A sex addict's cold turkey

Man in tunnel

This week sees the release of Steve McQueen's film Shame, which focuses on sex addiction, but what is it really like to be a sex addict? At the age of 27, comedian Jeff Leach has slept with more than 300 women and wants to confront his problem.

I am a ladies' man and to be honest a pretty successful one, sometimes sleeping with women at a rate of more than 10 a week, but now I am on a mission to change.

I want to see if I can handle a committed relationship. I need to find out where I have been going wrong.

Seeing every single woman as a potential sexual adventure makes me miserable, tires me out and leaves me feeling vacuous and shallow, and ultimately very lonely.

Now I am getting towards 30, my friends are settling down and I realise I cannot go on like this forever. It's said the average British man has had 13 sexual partners and women have had just seven. I am pretty much off the scale.

Jeff Leach Jeff Leach regularly watches porn

The realisation I have had is that my attitude to sex is just not normal. Having already conquered the majority of problematic aspects of my existence pertaining to my addictive nature - my drink and drug follies - this seems to be the final hurdle that needs to be faced.

I don't want to die on my own and I also want to be a dad. To find out more about myself, I spoke to ex-lovers to try to understand why I can't be a one-woman man.

Sleeping with more than 300 women meant a lot of phone calls, emails, Facebook and Twitter messages. Ex-girlfriends, ex-lovers, ex-"one night stands" came back with positive messages of support and a genuine desire to help me with my journey.

My ex-girlfriend Nicola did call me self-centred.

"You were very selfish, you made me very uncomfortable on many occasions. Jeff did what Jeff wanted to do," says Nicola.

Claire, who was my longest relationship, told me she was always afraid of running the risk of being hurt.

Find out more

  • You can see Jeff Leach's story in Confessions Of A Sex Addict on Wednesday 11 January at 21:00 GMT on BBC Three, part of its Sex season

"I didn't think you'd be able to be a good boyfriend. I didn't want to be in a relationship with you. I don't think I'd be able to satisfy you as a girlfriend and keep your attention. And also, if you cheated on me, it would destroy me," says Claire.

That was upsetting. How many opportunities have I had like that in the past, where women have thought "rather than tell him that I like him to that extent, I'd rather push him away to protect myself?"

My ex-girlfriend - also called Clare - said that I failed to show a vulnerable side. I have a fear of being hurt like I was by my first love. But how do I allow myself to be vulnerable?

What is sex addiction?

  • Sex therapists would argue it is a real addiction with serious consequences
  • But others in psychiatry and psychotherapy argue it is not comparable to substance addiction and should not be classed as such
  • Addiction can start with viewing online porn for a few hours a day and can then escalate
  • "It's a way of escaping from low self-esteem, feelings of anger and insecurity," says sexual relationship counsellor Paula Hall. "It's not really about sex. It's driven by shame."

By limiting my time with individual lovers, by seeing a girl for one night and then making her feel like she's my world and then not seeing her for two or three weeks, I am allowed to distance myself.

When I went to see Paula Hall, a sexual and relationship psychotherapist, she explained the signs.

"Sex addiction is any sexual behaviour that feels out of control. If you are acting out in a sexual way and you don't really know what you are getting out of it any more, you don't really know why you're doing it, you're quite often regretting that you've done it again but you keep on doing it, then you are probably an addict.

"You have to learn to love yourself and live in your own company."

I remember being very happy with my family as a child, going on holiday and my dad putting me on his shoulders and my parents getting along. Then, from seven or eight years old, all I can remember is them arguing.

I wonder whether there is an element of me that thinks: "I have seen how miserable some committed relationship can be so I do not want to put myself through that."

A letter from his therapist suggests Jeff's problems began at age eight

Hall believes that a lot of my sexual behaviour might actually be "intimacy regulation".

"You use it to keep out of a relationship. By continually having multiple relationships you are not putting all your eggs in one basket," says Hall.

