Men, Depression and Sexual Addiction

I had lunch with M one day to talk business, and I got on with him well. We were both excited about the projects we were working on, but soon got to more personal things. I told him about the depression I kept fighting and about treatment to keep it in check. He went into a lot of things about his life I didn’t know, then paused before opening a big door into a troubled past.

He talked about his separation from his wife – how they had put everything on the table – and now were doing great again. His big problem was that he was an addict – to fantasy and sexuality. I listened hard to what he was saying, staring intently into a part of my own life I didn’t want to see.

He described what he went through each time he faced something that could trigger him, like an alcoholic staring at a drink. It was essential for him to think about what he was doing in deciding whether or not to see a sexy movie, or pick up the playboy at the barbershop or carry a conversation with a woman beyond a certain point. At these moments he could change into a different person: his arms got prickly, his heart started racing, he couldn’t think of anything else but the powerful fantasy that was starting to consume him. Interest turned rapidly to obsession, he felt a compulsive drive building, and his critical mind shut down. For a while, he would sink into his urge, spending an insatiable night at a strip club or pouring over porn or getting into a strange woman’s bed. He felt driven, his mind a hungry torrent. Thoughts, such as they were, pushed him farther along at first: What harm could there be? He couldn’t see anything wrong in what he was doing, he just needed the fantasy and the sex from time to time. But the feeling would turn more desperate as the balance tipped and he could no longer take it lightly, and lost his confidence that he could turn this on or off at will.

In his case, he said, it was a clear addiction. Self hate and depression followed each binge, and he would be disgusted with himself, push what he had done far out of his mind, sure he would never do that again – until the next time the urge was upon him. – But, he said, after one last crisis with his wife, he had been able to turn himself around. It had happened through a twelve step program, and I could see the power of his frank talk as a way of reminding himself of the basic boundaries he had to live with.

I tried hard to believe that his description had never applied to me – but I was kidding myself. Though I hadn’t done the same things and might not choose the same words, there I had been for a long period, obsessed with fantasies of escaping into a life with other women, pushing every friendship to a point where it could become an affair, though saved from total disaster by a knack for picking women friends who simply would not cross that line. The fantasy was much more about seeking the high of feeling in love – but with that the more primal urge to have power over someone. It was like needing a drug fix but one achieved through an obsession of mind and feeling, even more than physical satisfaction. The woman in the fantasy could change often – she didn’t really matter. This was not about forming a relationship, it was about satisfying powerful drives that I did not even try to control.

I gave no thought to the destructive things that might happen to my wife and family or the women I knew. There was no thinking, only finding the excitement of the emotional high I needed. Yet, like my friend, as soon as the craziness of the fantasy became apparent, I would be consumed with guilt, or more than that, a kind of self-loathing. A deep depression would take hold, and I would scarcely be able to look at myself in a mirror. And also like M, it took a crisis with my wife to finally get me to scrape bottom and see the fantasies for what they were. That was horribly painful – there was a long day crying, a deep shame and the inner pain of facing something about myself that I had never wanted to see. But it was finally liberating too. Deep down I knew that this was what recovering life was all about. I began to find a calmer center that would enable me to move on.

Have you had that feeling of a powerful drive taking over and of your own reckless consent to give way, as you imagine how harmless it would be to indulge yourself – just this once?

Some Rights Reserved by Aaron Escobar

33 Responses to “Men, Depression and Sexual Addiction”

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  1. Ann says:

