This is a personal story of my struggle with sexual obsessions and compulsions. It is not suitable for children.

Escape From The Manhole

On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul. (Psalm 138:3)

The Compulsion

I lay on the couch, wondering if I would do it or not. I knew that the activity I was considering would hurt me and possibly destroy my marriage. Much was at stake. The children, quietly sleeping in their little beds, had no notion that their father and mentor was losing control. All my designs went so much against what I knew to be right that every time I gave in it felt like a little piece of my soul was being torn away.

I had given all my credit cards and money to my wife, which she put in a locked safe purchased just for this reason. All I had was some "scrip," special money purchased at the child care center to buy groceries. Scrip was not considered to be dangerous for me to carry around.

My schemes would always find a way. No matter what was taken from me or what I gave up willingly, I would use whatever was at my disposal for my compulsive activities. Rationalization reigned; reason took a distant second. I knew that there was a high probability that I might get cash back from the grocery store late at night since the manager had to sign the credit notice which was usually given back by the scrip. So, even though I didn't smoke, I purchased a pack of cigarettes.

I waited and braced myself... would they give me cash back or store credit? The agony was killing me. Inside I hoped that they would give me store credit so I would be forced to come home empty-handed. I was almost jubilant when the cashier began to make out the store credit slip. He then looked around and could not find the manager. Another employee informed him that the manager had left and would not be back for half an hour. "Sorry, buddy, I'll have to give you cash back this time..." That's what I heard in my mind, though I'm sure that's not what he actually said.

Seven dollars and forty-eight cents... Enough to buy a Penthouse. I began walking down the street, lighting the first of several cigarettes that night. I walked past one of the smut vending machines on the corner. Should I buy one of them? Could I spare 50 cents? I had better not. I might need the money to buy that magazine. Protestant work ethic you know -- get a little now, or wait and get more later. What a prudent shopper I was being that night.

I continued walking, about a mile to the nearest corner store. It was closed. I had no choice but to go down to the Adult Book Store. I entered in and began to browse. What could I buy with $7.48? Eventually I purchased a Penthouse and started again on my way. Two miles and several cigarettes later, I reached my destination: home. I did not want to go through with this, but I felt driven by a horrible inexplicable anxiety. The thought just kept tormenting me and would not go away. The only thing I could do to get the thought out of my head -- to end the agony -- was to perform the act. I hadn't masturbated in eight months. The distress it caused was always much greater than any pleasure that I gained. If I continued, I would lose the commemorative key chain I had been awarded at my Twelve Step group for Sex Addicts for being 'sober' for so long, and I couldn't stand the thought. So I gulped down three beers to kill the pain. After this I was ready. I opened the Penthouse.

Afterwards, I started looking at the back of the magazine at the 1-900 numbers. I couldn't believe I was contemplating the call. What a disgusting thing to do! What was it about me that made this so difficult to combat? I was totally horrified by the thought of making the phone call, but I felt I had no choice. . .

When it Started

I could see how it would be hard for someone to understand how I hated my behaviors and thought life, but it was true. Although I had always struggled with sexual fears and obsessions, through careful avoidance of potential "problem areas" I had been able to resist temptation. In high school I never dated, even turning down an offer to go to the prom for fear that I would rape the girl I was with. Sex was dirty. I vowed that I would either never marry, or I would marry my first girlfriend. This decision was fueled by the fear that I would lose control with a woman. I had no explanation for this fear as I had never been a violent person.

In college, I avoided women my entire freshman year. I was afraid of being around the women at my dorm, and I had decided that I definitely would not date any of them because the situation was just too dangerous. If I dated it was inevitable that I would end up in a situation where it would be too easy to lose control. My worst fear was that I would lose my virginity in a sexual escapade. If that was gone, it would surely be a quick downhill slide from there. I knew only too well what it was like to lose control -- I had struggled for many years with an eating disorder which almost killed me.

My sophomore year I met someone I really enjoyed spending time with. I felt torn by the situation because she lived in my dorm. Part of me wanted to spend every moment with her but another part was terrified. I abruptly broke off the relationship, but somehow within a few weeks we were in bed together. Although we slept together for close to a year, I never lost my virginity. This should have proven to me that I indeed possessed a considerable amount of self-control. However, my feelings were just the opposite. I felt tremendous shame for being so close when we weren't married.

Even after I was married I continued to struggle with unfounded fears that I would cheat on my wife. As far as I was concerned, marriage was a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman that I had no desire to break. But why, then, did I feel that I had to escape? When my wife was away for a few days, I found myself at a single's bar, with a condom in my pocket. I'm so relieved now that I didn't find anyone interested in what I was offering. It was a stupid move, but I couldn't explain my actions.

