Monday, April 26, 2010

Recovery: Sex Addiction, Silence, and Women

Too much has already been said on the question of the sex addiction of men like Tiger Woods and Jesse James.

And there's too much silence already on sex addiction of women.  Fortunately, some are speaking up.  And what's coming out is for positive recovery.

For example, today Marnie Ferree:  "Female Sex Addict: Not an Oxymoron."  Most postively, Beaty asks and Ferree begins to answer the questions about positive recovery for the woman sex addict and for those who are in her life:
How would you advise a single Christian [woman] sex addict to proceed in recovery?
Bless her heart. It is hard. I think obviously to proceed in integrity and holiness, I think to really focus on her healthy relationships, and they can be of opposite gender, but to be certain about what’s driving them and what the foundation is. And I think to embrace her sexuality, and by that I mean to be very aware of and in touch with her feminine side, whether that’s her appearance or her creative side or her athletic side. To really be a whole person and not just focus on “Well I’ve gotta find a man.”
What do sex addicts need most from the people who love them?
They need loved ones to educate themselves about sex addiction, especially about women. They need to understand the extraordinary challenge that the female sex addict is facing. Second, female sex addicts need their loved ones to be working on themselves. My husband would say that he enabled me for years by his passivity. I’m still totally responsible for what I did, but it sure would have helped had he been healthy enough to put his foot down and say, “I am not going to live with a wife who is unfaithful to me.” That’s what I mean by doing their own work: setting healthy boundaries, learning themselves how to address their own attachments and the impact they have had in their own life.
Ferree's language -- such as in the phrases "embrace her sexuality," "working on themselves," "enable," "responsible," "healthy boundaries," and "attachments" -- is not only important for beginning to open up and to talk about sex addition.  But her words, such language, is also helpful for engaging in the positive process towards recovery.

In her book, No Stones: Women Redeemed from Sexual Shame, Ferree has this section on recovery:
Working the Twelve Steps

        Merely attending a Twelve Step support group isn't enough.  In my experience, lasting recovery requires actually working through the Twelve Steps.  Many who're new in recovery fail to grasp what that means.  It's an enormous undertaking.  One woman naively thought she could work the Twelve Steps in a matter of a few weeks.  "After all," she said, "there're only Twelve of them.  How long could that take?"  Most women find it takes a minimum of a year to work through the Steps - and that's only the first time.  Revisiting the Steps regularly is an on-going part of recovery.  [Page 182]
One of the important parts of recovery, implicit in Ferree's paragraph here, is that one works from one's own experience.  Not surprisingly, Ferree makes clear in her own experience (and even in her book too) that one cannot recover easily (if at all) without support, without a group for support.  And yet, Ferree suggests also that one cannot force another to go through steps of recovery, nor can anyone do any part of recovery for anyone else.

Furthermore, Ferree not only says something about recovery; she also does something.  Freere is not just being an exemplar; rather, she's revealing her own experience as part of her ongoing process of recovery for herself.  One's own experience in recovery -- that is, not being silent -- is eventually one of the points of dis-cover-y, of un-covering.  Thus, a related matter of recovery is safety, safety when speaking up and speaking out about one's self and one's own experience, safety in revealing oneself in a group of others who have or have had the same experience and are supportive as a group, committed to the safety of confidentiality.

I believe J. Keith Miller has, likewise, advised that revealing oneself to and in a support group is not a "strip tease"; but, quite differently, revealing one's struggles in the safety of one's support group is much more purposeful, as with the purpose of willingly taking off one's clothes before going into surgery so that the medical group can help the patient.  Miller makes these points in his book, A Hunger for Healing: The Twelve Steps as a Classic Model for Christian Spiritual Growth

I'm bringing up Miller's book when talking about Ferree's book because both have addressed Christian audiences.  But they stress (and so I want to emphasize, perhaps to caution as if it's not already known) how recovery sometimes is not safe in the Christian church.  Miller addresses men and women, but Ferree speaks to women more directly.  Ferree speaks primarily to women because the church often compounds the problem of recovery for women.  The silence and silencing is troublesome, for women, for women struggling with sex addiction, within the Christian community.

Ferree is at the place in her recovery where she is able to feel safe talking about her experience in the church, and with those now in the Christian community.  For example, Ferree is able to give her interview to Beaty, who is an editor of "Her.meneutics - (n) the Christianity Today blog for women."  