"I suspect that at the root of your addiction is that little boy who has still not had a chance to have his feelings and needs to be heard. You will continue to drown out your fears with alcohol, drugs or sex until you face them."

What I am learning is that the lifestyle I have been leading has a limited shelf-life. I want women to think "yes he is a sexual entity but his adventurous nature doesn't come in the way of him being a decent bloke who is capable of loving and being loved".

Michael Fassbender in Shame Michael Fassbender stars in a new film about sex addiction

I have realised that, until I am happy with myself and I love myself, that's not going to be possible, so I am going to get on and do that.

It proved to be a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. Delving into childhood issues with a psychotherapist and letting a score of jilted exes point out where I'd gone wrong certainly made me very depressed.

But the process has given me a new lease of life with regard to my control over my sexual desires and established renewed friendships with women.

I am on a path of understanding as to why I am the way I am and why I feel the unusual desires that I often experience as an addict.

And so I may never be cured of my ailment - and, believe me, it is an ailment - but I can now look myself in the eye and know that I have the courage to try to change my situation for the better.

A selection of your comments will be published later.

I have been affected by sex addiction indirectly by finding out that I was married to a sex addict. It has destroyed our marriage and our relationship. His behaviour (once I found about it) hurt more than anything else in my life had, including losing my parents. Bereavement and losing those you love the most is a "walk in the park" compared to being married to an active sex addict. Sex addicts are the most selfish and cruel individuals that any woman is ever likely to meet. Sex addiction is thought by many not to exist at all and to others to be a bit of a joke. If you have lived with and loved a sex addict, I can tell you now, there is nothing funny about it at all.

Lucy, Devon

I'm 37 and have slept with 200+ women, many of whom I can no longer remember. I have felt "ready" for marriage and kids for several years and am very keen to share my life with someone. Two years ago I fell heavily in love, but my history led to her leaving me in the end as she couldn't handle the insecurity and jealousy it provoked. Even when I was with her, though, I was desiring other women. With all the serious girlfriends I've had, even though I've wanted to be loyal, I've struggled not to resent the relationship. I feel a desperate need to achieve conquests, as if any (attractive) woman I meet is a challenge that has been set. When I meet that challenge I feel a need to demonstrate my achievement to others. I think the problem is connected to my depression and intense dislike of isolation.

Matt, Southampton

I'm currently stuck in a cycle of this type of addiction. I try to stop but some days I crave the buzz and go looking for it. All too often at the cost of hurting my wife. I think it is more common that people realise. There is a degree of excitement and that becomes similar to taking a drug if it is experienced too often. It would be more rife if people know how to get what they want or it was more readily available.

Lee, Southampton

I am of the mind that sex is the only thing in my life I am good at. I realise that I have relationship issues. I become very low when I haven't had sex for over a week as it gives me a sense of self-worth. I can't understand how two people can only have sex with each other for any length of time - for me it becomes boring and predictable. When I am in a monogamous relationship I am 100% committed, which surprises some people, as people who have multiple partners are seen as immoral and unable to be faithful, this is rot. I would like to be in a place where I don't rely on sex to boost my self-esteem as it does seem to be a drug which feeds my sense of worth, I want to be in control, not vice-versa. I am also exploring the idea that we as humans are not designed to be in monogamous relationships and rely on multiple partners to be healthy.

David, Manchester

I am currently seeking help for a sex addiction that I have been affected by for the last three years. From a younger age I delved into pornography and after a year or so this had grown into a full blown addiction. I often feel out of control and have not been able to sustain a lasting relationship due to these urges. My career as a model has exposed me to the darker sides of the fashion industry that has only led to further deterioration. As a result my career, family and financial prospects have all been badly affected. I can no longer face most of my family who only try to help me and money spent on escorts has emptied my bank accounts.

