Characteristic 1

As adolescents, we used fantasy and compulsive masturbation to avoid feelings, and continued this tendency into our adult lives with compulsive sex

Aaron Y (NY)
Compulsive masturbation was absolutely the beginning of my problems with compulsive behavior, and it started even before puberty for me. My older brother discovered my father's cache of pornography and told me about it, so that even before I was fully developed sexually (I was probably 12 or 13) I was exposed to these incredibly potent sexual images (only some of it was hard core, but that was enough). It was also at that time when I realized that I was spending a lot more of the time looking at the guys than the girls, though both turned me on.

Well, I was off and running. I was always masturbating. Whereas up to that point I used to read lots of books, suddenly I was gobbling up these magazines. And, importantly, all of this activity was extremely furtive and filled with tension, because I had always to be ready on a second's notice to put back these magazines exactly as they were if I heard someone coming home.

This also became, I think, my way of misbehaving and rebelling and just generally zoning out. I was always, always well behaved, cheery, the model student, the popular guy, the teacher's pet. But I must have been tense, sad, and angry at times in ways I wanted to express. But with a few rare exceptions, I don't really remember lots of really strong emotions, or at least expressing them to or at others. But I do remember masturbating endlessly. It was absolutely a way to get out of myself, to take a break from whatever pressures I did have. And because my mind was so full with these pornographic images of people I didn't know, I was almost always fantasizing about unobtainable people (and their assorted delectable body parts, of course!).

This pattern continued once I left home for college, first just with masturbation. I remember that at the end of semester in college, and later in grad school, when I had the enormous pressure of exams and papers due, that my masturbation was out of control. I would do it again and again and again, and it was absolutely a way of escaping from the pressure and the tension I was feeling. Later on, when I had my first job in New York and I had graduated on to bigger and better things, long, pressure-filled weeks would be punctuated by late-night visits to peep booths, no matter how much else I had to do. Alternately, I would whip out my scraps of paper with names and numbers scribbled on them, try to remember who these tricks were and whether I'd had a good time, and dial away until I found someone ready, willing and able, as they say.

I don't want this testimony to be entirely negative. I absolutely still have problems with using masturbation and sex to avoid feelings. But I've made a lot of progress. For me, acknowledging, describing and beginning to understand a problem is the beginning of dealing with it. Now, for one, I admit I have a problem with this. Second, I know how to describe and recognize it, so that when it's starting to happen, it is happening, or has just happened, I can spot it. If I'm lucky and vigilant, I can even see the behaviors or conditions that are leading to it (HALT, high pressure, etc), and maybe even take some steps to avoid it, diminish it, stop it. Sometimes I can, some times I can't. But that's still much better than before, when I wasn't even aware of the depth of the problem. And with a handful of exceptions, since I entered SCA two-and-half years ago, at least I don't end up in the filthy theaters and bookstores that produced so much shame; my acting out is at least less self-loathing and self-destructive. Finally, I need to recognize that I need to look for progress, not perfection, and that this takes time. For over 20 years I've been compulsive sexually, so these patterns run deep. Patience is not something most addicts have a lot of, including me, but I need to recognize that I'm still really just starting out on the road to recovery.