According to The National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, sexual addiction is, “engaging in persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behavior acted out despite increasing negative consequences to self and others.” Although, in some circles, the very idea of sexual addiction is debated, since it comes across as sex-negative or shaming, like any habitual or pattern- oriented behavior, if engaging in such behaviors makes one’s life unmanageable, it becomes problematic. Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., coined the phrase and his pioneering work was launched when publishing his book entitled Out of the Shadows. His daughter, Stefanie Carnes, Ph. D extended the conversation to include the impact on the loved ones of those afflicted, with her book Mending a Shattered Heart: A Guide for Partners of Sex Addicts.
For former supermodel Shanti Patty Owen, the descent into and ascent through sexual addiction is an ongoing process. She chronicles her gritty journey in Memoirs of a Legal Courtesan: A Sex/Love Addict’s Journey to Sobriety.
Sex addiction has long been considered the purview of men. Why do you think that is?
Historically, men have had more access to the “outside world” beyond the home where they can meet more sexual partners. When AA began there were mainly men in attendance for the same reason. However, I believe, what truly allowed women more access to sexual partners was the Internet. Even stay-at-home mothers could meet sexual partners on line and hook up while the kids where in school. My acting out absolutely skyrocketed with the support of the Internet.
Do you know the stats on the condition for women?
I do not know the stats, but I do know that the attendance of women in the 12-steps for sex and/or love addiction has grown just in the past seven years since I’ve been attending meetings. (Patrick Carnes’ research has shown that for every three men who struggle with sexual compulsivity, there is one woman who faces this condition.)
How can we bring it into the light and not keep it hidden in the shadows so that more women can get help?
We can do what we are doing now to bring light about this addiction for women. I wrote my book, Memoirs of a Legal Courtesan: A Sex/Love Addict’s Journey to Sobriety and you are following up with this interview. First, we need to share information with women to see if they may have an intimacy issue and second, direct them to where they can find help.
How did sex become a commodity and a medium of exchange for you?
I was curious about making money with sex in 2003 after acquiring nearly 30 lovers at any given time. The prostitute stigma vanished when I realized how much time I was spending with sexual partners, mainly men. I had been starting up a relationship coaching practice at this time and while on dates and hook ups, I spent a good amount of time coaching these guys. So, I began to justify that earning income from my sexual liaisons made perfect sense. But I did not have the courage to make the leap into prostitution until the economy tanked in 2008. I had just quit my job at the law firm the summer of 2008 to begin my coaching practice full time. However, when September of 2008 brought this country to our financial knees, I felt no other recourse but to make money on my knees. A woman without a sex/love addiction would likely not have chosen such a solution.
Can you share what you think were the seeds of your sex addiction?
The seeds of my sex addiction were abandonment and abuse at the hands of my mother. She was cold, distant and abusive. The most severe beatings I received were for playing doctor as a young girl. Then, in my early 20’s, when I was raped twice, escaped rape two more times and escaped sex trafficking in Morocco, these sexual traumas fertilized the young seeds and gave them what they needed to grow.
Do you differentiate between sex addiction and love addiction since they can co-exist in the same person?
I do differentiate between sex addiction and love addiction and I have them both. They are both intimacy disorders, yet their mode of expression differs. Sex addicts act out sexually while love addicts act out romantically. But let’s be clear, romance for a love addict is a form of acting out sexually yet it appears to be acting out for the sake of “love”. We in the 12-step programs of sex and/or love addiction put love in quotes for it is most often not true love, it can be either the neediness of co-dependency and/or a sexual obsession that appears softer when couched as “love.” Women tend to act out more frequently with “love” addiction. That could be nature or nurture. It is more acceptable for women to be hopelessly in love but not acceptable to be sexually addicted. Yet as sexual taboos are softening for women we find more women acting out sexually. For me, historically, when a love relationship went off the rails, I often acted out sexually for months or years until I found another long-term relationship, which was usually my “love” addiction, until that went sour and the cycle continued.
What was the whirlwind ride they took you on?
Suffice it to say that when having over 30 lovers was not enough, getting married to a fellow sex addict brought me to orgies, swinger parties, BDSM conferences and ultimately prostitution before I crashed and got sober from my sex/love addiction.
What was the pivotal moment when you acknowledged your co-occurring addictions…both behavioral/process and substance?
My pivotal moment came when I realized my husband, a sex addict, was my “love” addiction and that after months of blaming him for his sex addiction, I asked God in a moment of despair, why I attracted this sex addict to my life. I heard a voice deep inside me say, “Because you are that.” Then I asked God, “Because I am that? Because I am a sex addict?” Next, like a movie in fast forward, I saw my life from childhood until that moment with all my romantic and sexual acting out and ran to the bathroom to throw up. How I did not see this Mack truck smashing me in the face all these years, I did not know. I was blind indeed but then I could finally see.