Throughout my life I blamed my weaknesses in this area on a variety of different factors: The fact that I had never dated in high school with no opportunity to sow any "wild oats;" my parents, for not communicating the facts of life to me at any point; sexual abuse perpetrated against me as a child by a close relative; an overly permissive society that allowed naked women to be brazenly displayed across the pages of a magazine available at any convenience store; but most of all myself. I blamed myself for having such a warped mind. I was convinced it was deadly character defect which would some day be my undoing.

Nothing Helped

I started a pattern of avoidance to keep my sexual obsessions at bay. I tried to never spend any time alone with another woman. I would even exhale when I passed a woman on the street so that I would not smell any perfume she might be wearing. I was convinced that any such stimulus could push me over the edge. When I walked down the street my eyes followed a tortuous path so that I would not look at a woman, even for an instant. If I looked at her, I was afraid I would begin to lust uncontrollably.

I was away on business one day and caught a glimpse of a scrambled pornographic TV channel. This was the beginning of my quick descent into the abyss. Soon I was up at every night, sneaking peeks at these scrambled channels and compulsively masturbating while my family slept. After this activity was not enough, I started buying pornography. I felt tremendous shame and horror at my behavior, but for some reason I felt I had no choice. On a binge I might buy two or three magazines at a time, then later throw them away in disgust.

My marriage began to suffer terribly. My wife could not comprehend why I felt this need to buy such vile materials. I couldn't explain it, so I pushed her away by saying, "You just can't understand." As much as I tried to resist, nothing worked. I couldn't even focus in church during worship because I was distracted by all the short skirts. My church was in a sunny beach town, and it made me angry that women wore so little clothing.

I spoke to an elder in my church who prayed for me and recommended we speak to the pastor. The pastor listened to my story and offered me a pat on the back with some encouraging words. I was grateful for his time, but it didn't help me at all. I participated in a "prayer soaking" program through my church which put me on a manic high for a week, but I only crashed even harder when it wore off. Although I had stopped masturbating, my sexual obsessions were stronger than ever. At the urging of my wife I started to see a Christian therapist, which somehow only made things worse. There were times when I genuinely thought I was losing my mind, and I would page him in a panic. My therapist would talk me through it and I would feel okay for a while, but it was always only temporary.


At this time I was a graduate student, teaching a class for my department. My wife and I used to joke about instructors giving out better grades for sexual favors. Inwardly I feared that I might do such a thing but never mentioned it to anyone. There was a Brazilian woman in my class whom I discovered was cheating on her homework. After I disclosed this to the program director, he decided not to expel her but gave her a stern warning. Furthermore, her identity was not disclosed to the rest of the faculty so that her studies would not be jeopardized. I was in a place, now, where I had some power; this girl was at my mercy not to reveal her identity. I contemplated asking her to have sex with me in exchange for keeping her secret on more than one occasion and came just short of a proposition. Those were perhaps some of the most terrifying moments of my life. If I had tried it and been found out, I could have lost my wife, my graduate fellowship, my credibility -- everything!

I had determined that so much of my sexual obsessions and compulsions were a result of not having my life in order. Not that there was a direct correlation, but I believed that I was weaker because my life was out of control and, therefore, more order should help alleviate the problem. I started writing down everything I needed to do for a particular day and then prioritized them. At the end of the day, invariably I had not finished all of the things I had set out to do, so I added them to my list for the next day. This list grew and grew until I eventually put it on my computer so I didn't have to write it out new every day. The list continued to grow until I realized that it was impossible to get everything done in a single day. So I began breaking up the projects into short term and long term as well as school versus home. Others which were periodic, such as paying the bills, was a cyclical item, which was another type altogether. I spent so much time on the list and coordinating all these things that I rarely got much done on any single day. I eventually made a daily checklist to ensure that I was doing certain important things every day. This elaborate list-making was performed in order to rid myself of the previous chaos, which it did not do. My life went into further turmoil and uncertainty.

Continue to Part 2...

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ob·ses·sion n. 1. Compulsive preoccupation with a fixed idea or an unwanted feeling or emotion, often accompanied by symptoms of anxiety. 2. A compulsive, often unreasonable idea or emotion.

com·pul·sion n. 1. a. The act of compelling. b. The state of being compelled. 2. a. An irresistible impulse to act, regardless of the rationality of the motivation. b. An act or acts performed in response to such an impulse.

anx·i·e·ty n. 1. a. A state of uneasiness and apprehension, as about future uncertainties. b. A cause of anxiety: For some people, air travel is a real anxiety. 2. Psychiatry: A state of intense apprehension, uncertainty, and fear resulting from the anticipation of a threatening event or situation, often to a degree that the normal physical and psychological functioning of the affected individual is disrupted.

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