    I have just recently found this website while looking for information and support ideas. My husband of 30 years became very depressed after the death of his father – I’m thinking he was already mildly depressed before – and for the past 6 months life has been complicated, with his own depression resulting in many other things coming up including problems in our relationship. I have been reading every blog post in here and found many interesting and helpful things.
    There is one thing that I have been looking for and haven’t exactly found here but it seems to me that it might be experienced by many depressed men. I am looking for experiences and ideas on how to break the cycle : depression –> erectile dysfunction –> more depression
    Alongside with his depression and result of a very common link between depression and sexual problems including lack of interest in sex etc, my husband started having erectile problems really early in his depression. WE did check with the doctor that after tests stated she believes the problem is not as much physical but psychological – related to the depression – but I haven’t noticed much effort or information on her part as how to break the cycle. I understand that she is thinking in terms of treat the depression the erectile problems will disappear. But surely there can be other approaches. My husband is still at the stage that he doesn’t want to believe he is depressed. He is also very reluctant to try counseling to address the depression he doesn’t believe he has.He’s been trying to solve the problems by himself – yeah, I know. complicated – but one thing I have noticed is that the more down he is the more trouble he has sexually, which in turn gets him even more depressed, which will lead to more trouble with ed, taking him to a deeper depression state that…. You get the idea. It’s an awful cycle and I have been trying to find different options like for example the opposite approach, meaning help with ed – prescription wise if needed – to take away a big chunk of worry , anxiety and lower self esteem created by the ed, in hopes that with that part somewhat solved and working it might be easier for him to concentrate on the depression side of the equation and hopefully find it easier to accept not only that he is depressed but also be receptive for help. I understand that everyone is different and reacts differently to things but I believe that sexuality being such an important aspect of their lives – evidently also for women, but I find it even more so for men – self worth and confidence, does create a huge hurdle when it fails in any case but specially with depression. However I have not been able to see my husband’s doctor focus on that part. Any ideas or suggestions? Do you believe it might be a worth approach?

    • MamaBear says:

      ANNE: Wow…do we share the same husband?! This is EXACTLY the cycle that started early in my marriage with my husband. He had ED, fell in to a depressive cycle, and even tried to blame me for his ED. He actually tried to break it off with me several times; his reasoning was that we we’re not “sexually compatible.”

      (JOHN: I am new around here-I see most comments are from a year ago, so I hope this blog is still active!)

      I also have a very sneaky suspicion that my husband might be a covert sex addict. I’ve never been able to find any concrete proof–other than a suspicious charge to an 800 number on our phone bill and a very suspicious text–which of course he very convincingly denied having anything to do with.
      I actually had a lucid dream one morning, where I was sitting at the computer. A voice told me to that I needed to look into a chat session he was having with another woman, and showed me the chat on the computer screen. When I woke up, I found his phone–which he’d apparently left behind–and that is when I found the suspicious text: it said, “let’s talk dirty sometime.”
      After finding the text, I decided to look at the cache on the computer (he doesn’t understand computers as well as I do!) and found reams and reams of porn cached on the computer for a period of about a year.
      Contrary to what one might think–though my husband is tall dark and handsome, he is NOT a flirt. i have literally never been suspicious of his behavior toward other women. He is more of an introvert. He does not act inappropriately around other woman; in fact, he seems disinterested in them. In fact, I thought he was even disinterested in me when we met! I invited him to come out to a casual get together and he didn’t show up. I had pretty much given up on him when he finally asked me out!
      I have a very, very uneasy feeling that he occasionally seeks out anonymous sexual encounters–whether they go beyond phone sex or to what extent, I don’t know.

      Honestly, I’m not sure I want to know! O.K…I know I should want to know. I know it would be best to get it out into the open–painful but necessary.

      I am not sure if I’m asking a question here or simply relating a story; either way I think I’m starting to see a pattern emerge reading the posts on your site, that my husband seems to fit–and I’m wondering if sexual addiction is the last piece of the puzzle.

      Cheers, thanks for this blog!

  2. Erich says:

    This type of addiction is curious to me. I have had my addictions for sure – drugs (narcotics) etc. as well as obsessions but not sex although I sort of wish it were since depression and social anxiety have kept me from experiencing intimacy. I’m 55 now but used to be quite good looking. I had been approached numerous times throughout my life but I could never reciprocate. I attempted suicide a few years back from the profound loneliness.

  3. eva says:

    thank you John. can’t wait for another informative posting. With the best of luck!

  4. eva says:

    This blog is very helpful for those people who are in the stage of this kind of problem, they really serve as an eye opener. thanks!

  5. Victoria says:

    Depression, sexual addiction, alcoholism; three catagories I fit into. Oh, add smoker.
    Free from alcohol 5 yrs now, using a 12 Step Program.
    Depression? Deep dark nights of the Soul.
    Sexual addiction? Hey, self esteem lagging due to being unemployed? Dumped by relationship partner of 5 yrs? Why not get a fix of sex and bolt that self esteem back in place?
    HA. Doesn’t work that way does it?
    Just weaves me back in to the Depression.
    Can healthy self esteem be located without a healthy trust in self?

    • john says:

      Hi, Victoria –

      I can see why you mentioned boundaries in your earlier comment. Congratulations on the 5 years. My experience is like yours in becoming disillusioned about the substitutes for self-esteem.