My drug and alcohol use only amped up while acting out sexually or romantically. They were not my core addictions, but they always lead me more easily to my core sex and love addictions. Therefore, in order to better support my sex/love sobriety, I took drugs and alcohol off the table two years ago. I am now nearly seven years sex/love sober.
I know that healing and forgiveness is a process. Do you allow yourself to feel justifiable anger at what you endured?
Indeed, I have let myself feel justifiably angry towards the abuse that happened to me. However, anger comes more readily to me. It is the grief that I fear. Anger often masks this grief so when I am too long stuck in anger I will sit down in prayer and meditation and ask to feel the softness of my heart again. When I feel this vulnerability is when healing and forgiveness continue.
What does your sustained recovery look like?
I pray and meditate every morning and evening. I attend 12-step meetings regularly, keep in touch with my sponsor and sponsor others. I see a therapist and do trauma work in concentrated doses periodically. I work as a recovery coach and sober companion in the addiction recovery field, which reminds me daily what could happen if I relapse. Giving back to addicts, be they my sponsees or clients, absolutely keeps me sober.
What are the temptations you face?
The temptation that I currently face is looking for a wealthy man to date who will pull me out of my financial hole. Therefore, I have not dated in nearly three years during this financially precarious time. Once I have paid off a good chuck of the debts incurred while writing my memoirs, I will feel less likely to act out in this way and will allow myself to date again.
Please talk about your work as a Sober Companion.
I started working as a sober companion in the spring of 2016 after trying, unsuccessfully, a return to the corporate world as a legal secretary. With a stellar resume acknowledged by all the staffing agencies and headhunters, I couldn’t understand why no one was getting back to me in those six weeks. Finally, I got one of them on the phone that was only too happy to point out why he could never find work for me. “Have you Googled yourself lately?” At his insistence I got onto my computer and did just that. All the articles I wrote about my sex addiction for the Feminine Collective popped up and so I asked if that was the problem. “I can’t get you a job with that on the Internet,” he said. It was then that I realized why the 12-step programs use the word ANONYMOUS at the end of each of their fellowships. Addiction carries enormous stigma and sex addiction carries the most stigma. I was screwed, pun intended.
After a day of self pity, I turned to God with my fears, “God, how will I survive? No one will hire me!” Then I heard a voice within pose, “Who WOULD hire someone with an addiction?” I kept asking this question to myself as I lay in a puddle of tears and remembered a friend who suggested I become a sober companion years earlier. She said you have to have an addiction to work with addicts so that you understand the beast from the inside out. Immediately I got on the phone with her asking how to get into this industry. After months of training I embarked upon this new career.
Though I do hourly coaching with addicts, my mainstay is work as a sober companion. I live with clients 24/7 for a couple of weeks to a couple of months, most often when they first get out of detox or rehab. I am an alternative to sober living. Some clients have children, parents, pets or work situations that do not allow them to abide in a sober living home. Therefore, I provide the sober living environment for them. I work with my agent and case manager on how best to create a supportive sober environment. This often includes taking the client to 12-step meetings each day or their IOP (Intensive Out Patient treatment), taking them to their psychiatrist and therapy appointments, their doctor appointments, a nutritionist, the gym, whatever best supports the client. It is a team effort. The job is extremely intensive yet very rewarding. I adore watching my clients go from complete despair to finally living a life they love. I get as much, if not more, from working with my clients as they get from me.
I want people to understand that getting sober from a sex/love addiction is like getting sober from a food addiction. These are not abstinence-based programs. These are moderation-based programs also referred to as harm-reduction based programs. We need to eat to live. Similarly, unless we chose to become priests, nuns or monks, we need to learn how to navigate the waters of intimacy. In my opinion, moderation is much more difficult than abstinence. I explained this to a fellow in my program. He didn’t get why it was so difficult to stay sober off sex/love addiction, so I explained, “Imagine you had to take 4 shots of whiskey per week and not more.” He replied, “Oh hell, I’d jump right back into the bottle head first!” “Welcome to my world!” I replied, and he got it. It is not impossible to stay sober with a sex/love addiction yet our challenges, in my opinion, are greater.
How is your other book coming?
I am currently working on book two, Makings of a Legal Courtesan: Sexual Abuse, Seeds of Addiction. I touch on the abuse in Memoirs of a Legal Courtesan but go into the details of my #metoo experiences as a fledgling supermodel and an up-and-coming actress in Hollywood. As #timesup had no pull back in the late 80’s I decided my time was up. I was done being used and abused so I left my dreams of being an actress with a heavy heart, once again burying my traumas.