A sex addict's cold turkey
- 13 January 2012
- From the section Magazine
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.
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.
"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?
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."
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".
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.