Harry , Cambridge

I am a 45-year-old woman. I do not tell anyone about my sexual exploits but I have had so many sexual partners that I've lost count of how many, maybe hundreds? Nobody knows what I am like and I am ashamed to admit it to anyone for fear of being judged. I also live in a small community where people gossip, so you have to be very careful. I am definitely a sex addict, and I am also aware I have issues around commitment. I thrive off the buzz from different sexual partners, and get a massive ego boost. Part of me loves it, part of me hates myself for how I behave. I would like to be happy with one person, but do not know how possible that is? Part of me thinks: "Is society in the wrong to expect people to behave in a certain way?". Women historically have had a rough deal from expectations put on them, it's oppressive and wrong. What's so ok about monogamy? With something like 60% of marriages ending in divorce, I think many people are realising that monogamy doesn't work.

Anon,

I think in my case there was shame about who I am which meant I didn't want to risk emotional intimacy and having sex with lots of men was a way of dealing with my fear of emotional intimacy. In my case, I stopped drinking and then started to take the risk of emotional intimacy. I needed to start to be honest about who I was, my thoughts and feelings. I also needed to start trying to think about other people's needs rather than being so self absorbed and take some responsibility for my own behaviour . At 26, I was still blaming my parents and my childhood for my actions as an adult.

Maria, Scotland

I have suffered from sex addiction for most of my life. I lost my virginity at an early age to an older girl. I began a committed, monogamous relationship in my early 20s which fell apart when my partner couldn't satisfy my sex drive. I cheated with a number of women, and then ended up with my second partner with whom I had a child. She was far more sexually adventurous than my first partner, but over time, I once again became bored, and began to see other women again. The thrill of the chase was nearly always more pleasurable than the encounter itself. I split with my ex three years ago, my infidelity being a contributory factor. I currently have several female friends, with whom I am able to have sex with regularly, but now it is available to me I long for a committed and monogamous relationship again. Who is the victim? The woman that I meet, fulfil, then leave, or me that is happy to provide that role then leave with a feeling of emptiness? I have had around 200 sexual partners now, and I would say of all of those, there are probably only two that I regret not committing to. In all seriousness, it's a compulsion more than an addiction. And you end up loathing yourself when you see your friends in committed loving relationships. They envy you for being a "player", but in reality, they have far richer lives with a lot more meaning.

Andy, Swindon

What has to be said is that many of the things which make men attractive one night stands are the same things that make them bad relationship choices for women. It's not that women avoid men who are "too hot to keep satisfied", it's that they simply don't want an unfaithful, selfish partner who isn't going to be loyal to them or relate to them on a human level.

Kate, London

It's a real problem nowadays. I have been divorced for two years and the easy availability of online dating makes it really easy to just tap into a never ending resource of attractive partners. Many women that I have met are just as avaricious as men in this respect, and I have had sex within 30 minutes of meeting some of these ladies, often in pub car parks! In two years I have "bagged" over 30 women - something that I'm no longer proud of. But there comes a time when everyone just wants to "belong" and commit. I'm at that place now, and now just dating quietly and slowly and will settle down as soon as I find someone lovely.

Peter, London

I've had sex with maybe 150 people but that doesn't make me a "sex addict". Sex is fun, safe when done sensibly, and readily available - why wouldn't I want to have sex?

Chris, Leeds

Sex addiction can take many forms, with only one common denominator - all forms are harmful to the addict and to the friends and relations of the addict. I myself have been addicted to internet porn, and know many others who are similarly addicted. I now attend a recovery course, which happens to be run at a church in London, but there are many similar places offering hope and help to the addict. The internet has brought many benefits, but it is also true that a great many addictions are enabled by the medium. I will be 55 next month. My marriage is over, my job is lost and my children are struggling. I have to face up to the loss and the pain I have caused myself and my dearest acquaintances, because only then will I see the addiction for what it really is - a powerful means of self-destruction.

Anon, London

More on This Story

In today's Magazine

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.