict.

In an article titled, “Low Self Esteem in Partners,” Dr. Weiss writes:

“We live in a culture where we are encouraged to believe that outer appearances and behaviors determine our value. Partners of sex addicts frequently believe that if they were only more (or in some cases less) attractive, sexy, intelligent, shapely, submissive, or better in bed, they could alter the addict’s behavior. Their self-esteem, which may already have been damaged, falls even lower as they become more and more involved in trying to fill the insatiable needs of the addict by changing themselves.

Society imparts a strong message to women that, if there is something wrong with her relationship, there is something wrong with her. The sex addict is usually only too happy to confirm this belief.”

I am also lucky because when I caught my husband sexting with a stranger, he did not try to blame me for any of his choices. I would like to think that even if he had, I would have known better and not internalized any of that, but I am sure that my situation is easier than many because he has been willing to accept responsibility for his own problems.

My heart goes out to partners of sex addicts who feel as though it’s their fault in some way, or as though they do not deserve better.

Dr. Weiss continues:

“The partner is not only subjected to sexual put-downs, she is also frequently a victim of emotional and verbal abuse from the addict as well. Over time, she will begin to believe what the sex addict tells her about herself is true. Like the addict, she will harbor a secret belief nobody will love her for who she is, but for what she does. Unable to gain a sense of worth by being sexual enough for the addict, the partner can often be found taking care of not only the addict, but the kids, her family of origin, even her neighbors, in a search for worth that she can only experience in a recovery program and by sharing this healing process with other recovering partners.

Low self-esteem is the natural outcome of being a partner of a sex addict; it is a core recovery issue for partners of sex addicts.”

I feel inestimably lucky that I currently see myself in this description by Dr. Weiss of partners of sex addicts who don’t struggle with their self-worth:

“They knew internally that they had nothing to do with their husband’s sexual addiction. They knew they were attractive, sexually competent, and that for him to get better, it was his responsibility. They had clear boundaries and little tolerance for relapse.”

I’m lucky. Blessed. Because there’s really nothing I did right that anyone else did “wrong” to end up the other way around. It’s not as though I get credit for “achieving” self-esteem. Each person’s life circumstances are unique and self-esteem can depend on our childhoods and the people who surround us. There’s nothing about me that’s better than anyone who doesn’t have good self-esteem. We all have every right to feel peaceful, whole, and entitled to love and to be loved.

This is the reason Dr. Weiss, Dr. Hatch and other experts insist that partners must also be in therapy after discovering sex addiction. Not because you contributed in any way to the problem. Not because you share the burden of “fixing” what the addict has broken. Not because the addiction is a symptom of a broken marriage (it’s the other way around). Simply because you and I deserve happiness and to feel good about ourselves.

How was your self-esteem before you discovered your partner is a sex addict? How has it changed since finding out? Have you tried therapy since your “D-day”? Do you feel it’s helping you to feel better about yourself? Has any book, conversation, or personal realization that you came to on your own helped you to have better self-esteem? Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear about your experiences.

 

It’s Not About You

Sex addiction is absolutely never about the partner of the addict.

“I never felt a desire to get away from you, only myself. I was flabby, ugly, insecure, weak-willed and pathetic… I didn’t feel worthy of attraction or respect.” — my husband

I think we often have an assumption or attitude, perhaps without realizing it, that blames the victim of infidelity. There’s an idea that when a person “cheats” on his or her partner, then maybe the cheater’s needs just weren’t being met by the partner. And this is total BS even with — what should we call it? — “regular” (non-addiction?) infidelity. Even if the unfaithful person is married or in a relationship with someone who is unloving, distant, or even outright abusive, infidelity is always the choice of the person who does it.

Maybe the unfaithful partner didn’t feel “in love” anymore. Maybe she was intoxicated and acted irresponsibly. Maybe he was tired of being threatened with the kitchen knife. Maybe she was heartbroken over being criticized daily. We may shake our heads sternly or sadly. But we tend to see these incidents as a rejection of the partner, for reasons we can empathize with a little or not at all. And when cheated on, we perceive it as a rejection.

Of course, in any case, no one “makes” someone break their promises. Unhappy in a marriage? You could ask for a couples counseling or pursue a divorce or separation without compromising your integrity. There are numerous options for dealing with unhappiness in a relationship. Lying and breaking promises is a black mark on the person who does it and not the fault of the partner. And so we tell the betrayed partner that even though the offending partner may very well have meant it as a rejection of him or her, the adultery is still “not about you” in the sense that it’s not your fault. You may have been rejected, but it’s not your fault your partner doesn’t love you anymore. It’s not your fault he or she preferred the company, or the sex, or the affection, or whatever, of someone else.