      Trust in yourself can be lost, but I think an underlying self-esteem, however battered, creates shame and the motive to act in a way that’s more consistent with the best in you. But they can sure go down the tubes together – hard to know which goes first. In my case, I hated myself first and then acted in ways to confirm how bad I was – at least in some settings. All this gets mixed together – along with depression.

      Lots to think about. Thanks for this comment.


  6. A Man says:

    Thanks to all of you for sharing your thoughts….knowledge..It has created a hope to me to give up my Pornography Addiction……It has became a biggest problem in my life….I can share it with anybody…I can not get help from any body….I cant buy Books/material on this topics…..Just because it may trace by spouse or some body else in my family later on….
    The issue of staying anonymous is a hard one…….
    I have just discovered this behavior in me which is growing day by day, want to start fighting against it….It is such hard time for me right now, don’t know what to do…….I have gave up long time smoking habit…..but this feels so hard, don’t know where to start from…

    • john says:

      A Man – If you’ve given up smoking – which is one of the hardest addictions to break – I think there is hope that you can give this one up too. I understand the difficulty of having to stay anonymous and how hard that makes it to get help. Several bloggers and others online should be able to identify sources you could turn to in this medium where your identity can remain hidden. I’ll try to find some resources or at least point you in the right direction. If you write to me at [email protected], I can respond. You can readily set up an email account at Yahoo or Google under an assumed name and use that. If that is not possible, I’ll mention them here in a future post. Actually, I’ll do the post anyway since there must be many more in your position.

      I wish you my very best. I know how hard this is. — John

  7. zathynpriest says:

    Self-injury (cutting) is an addiction I find myself battling with each time the depression gets over the point of control. So far it’s been a year since my last episode, but the feelings are there none-the-less.

    Binge drinking in my younger years was also a major problem until I recognised it getting way out of control. I fell off that wagon early this year, but successfully back on the wagon now.

    Brave post,I’m sure it has many people thinking about their addiction demons.

    Best Wishes,

  8. John D says:

    Big Eddie – I’m sorry you’ve had to go through so much loneliness and pain. The fact that you can write about it clearly and in the past tense suggests that this may be behind you. I certainly hope so. I know the effort it costs to bring a story like this out in the open, and I’m glad you could feel comfortable enough to do that here.

    I wish you all the best in getting out of depression – John

  9. Big Eddie says:

    My ex wife and I were probably a challenging-at-best match in a two or three ways. My depression and her constant need for excitement and affirmation were one of them. After she left me for a family friend, I figured I had given everything I had to offer. I told myself that I had seen the beginning of all the fidelity she could muster; I was free to behave badly in future relationships. I signed up for a dating website. My lifelong struggle with depression was not about to get any easier; it was just about to add another dimension of pathology.

    I blamed my depression for my failed marriage. I was desperately lonely and sorely wanting companionship. I just couldn’t handle any more rejection, so I would rarely see a woman more than four or five times. I also needed time to wallow in my pity and have small-scale periodic breakdowns. I vowed that nobody would ever know me well enough to see signs of my depression or be able to reject me in a meaningful way.

    If coitus was necessary to maintain the ruse, I would oblige. I had great difficulty overcoming my lack of libido and the avalanche of emptiness that trapped my heart. I had to create many layers of illusory intimacy. I hated myself for being unable to live without the veneer of closeness and I loathed myself for being unable to offer real closeness.

  10. John-your whole thought was really interesting but what struck me in particular was the part about trying to believe that what your friend was going through had never applied to you. How many times have I sat with someone and listened to their struggle, maybe even offered a suggetsion, and literally remained as separate from ‘their’ problem as though I were a stranger to it. It really confirms the theory that we deal with things on a time frame that is not our own. Denial is like anything else, it has its time and place!
    I agree with Alex, you nailed the whole thought process that comes with fighting a compulsion with ‘just this once’! Of course, that’s the crux of compulsive thinking and the exact reason why abstinence works so well for me. I’m a heroin(any opiate)addict and a compulsive overeater. I’ve been away from drugs for six years but deal with the food thing every day. I belong to OA and have had periods of abstaining from the foods to which I belive I’m addicted but no long term recovery.

