Confessions of a Gay Sex Addict-Turned-Therapist

by Steve Weinstein

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday June 7, 2011

Rob Weiss is the founder of the Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles and the author of "Cruise Control: Understanding Sexual Addiction in Gay Men." When he talks to his patients about sex addiction, he knows whereof he speaks: This gay man is himself a self-confessed recovering sex addict.

When they say it takes one to know one, they could have had Weiss in mind. (Or maybe "it takes a thief to catch a thief.") Weiss is 25 years into recovery; as with AA and other 12 step-type graduates, Weiss will probably never consider himself "cured," but rather continually in the process of cure.

Despite his own history, Weiss is surprisingly non-judgmental about men who have a lot of sex. What's refreshing talking to him is that he believes that a gay man can not only have a healthy sexual appetite, but also have many partners and still not be considered an addict.

In a blog, he elaborates on this thesis. When George Michael, partnered and public, tells the press that cruising for sex in a public restroom is a gay thing, Weiss sees red. "This angry response sounds a lot more like the denial of an underlying problem than the reality of life for most gay men today," he writes.

He sees sex in restrooms or gym saunas as relics of an earlier, more repressed time. A sex addict, he writes are people who "lose themselves in endless hours and days of searching online for porn and hook-ups or

cruising steam rooms, adult bookstores and sex clubs, often spending more time and energy pursuing sex, then they do evolving healthy, intimate lives."

In an exclusive interview with EDGE, Weiss expounded on his original and even controversial ideas about what constitutes sex addiction, where the boundaries are, how to find them -- and the role of porn, crystal meth and one's peers.

EDGE: You write that the vast majority of self-confessed sex addicts are straight, married men. But, you add, they are usually forced to get treatment by their wives (Tiger Woods being an exemplar). What about gay men?

Rob Weiss: I started the clinic in 1995 in West Hollywood; 15 years later, 95 percent of my clients are male heterosexuals. The only reason why gay men come in is because they have a committed parter, who says he won't put with it anymore. As the community becomes more oriented toward relationships, more come into treatment.

EDGE: Is it that the gay scene in general is more accepting of compulsive sexual behavior?

R.W.: A wife finds 300 images on the computer, sees hook-up emails. That's how we get most of our clients.

Gay men never have a reason for treatment. As George Michael said, this is what gay men do. Gay men also have more sexual opportunities because they have sex with men. You can't go up to a woman on the street and say, "Let's have sex." Women are more inherently relational.

EDGE: So men-on-men sex is like two charging bulls -- now cows involved.

R.W.: Men are able to have sexual experiences without guilt, generally. So men seeking sex with men have no demand for a relational element. That's not about being gay, that's about being men. Straight men envy gay men having so much sex -- they have to work at it harder!

EDGE: What's wrong with that?

R.W.: Here's the problem: It's very difficult to have sex without having feelings for someone. Eventually you're going to attach to someone else. So it's inherently threatening on some level to a partner.

EDGE: But when does it spill over into "addiction"?

R.W.: The men I deal with have an obsession that compromises their lives: work, health, relationships. That is different from recreational sex.

R.W.: For most people, recreational sex is not problematic. Like an alcoholic, they're not seeing reality. Recreational sex is going for the occasional dalliance --†that's not a judgment. However, if someone becomes preoccupied with it, if he says, "I'm not going to that place anymore, see that person anymore," and does it anyway, that's a problem.

EDGE: So this is where the 12-step program like Sexual Compulsives Anonymous comes in, right?

R.W.: Twelve-step programs for sex addiction include Sexual Compulsives Anonymous, and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. Sexaholics Anonymous not so great for gay men. They define sobriety as no sex outside of a marital relationship.

If you're an alcoholic, you don't drink. If you're a compulsive overeater, you don't not eat. We have to define sobriety for them. Sobriety is a contract, an agreement made with a sponsor or a program. You're going to tell the truth. That's defined by your life circumstances.

EDGE: It's easier these days to fall into it with the Internet, mobile devices, etc., isn't it?

R.W.: I remember when you had to go places to cruise. To Central Park, the piers, bus stations. What these apps have done is eliminate the need to find a sex partner. Apps have eliminated the need to have to go out to search and find. Access has increased. It used to be that at the park at 3 a.m., nobody there. Someone's always on Grindr.

Technology has it given us faster, easier access to sexual experiences. For people who are compulsive, it's much easier. If you wanted to buy porn, you had to go out. Now it's all there on your home computer.

EDGE: But we're homosexuals! We're defined by what we do in bed.

R.W.: We're a subculture that has been based on whom we have sex with. Straight men don't have a Black Party. You can be someone who goes to the Black Party and has rampant sex and then choose to be with someone and choose to live differently. Not all homosexuals are sexually crazy. That's only a percentage of our population.

Because it is a subculture that is more accepting, it's more promoting of sexuality. It's harder for someone to come to the realization that they may have a problem.

There is some concern about how we are viewed by outside world. We say the rest of the world is too conservative, etc. To talk about sex addiction, gay men respond, "Oh you're sex negative." We see that as validating what people down South say, "Oh they're all pigs!" When we talk about this, we are shouted down by our own community. You don't play on cultural prejudices.

EDGE: But I find people who are "recovered" so judgmental!

R.W.: They're like reformed smokers: so judgmental. It's a stage of development. Because I work in treatment centers with addicts, I see that sort of over-reaction: if it's a problem for me, it's a problem for everyone. There's a little bit of envy. Others can do that, but you can't.

EDGE: Is there a physical component beyond the sexual that's common to addictions?

R.W.: People use fantasy as a way of getting high. Take gambling addiction: It's the heart-stopping adrenaline. Dopamine. The drug addict is in a state of arousal long before he gets high.

In West Hollywood, there are laws against sex addiction: If you drive around here more than three times in an hour, it's illegal. It's not about genital arousal, it's emotional arousal. The hunt is more important than the kill. Once you have the orgasm, the experience, you feel worse.

It's the anticipatory excitement [like guys online chatting instead of actually hooking up -- Editor). They're trying to fill an emotional hole. Sex addicts seek intensity rather than intimacy. It's about escape. What they really need is comfort and support. They aren't comfortable being vulnerable with other people. We see this as a symptom of an attachment disorder. They have emotional issues.

Take [former New York Gov.] Elliot Spitzer: he called the call-girl service, got on the train -- adrenaline. Why does the president of the United States risk being investigated for sexual harassment by having sex with an intern? Spitzer and Clinton: brilliant intellectually but full of narcissism: "I can get away with that."

EDGE: What's with all this "P&P" these days? Are sex addicts drawn to crystal meth or do crystal meth addicts like to have lots of sex?

R.W.: The crystal user is not necessarily a sex addict. Crystal hyperstimulates the release of dopamine. With Viagra or Cialis, they can do it for days.

I don't believe most people who go down that road start as sex addicts. Once you have fused intense hypersexuality with intense drug use for a couple of years, vanilla sex isn't fun. So when they have sex, it's not as much fun; the average pleasurable experience is not as pleasurable.

When they stop using the drug, sex is boring. They want to feel the same way they used to feel doing the drugs. It's harder to stay sober because they end up going back to hypersexual behavior. It'll be a long time before having sex with one person -- or even two -- is pleasurable.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).