But sex addiction is different. When experts tell you that “it’s not about you,” they actually mean something beyond what that phrase means when we’re talking about infidelity in any other context. Because even though we, the betrayed partners, initially perceive it emotionally in exactly the same way as infidelity for any other reason — it IS infidelity, after all — it’s actually totally, completely, not about us. It feels like a rejection. In some sense, it is a rejection — after all, time and attention was spent on something rather than the relationship with you — but it was most likely an unwilling, unwelcome rejection on the part of the addict.

sexaddictionisnotaboutyou

In most cases, the sex addict partner DID still feel “in love” with you. The sex addict may even have tried desperately to stop acting out sexually, because he was terrified of losing you. The sex addict may have only loved you, may have told you this often in words or gifts or quality time, and may have meant this sincerely, and made many other loving choices that prove her love was more than a mere feeling of affection.

It does not matter whether the sex addict who brought you to this web page is ready to be honest and admit not only the addiction but also the reasons for the addiction, or he is currently blaming you. Perhaps, cruelly, he is telling you that you weren’t “something enough.” You weren’t affectionate enough, you weren’t available enough, you weren’t sexy enough, you weren’t pretty enough, you weren’t young enough, or you were too critical, too distant, too stressful, too stressed, too overweight, too old, too boring, too whatever. LIES. That’s all lies. One thing that all sex addiction experts agree on and that you need to remember even if you remember nothing else about this post is that sex addicts lie.

Sex addicts lie to hide their addiction, and they also lie to hide the reason for the addiction. The one thing that sex addiction is all about: their deep, crippling insecurities. Their emotional instability. Their desperation for love, affection, and approval. The emptiness that they’re running from. Sex addiction is not about you. No matter who the sex addict married or lived with or dated, he would still be a sex addict. She would have acted out in all the same ways, or maybe worse ways, if not partnered with you. It has nothing to do with you. Nothing. It is not your fault. You could not have prevented it (and you cannot fix it.)

Maybe your sex addicted partner is not blaming you. Maybe you have not yet talked to him or her about this aspect. Maybe you are blaming yourself, comparing and contrasting yourself to people in magazines or on the beach, or simply people in your own imagination. I read an article on Ella Hutchinson’s blog recently, and scrolled through the comments underneath it. One person wrote that her husband had been addicted to pornography for years, and that she knew why. It was, she insisted, because she had been “born ugly.” A cousin teased her about her spider veins at age 12, and her self-esteem was forever damaged. Moreover, she was no longer young. She was convinced that her husband preferred looking at pornography because men prefer young, flawless female bodies to ogle.

NO. No, no, no. Men and women with a pornography addiction look at pornography for a host of reasons and NONE of them have to do with their partner being less than perfect. And what is perfect? Edited images of very young women, barely over the age of consent, engaging in sexual acts in return for money? No. And honestly, I think non-porn users tend to romanticize it. That’s frequently not what pornography is.

I’ve never seen a single image, myself. Somehow, in the internet age, I’ve been lucky enough to avoid it. But without being too graphic, it’s important that you realize that pornography is ugly.  Your partner might not have been viewing a single whole body, at all. I understand not wanting to know the details, but if you think knowing the details might alleviate fears, consider discussing with your therapist the pros and cons of asking exactly what the addiction entailed.

You’re not competing with anything. Pornography, especially internet pornography, is specially engineered to appeal to a very base part of the human brain in an overpowering way, but the growing numbers of men and women who are addicted to pornography don’t actually like it. Addicts who stare at it for hours a day don’t enjoy it. No joy, no enjoyment, and no real, genuine preference for it. Just an addiction. Even if your partner spurned every attempt you made at sexual intimacy and “preferred” to spend hours in front of the computer, that choice was about his own insecurities, feelings of inadequacy, and a process addiction he could not overcome without professional help. It had nothing to do with you. It does not mean that you aren’t totally lovable and desirable. It means that he has a serious problem.

People addicted to pornography or any other type of sexual acting out feel pathetic. He or she may not be ready to admit it yet, because that involves being vulnerable, and fear of vulnerability is likely one of the reasons that he or she is a sex addict!