    What you describe a “reckless consent to give way” is referred to as a “strange mental blank spot” by Bill Wilson (AA co-founder, just in case you aren’t familiar with him). This phenomenon is the beginning of a relapse for me. The ‘smbs’ or “reckless consent” opens the door to the obsessive thinking which leads inevitably to the addictive behavior (in which I plan every time to engage just this once). Introducing the substance (or behavior, in your case)in to the body of an addict usually leads to a cycle of compulsion which ends in disaster.
    But as you identified it, its this ‘reckless consent to give way’ which is the most insane part, the crux of the problem, and the most difficult to fight.. I believe the reason that “mental tricks” don’t work is that they’re coming from the same mind that not only causes but actually IS the problem. I needed to wedge something in between me and that blank spot, I’m calling on God for that.
    Your blog is terrific, please never stop!
    I’m using my blog to write about my life:
    The posts are like any blog, new ones appear first, I’m trying to reverse it so the story flows properly but don’t know how!

  11. h.o.p.e. says:

    Yes, sounds like something I know very well! I’m doing good for a while. Feel stoked, get things done, but somewhere deep down below pressure builds up. A certain kind of loneliness, lostness. At that point I feel so incomplete and not loved by anyone (at the same time my wife tells me that she loves me – it just doesn’t get through to me). You bet that I end up watching porn, getting excited by it. And after that climax fall into that dark hole of self hate, feelings of guilt, shame, and even more loneliness and seperation from my interests and passions in life. It has to get so bad, until the urge to pull myself out of the situation becomes so commanding to avoid the worst: major damage to our marriage, difficulties in carriere, and what not. It gets so frustrating!

  12. Drug Rehabs says:

    If some one gets addict of drugs then it gives negative effect, in these negative effects excessive consumption of drugs is very harmful for our body. It not only affects our body but also it affects our mind, society and environment. The best way is Drug Intervention Treatment.

  13. John D says:

    Confused –

    Your hurt sounds so deep – I’m truly sorry this is happening to you. I hope you can get all the support and help possible, Can you reach out to friends, find a counselor, a minister? This is a time to share what’s going on, however humiliating it might feel to have to admit what’s happening. It sounds like you’re clear that it’s his behavior that’s the issue, and that’s good. I hope you can get the support you need – there’s no way to change him until he sees he’s got a problem and is willing to work on it.


  14. confused says:

    I am new to this site and i have been strugling with dealing with my husbands obsession well to what i think is one.
    A while back i found he was porn surfin on the internet and had a womens name in a chat session i confronted him and as normal he dened it. The next day he came up with some story of how it was a co-worker he was helping with some paper work long story short i figured it was over but know he seems to be at it agian well at least it looks that was he is into trying to make his apperence perfect and theres a couple of things he does that are just weird on his way to work he stoped at the park on day there are addresses in his gps that dont make sence i pray he is doing nothing but when i ask him he just denes it even if i know for a fact its true. I try to ignore it but it is affecting our life we have 2 kids and a beauitful home im scared.I feel he is trying to make me crazy.Help!!!!!!!How do you just sit there and wait for his to pass and what if it don’t.I know this is another side of the story but the person that is having it done to like me his wife is very hurt ful i am open and honest about things our relationship and sexual needs so i just dont.Can someone who has this problem please inlightin me before i have a stroke.
    Signed Confused

  15. John D says:

    Marissa – I’m glad it’s helpful. Coming to a point of being able to deal with this was about the hardest thing I ever went through.

    Thanks for coming by.

    Jazz – You’ve really got me thinking about obsession (though hopefully not obsessing), how it relates to addiction, how it’s intertwined with depression, bipolar and related conditions. I’ve developed some mental tricks for catching myself obsessing but addiction doesn’t respond to that.

    Thanks for raising this issue.


  16. Jazz says:

    Anon for now–
    I think anything–even something like exercise or creativity–when taken to the point of obsession can be unhealthy and perhaps reach the point of being an addiction. As you say, it is all about balance and recognizing when things are getting out of hand. Which is not always easy when bipolar is part of the equation, as judgment is often the first thing to go.

  17. Marissa says:

    Wow. You’ve helped me to gain deep and valuable insight into what my husband has struggled with. Thank you for that amazing post. I’m going to send this link to him.

  18. Anon for now says:

    Jazz and John D, your thoughts lead me to this question: Can a creative obsession be an addiction? My first response is that creativity is healthy and destructiveness is unhealthy, but as I write this, I’m not so sure any more. Maybe it’s more about balance and wholeness.

    Oh well, I’m going to post this anyway.