And Ferree, at her own website,, is able to give her own "testimony" as if to the Christian community.  Her experience, her story, what she reveals is how personally responsible she has had to be for her own sex addiction; and she adds the other struggle, one of the reasons for her silence so long:
It was the religious folk I was afraid of. The Christians - the church people - those were the ones I wanted to avoid. I knew how the church dealt with sinners like me. They still threw stones. Maybe not literal ones, but sharp ones nonetheless.
Ferree has felt the need to recover beyond the church.  She's created Bethesda Workshops for "Sexual Addiction" and "Co-Addiction" so that others, with the assistance of a safe staff of licensed therapists and support groups, can begin the process of recovery.

Ferree's experience of silence, as a woman struggling with sex addiction, is not unique.  Although Dr. Drew's popular tv show Sex Rehab includes women, there is generally much more attention given to sex addiction among men in the popular media and to the recovery helps offered to men; there's been more public attention given to men struggling with sexual addiction than than to women struggling with sexual addiction.  Similarly, in the blogosphere (even the Christian blogosphere), recovery advice is more offered to men -- as at the blog "Porn Free: To offer sexual redemption through Christ to those who are slaves to pornography."  For example, at a Porn Free post entitled, "12 Steps to Sexual Purity," a person identifying herself as Nicole, a self-identifying Catholic, says:
Your site is very god bit i noticed something….. your mnistry seems to be directed specificaly to men suffering from porn addiction. When are we going to see somr help fpr us ladies who suffer the same? We express our addictions difernetly for men....
... I am a female sex addict and have been searching on the Internet for resources and information and I only find information geared to men. it can be very isolating and frustrating when it is assumed that only men have this problem. it is more prevalent than you would think.
Fortunately, Nicole has begun to speak out and like many others has found (and goes on to share) positive helps, such as Ferree's Bethesda Workshops and her story of recovery.

Nicole brings up an important point about the differences of sex addition for men and for women.  Often men are the ones who tend to abuse women and children.  For boys abused, there is often a cycle created in which they grow up to be abusers.  Statistics on these cycles can be cited, but they are sorely under-reported given the shame.  For girls and women, the shame is compounded by the public perceptions that a woman struggling with sex addiction is an anomaly and is abnormal (in comparison to a male's struggles).

Ferree has another helpful essay on the website of the National Association of Christian Recovery.  Entitled "Women and Sexual Addiction," the article also explores "The Link Between Abuse and Addiction."  Ferree's essay, some of her readers's comments, and the NACR site all give links to places and resources for recovery.


Bob MacDonald said...

You post on a very difficult topic. I recall that Jesus said something about thieves and prostitutes getting there first.

You will likely think this is a religious thing that I speak but maybe you guess about me better than that. Paul says to us that they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh and its desires. My own experience says something very true about this and about life in the Spirit. Such life does not exclude sex. But the razor's edge logic cannot be seen without the work, as you rightly point out, of conforming one's desires and actions in the pattern of the one who died. It is the Spirit that gives life. I hope my words are encouraging.

J. K. Gayle said...

Your encouragement, Bob, is a good hope. The tremendous difficulty with recovery, I think and in my own experience, is that it must be extremely subjective despite the fact that it also works within the context of a support group. Too often the church sets up groups and then preaches with well meaning intentions just how the one needing recover must recover; and too often this sabotages the whole notion of safety. Therefore, writers such as Philip Yancey have to further struggle with recovery not within church but from church. The ones who might seem to be safe and trustworthy are not (and really can't be) just because they themselves are not in recovery and yet presume to preach.

Since you bring up Jesus, I really like how Robert E. Quinn suggests that Jesus must struggle with his own hypocrisy. Quinn says this in his book Change the World: How the Ordinary Individual Achieves Extraordinary Results, in which he looks at strategies for change. The author classes Jesus with Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and others as extraordinary masters of transformation. He says they achieve change in others to the degree that they themselves also are transforming. Quinn writes for CEOs and corporations and business management scholars, but I think he's on to something. Jesus, if we just take the representations of him in the canonical gospels, seems to participate in the very meta-noia (i.e., the changes of conventional thinking) that he preaches to others. At the end of one of those gospels, he finds himself utterly alone, but not after exposing himself in the safety of a support group (i.e., his own, in a room, being vulnerable; in a dark garden, expressing his emotions and despair to his friends and crying out to the one whom he calls his parent, understanding as much that each and every one will soon leave him alone in the loneliest, most painful, most subjective contexts). The process of recovery, of walking the twelve steps, in the safety of a support group, isn't something just for a blog post for perhaps hundreds of regular and strange readers to read. Rather, for me, it's beginning in fits and starts to apprehend "no stones" for me; and imagining, rethinking again and over and over in new ways, "redeemed from my shame"; and so on and so forth. (thanks for taking the time to reflect and to comment)