I recommend checking out some articles by Dorothy Hayden on this topic. This may be a good one to start with: Internet Porn Makes You Stupid!

Please remember — it’s not you. You’re not lacking in any way that could ever cause someone to become a sex addict or cause the addiction to escalate.

I plan to write more very soon to allow my husband’s own words to explain why the sex addiction began, persisted, and escalated. No individual’s story is the same as any other’s, but it is my hope that by hearing his story, you may find a path to empathy and forgiveness — not for the addict’s sake, but for yours. I hope it may help you find freedom from your insecurities and help lift some of the pain of this betrayal.

Betrayal and Grief

In late February 2018, I caught my husband sexting with a woman. This was the second time, to my knowledge, he had been unfaithful, as four years prior I had caught him flirting in a non-sexual way with a childhood acquaintance of his. That first incident hadn’t shocked me, although I was definitely angry and it took about a year of therapy and effort from him before I trusted him again. But it hadn’t been as shocking, because it wasn’t sexual, and our marriage was going poorly at the time. I knew he was unhappy. I was unhappy.

But February 2018 was completely different. We had just had our third child. We were happy — I thought. We spent time every day just cuddling and talking about our days. He was always telling me how much he loved me — how happy he was.

I had never seen this coming.

And I had never heard of sex addiction. So what kind of man is unfaithful to his wife while at the same time acting like he’s happy and he loves her? He must be a sociopath, someone completely devoid of empathy, an opportunistic pig.

Moreover, he had used people. I thought of him as a predator, someone who had found women with poor self-esteem and used them for his own pleasure and ego-trip.

And he had done the one thing I felt certain I could never, ever forgive. He had sacrificed our children’s well-being and happiness, their ability to grow up in a loving, intact family.

I didn’t know him. The man I was married to was kind, loving, hard-working, a wonderful, attentive and engaged father who would sacrifice anything for his children. He was deeply concerned with human rights, frequently volunteering for various good causes. He was well-educated, witty, and fun. He was my best friend. He was absolutely nothing like the man I saw standing in front of me, telling me all the horrible things he had done.

My husband was dead, and in his place, all I could see was a monster.

It felt as serious a loss as if he had really died. Perhaps worse, because all of my happy memories had been turned into lies. I sobbed daily for weeks, burst into tears when I saw our wedding pictures or remembered activities we had done together only a few days before, when the whole world was a far different place. I read that it was important to grieve the loss, so I let myself cry as much as I needed to, and I wrote letters to the man I loved, the man who was, as far as I could tell, non-existent. Maybe you can relate. Maybe not. It’s still painful to remember how it felt to live through the first day, the first week, the first month.

If you’re still going through the devastation of discovery, you’re not alone. It can get better, although I know that sounds impossible. Getting “better” doesn’t mean that it will stop hurting or that your relationship will ever heal or go back to the way it used to be. But you can be happy. This does not define you.

How to Survive Sexual Betrayal

You are not alone.

I am so, so sorry that you have found this site. I am sorry that you had to type those horrible words, “my husband is a sex addict,” into the search engine and be directed here. I am sorry for you and I am sorry for myself.

In the days after discovering my husband’s infidelity and friends telling me that the reasons he gave, the excuses he tried to make, all sounded like something called “sex addiction,” I typed numerous terms like the name of this website into Google, trying to find out what sex addiction even was, and wanting someone — anyone — to tell me what this meant for me and for my children.

I had so many questions.

Was my husband a sociopath? When I first realized he had been unfaithful yet again — even though he knew how much it hurt me the first time, even though he swore any type of “cheating” was totally, totally contrary to his values — I thought he must be a sociopath. I couldn’t think of any other possibility. Then I heard about sex addiction.

So what is sex addiction?

Should I throw him out of the house?

What about my children?

Can my husband ever change?

Do I even want to see if he can change?

Am I going to be cheated on every few years for the rest of my life?

How could he do this?

Why did he do this?

What else has he done?

How will I ever know whether he’s telling the truth or not?

As I type this, it’s June 12, 2018. I caught my husband sexting with a stranger in February 2018. It’s too soon for me to have answers to my questions. But I have started to find those answers, and I’d like to update this website as my story continues in the hope that it will be a resource for other partners of sex addicts — both women and men — who are following on this horrible path.

Please keep in mind that I am not a therapist or a mental health professional. I may very well not know what I’m talking about half the time. This is my personal experience and any opinions I express are my own, very raw, lay opinions.