  19. John D says:

    Denise – Thanks again for being persistent while the database was down.

    The issue of staying anonymous is a hard one. I’m changing my mind on that but like you find it hard to think of certain people reading this. However, I’m coming down on the side of being authentically me and out there, whatever I choose to write about. Good luck in grappling with that concern, especially in relation to your family!

    Since I can’t get back to your blog at the moment, let me say here that your post on the extremes of depression and mania is the most powerful statement I’ve yet read on bipolar experience. I hope you’ll be able to continue sharing at that level of honesty.


  20. John D says:

    Polly – I hear you. It’s painful for me to think back on all the time I spent with those fantasies (as you say, mainly) – unable to focus on much else, tortured by it, though also feeling quite high, as if the whole thing had a basis in reality. I talked about this in the Longing to Leave posts but didn’t call it sexual addiction. I can’t say how or why the obsessions stopped being so consuming. Perhaps I got worn out. (Hell, I can feel I need to write more about this.)

    My best to you!


  21. Denise says:

    I love your blog and your thoughtful approach to life. I’m looking forward to going back and reading some of your earlier writings as well as keeping up on the new. Thanks for taking a look at my blog.

    I have thought long and hard about the sexuality aspects of my bipolar life. They are certainly a big part of it and have caused me alot of grief and a few friendships. I think it’s important to have it a part of my story if I’m going to be honest…. I just haven’t figured out how to approach it with children and other family members that will read it…

  22. Polly says:

    I’m female, but I can totally relate to you. I mean, I can relate to the point that last night I Googled “sexual addiction,” and here today I see your post… ah, synchronicity. If this was something I had overcome, I would probably talk about it on my blog, but since it isn’t, it just feels too personal for me to post about it. At least I’ve worked on it enough so that nowadays my problems (infidelity, etc.) are mainly based in obsessive fantasy rather than in reality. Mainly.

  23. JohnD says:

    Girl Blue – It pains me to hear the way you think of yourself. People who see themselves as not good tend to have a lot of awareness of moral choice. That’s more the sign of a good person subject to compulsive behavior or addiction or depression. That’s separate from you as a person. Those are the problems you’re working on. I hope you feel better soon.

    Evan – Thanks for your comment. What you say is interesting, as always – that the addiction and fantasy would seem like a promise without the depression. I believe it’s a false promise, but it does seem like one – a promise of something better, but there is never the fulfillment you seek – always the hunger for more.

    Zathyn – Great to hear from you. I need to check out your author blog. I’m glad to hear that your addictions have subsided. The feeling, the desire does continue, and it’s the challenge to resist the behavior it can lead to every single day. My best to you.

    John D

  24. JohnD says:

    Clinically Clueless – I think opening up is the only way to do this since writing this way helps me confront my demons. I’m glad this is meaningful to you as well. The addictions you mention are painful to contemplate, but I suppose self-harm is the bottom line no matter how we choose to do it.

    Alex – Thank you – it means a lot to me to hear you say I nailed it! The picture struck me as perfect the second I saw it.

    Jazz – Writing too? Ouch! I know when I’m writing I’m definitely disappearing into a different world. It’s the main time, though, when I feel I’m discovering new things, new connections. It does take me away from my family and cause other problems. I guess I’m not ready in my case to call it an addiction. There’s a fine line there I need to think about. Thank you for this comment!

  25. Evan says:

    Thanks for such an honest post.

    I like very much that you can identify the desire.

    The relationship with depression is really interesting. If you didn’t feel depressed when in the grip of the addiction, this seems a promise of sorts.

  26. GirlBlue says:

    I have felt, feel this way a lot of the time and it has put me in many a difficult situation. I do not consider myself a good person and believe that my moral compass points due south at all times. I don’t talk about that part of me to anyone, the less people that know about it the better.

  27. Jazz says:

    Losing myself in the worlds and characters I write about is my addiction…and it’s every bit as consuming and damaging to real life as any other addiction.


  28. Perfect picture!!!

    “…as you imagine how harmless it would be to indulge yourself – just this once?”


    Nailed it…

    ~ Alex

  29. Both cases are definitely addictions with endorphins running the show. I really appreciate the honesty that you showed. It seems that this would be difficult to share. Thank you for opening your life up.

    As for me, my primary addictions were/are self-injury (cutting, bruising and burning) and not eating. I go through the same addiction cycle.

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