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Exit Clear

I Learned I’m Addicted to Sex and I’m Cool With That

I Learned I’m Addicted to Sex and I’m Cool With That: © SPP / Alamy

© SPP / Alamy

My name is Liam, and I’m a sex addict. I’m an alcoholic, too, but I’ve known that for a while, and I’ve been sober for three years. I didn’t know I was a sex addict until I took the XXXchurch’s X3 Pure recovery workshop, a thirty-day program that uses streaming videos and worksheets to treat sex addiction—or as they also call it, “unwanted sexual behavior.” That includes anything from compulsive prostitute patronage to plain ol’ masturbation. Onanism is what I and most other sex addicts are guilty of. God just doesn’t want us to watch porn and jack off, according to this church. Not even a little bit.

XXXchurch is a Pasadena-based Christian organization that has embraced porniness as a way to reach potential customers. They are well known in the adult industry for their presence at conventions like the AVN Awards, where their attendance is like holding an AA meeting at a bar. At these conventions, XXXchurch volunteers hand out t-shirts with their “Jesus Loves Porn Stars” logo. They make themselves available to people who may have a problem. The XXXchurch representatives I’ve talked to seem like relatively open-minded folks who understand secular people in a way that other ‘cool’ Christians don’t. But whereas I consider whacking off a natural act, they consider it a sin.

To quote comedian/masturbator Louis C.K., “I like it. It’s easy and it’s fun and nobody gets hurt.” But XXXchurch is completely anti-masturbation. My level of porn consumption and masturbation—almost daily— felt normal for me but meant addiction to them. While “sex addiction” is not recognized as a diagnosable disorder DSM-V chose to leave it out, many people still struggle with compulsive sex or masturbation. Though I had never considered myself addicted, I was willing to examine the possibility that it would be extremely difficult to stop.

In addition to industry outreach, XXXchurch seeks to eradicate masturbation through three technological products: X3 Groups, where addicts congregate to chat; X3 Watch, consensual spyware that emails your “accountability partner” (or “sponsor” in 12-step parlance) when you visit blocked sites; and X3 Pure, the $99 online, recovery workshop that I decided to download.

The course takes a month—15 days of video lectures and 15 days of homework from a 121-page PDF. Each of the chapters include one video from XXXchurch minister Jake Larson, an expressively-eyebrowed motivational speaker-type pastor whose fixed smile never wavers, and one from Steven Luff, a dour and serious theologian who leads XXXchurch’s in-person recovery groups in Los Angeles. Luff begins and ends each of his sessions with the Serenity Prayer, which I instinctively attempt to say with him, but I can’t, because he recites it in such an unfamiliar rhythm.

As a recovering alcoholic, I’m open to ways to relieve the bondage of self through spiritual self-improvement, so I figured I’d give X3 Pure a chance to convince me. But to be fair to their methods, I didn’t do exactly what the workshop instructed. I did it at home by myself, opposed to their recommendation to do it with other men trying to recover and under the guidance of an accountability partner. Treating addiction alone doesn’t work, but I figured I’d do it the way an embarrassed guy who’s afraid he has a problem might first try to treat it, which is in secret.

I doubt I’m the only one who would want to respond to these personal questions in solitude. “Do you have a continual desire to act out sexually or have tried to stop, reduce, or control acting out sexually but been unsuccessful?” Larson asks in the first of 15 videos, “Unwanted Sexual Behavior” (“If you just need to stop in the middle of a video and pray, then do that,” he advises.) He’s determination of whether I’m an addict involves just ten questions, including “do you have a pattern of failing to resist the impulse to act out sexually?” and “do you find yourself upset, distressed, anxious, restless, or even violent if you cannot act out sexually, especially in the ways in which you have developed as a pattern?” Answering yes to three or more questions means addiction. I get 9/10.

At the heart of X3 Pure’s ideology is the difference between “White Knuckle Change” and “Real Change.” White Knuckle Change means abstaining from unwanted sexual behavior through force of will without addressing the underlying causes of addiction. (Ironically, “white knuckling” is also a term for gripping one’s penis tightly while masturbating.) It always fails. Real Change is “a complete examination and alteration of one’s life, how it is structured, who is in it, and what meaning it ultimately has for the individual.”

Real Change is what X3 promises to offer. But by chapter 5, I start to suspect I won’t ever get there. I have not stopped looking at porn and masturbating, even though I’ve told myself I was going to. I thought I was over feeling shame about having sexual urges, but embarrassing memories from my Catholic upbringing are floating to the surface of my mind, like the time when I was 12 and my mom found the topless pictures of Cameron Diaz I’d printed and hid in my closet. I want to quit this stupid workshop. It’s making me feel like an addict.

At the end of Chapter 7, “Going Sober”, Luff implores me to get rid of all my pornography. Burn the magazines, throw away the DVDs, wipe the hard drives. I have two problems with this command: I stream my porn, so there’s nothing to get rid of, and I was rubbing myself while he said this. I realized that to continue with the program would be a waste of time. From this point on, the workshops would be operating on the assumption that I was abstinent, and I had no desire or ability to abstain for even one day. I could go no further, because I was not willing to change.

According to X3 Pure, I am addicted to masturbation. But am I actually? I know what it’s like to be addicted to something. I’ve had a desperate desire to abstain, and then done it anyway. I know the feeling of waking up disappointed that I’m still alive. I’ve seen what happens when something destructive becomes a person’s singular focus. That’s my relationship to alcohol. When I masturbate, I’m just performing maintenance. Video workshops and people hitting me up for money and Jesus didn’t treat my addiction. Nonjudgmental twelve-step meetings (“a higher power of your understanding”) and medication did.

At the same time, I masturbate habitually and can’t stop when I try to. So I might be addicted. I also might be addicted to brushing my teeth, since I also do that most days and feel weird when I don’t.

A few days after I abandoned the workshop, once I had stopped feeling like I had failed, I started to feel scammed. $100 and 30 days is a lot to ask for something that most likely isn’t going to work. X3 Pure doesn’t want any addict to suffer alone, but filling out a PDF on my laptop is a lonely form of treatment. It’s too anonymous. I’m not the first to think XXXchurch is a scam, and if I ever come to terms with my porn addiction, I won’t be turning to them for help. I’ll deal with it the old fashion way, probably by getting laid more.

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