When 41-year-old Catherine* signed up to a new dating site, she never expected threesomes, sado-masochism and a life-changing addiction to sex
Putting down the phone, the man I’d met just five minutes before looked at me. “He’s on his way.” I shivered with excitement as he walked slowly over to the bed and tied a long silk scarf around my eyes. He then started to elaborately bind my hands to the bed.
Soon after, I heard a knock on the door. Another man, one who I’d never seen or met before, joined us in this anonymous, out-of-town hotel room. I tingled with anticipation as he silently approached the bed, and I felt another pair of hands on me. Over the following hour, I had sex with both of them. They tied me up and filmed me, all the time blindfolded. And when it was over, the man I’d never seen got up and left, as much a stranger to me as he was before. To many people this may sound seedy, or even like a horrible violation. But to me it was pure adrenaline. The same kind of rush that people seek from drugs or extreme sports. Even now, just thinking about it, I can sense that excitement rising again. I know I can’t go back there, but I’ll never completely shake the power sex has over me.
Two years ago, the rush was so potent that it consumed me completely – the endorphin buzz of forbidden sex became the thing I cared about the most. Work, friends, family, love – they all came second to chasing that elusive sex high. Because as a woman, sex is one of the easiest highs to find. Thanks to the internet, your next fix may only be a click away.
With highs, of course, come lows – only, for a very long time, I never felt the lows. Even after I left the hotel that day – following the riskiest sex I’d ever had – I didn’t sneak off full of regret. I felt ecstatic. And when I felt the buzz start to fade, I went back to the internet to look for the next one.
That wasn’t only the dangerous thing I did. I stupidly took sex to work. In a meeting, one day, trying to listen to my boss, my mind was elsewhere; specifically on the image of a naked man that had just flashed up on my phone. Luckily, the phone was in my bag at my feet – only I could see it. I knew I was taking risks but my chest was pounding with the thrill of it – not fear. It goes without saying that nobody at work knew about my double life. Perhaps they saw me typing messages when I should have been concentrating on my job as an account manager in a marketing firm, but nobody ever questioned it. Thankfully, my work never suffered. I was good enough at multitasking to allow my mind to roam elsewhere. Those kind of thoughts constantly whirled around my brain. They’re why I rushed home after work and spent all night on the internet messaging men I’d never met. Sometimes I’d stay up into the early hours to check for messages. It didn’t matter if it was 4am, or if I had a big meeting at work the next day, I’d always reply. Because it wasn’t just about the sex. It was about the anticipation, the preparation, the chase. To make sure I never slipped off the sex treadmill, I’d often be messaging six or seven men at the same time.
Yet I still struggle to explain how I got to that point – how, at the age of 37, I ended up using sex sites. The irony is that I was never that into sex. As a tall blonde, I’d never struggled getting male attention, but I’d go for months, even years without it and I’d never had a relationship that lasted more than three months. “We don’t understand why,” friends would lament, trying to coax me into blind dates. I’d shrug it off, never quite able to explain why the prospect of a relationship terrified me so much.
So, when I started to meet strangers for sex, my friends were aware that my sex life had taken an upturn. They knew I was a little kinky, and took risks (I always let them know when I was meeting ‘a date’) but I never confessed to being an addict.
Researchers who have studied sex addiction claim that it may be triggered by certain events earlier in life – including abuse and exposure to pornography. But I come from a loving family and certainly never suffered anything like that, but there are other triggers, like sexual repression and negative experiences, that seem more familiar. I was raised in a strict Catholic household and between my home and my convent school, the message was that sex wasn’t about pleasure and thinking about it was wrong. So, when I lost my virginity, aged 16, to a boy who I thought I loved, it was a huge deal. Sadly, not for him – he strung me along, forbade me to tell anyone about us and ignored me in public. I put up with the humiliation until he dumped me, leaving me devastated. I think I never learned to undo the damage. My belief system was set: if you let someone get close, they’ll hurt you. But over the years, I’d come to realise that sex doesn’t need to involve intimacy.
I really don’t know what first made me click onto an internet sex site. I’ve always had an impulsive personality – in the past my recreational drug use had got out of control. I’d spend weekends on a manic high, bouncing from bar to club. I suppose I was missing the buzz of my wilder days; replacing one risky behaviour with another. But once I signed up, I was immediately hooked. In a few weeks, I’d arranged my first encounter, Michael*. We agreed to meet in a pub. He walked in, an anonymous-looking city type in his mid-40s with dark hair. It was midweek and I didn’t worry about anyone seeing us; we’d just look like two colleagues catching up.
After a drink, it was obvious we found each other attractive, so we went back to mine. The thrill of having sex with a virtual stranger intensified every sensation. Afterwards, his phone rang and he dashed outside to answer it. “Yeah, I’ll be back soon. Tell the kids I’m sorry I wasn’t there to say good night.” I flinched. The only stipulation on my internet profile was that I wanted to meet single men; I’d never wanted to be a home-wrecker. When he walked back in, I told him it was time to leave. I chalked it up to experience. It was simply a case of moving on to the next one.
It carried on from there. Married couples who wanted threesomes. Men who were into sado-masochism. I never felt regret at the act itself. My only concern was NOT having sex – the prospect made me physically anxious. It went on for more than a year until emotions got in the way.
After 12 months of meeting up with strangers, I met Steve*. He had addiction issues of his own and together we were a terrible idea. Up until then I’d only ever met up with men every fortnight but with Steve, it was up to three times a week. Blond and muscular, he was very attractive. Our sex sessions were some of the most extreme I’d ever experienced – he was turned on by cross-dressing role-play and sexual asphyxiation. Though we were never exclusive, my encounters with other men inevitably lessened – I had neither the time nor the inclination. Steve had become an addiction in himself.
I began to entertain the notion that because he wanted to see me so often, perhaps he wanted more. When he made it clear he didn’t, I was hurt, but I couldn’t give him up. I began to feel the comedowns for the first time. Whenever I wasn’t with him, it was as though I was completely detached from reality. Though we tried to break contact, I’d always end up texting him.
“I think you have a problem,” he said, when we sat in a pub one day. “I think you might be addicted to sex and love.” I was almost dumb with the pain of it all. I was so unable to express my feelings that I had written Steve a letter to tell him how our arrangement was making me feel.
Perhaps it was best that it came from Steve – if someone like him thought I had problems, things must have been bad. I went home and googled ‘sex addiction’. I found a support group and eventually found the courage to turn up to a meeting. It terrified me to stand up in front of strangers and share my deepest feelings – for me it was a thousand times more intimate than sex. I was the only woman in a room of around 10 men. But despite this, it was amazing how our issues overlapped. It forced me to face up to my cripplingly low self-esteem, my messed-up attitude to intimacy, my constant need for instant gratification.
And slowly I began to break that addiction. First I cancelled my subscription to the sex site, but months would pass before I could bring myself to pack up my wardrobe of PVC basques into the loft. Now, almost two years on, they’re still there. I say that I’ve gone from being a sexual addict to a sexual anorexic – it’s either all or nothing. I had my first brief fling since the addiction a few months ago – a man I met when he came to do some work on my house and we saw each other for a few weeks. It was nice to have sex again but I was nervous that it may unleash all those feelings; I was relieved when it didn’t.
I know some recovering addicts say that they look back and it seems like a different life. For me it still feels tangibly close. It’s a constant choice not to fall back into it. But I can’t look on that part of me with shame. I’d spent a lifetime being ashamed about sex and look where that got me.
For information on sex addiction, contact Sex Addicts Anonymous in the UK; saa-recovery.org.uk
As told to Katie Mulloy
* All names have been changed
Photos: Rex Features, posed by models