In more than 30 years of marriage, Steve hasn't ever been unfaithful to his wife in the sense that many might define infidelity.
Meaning, he has never had any version of sex with another person besides his wife.
“Except the 20,000 girlfriends I had on the Internet, and that's just as bad,” he said.
Steve, who spoke on condition of anonymity, is a recovering sex addict. It started with an unstable home life, a mother and stepfather both struggling with mental health issues. And over the course of about 50 years, it developed into an addiction to pornography.
There is no official diagnosis for sexual addiction, sometimes known as hypersexual disorder. Sex addiction is an obsession with sexual feelings or behaviors that affect a person's health, job, relationships or other parts of his or her life, according to the Mayo Clinic.
It's estimated that between 3 percent and 6 percent of Americans suffer from some form of sex addiction, according to the National Association of Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity.
Robert Weiss, a sexual addiction expert, will discuss sexual and intimacy disorders on June 21 and June 22 in Oklahoma City.
When Weiss started counseling people with sexual and intimacy disorders, he had enough clients to pay the bills. But toward the end of the 1990s, he found himself with 175 patients per week and six therapists.
Weiss points to the Internet as the reason he has seen a continued increase in the number of people seeking help for sexual and intimacy disorders. And as technology becomes more personalized and mobile, it will continue to change the way people access sexual content and sexual experiences, Weiss said.
For example, pornography. In 1987, if you wanted pornography, you had to get in your car, drive somewhere you didn't want to be seen, park in the back, rent or buy something, take it home and have content with a limited number of images, Weiss said.
“What do I have to do to get porn now? I simply pick up my phone,” he said.
For Steve, the Internet opened up an endless amount of sexual content. This led to Steve feeling like he was leading a double life.
Steve's stepfather started giving him pornographic magazines when he was 7 or 8. His mother struggled with mental illness, and his stepfather had his own addictions. Life at home was unstable. From a young age, Steve learned to cope by using pornography.
“You think, ‘This is normal — this is the way guys are supposed to be,'” he said.
Steve's 16th birthday present was a set of car keys and a night with a prostitute. He didn't accept it because he was already dating his wife. His stepfather thought it would help him grow up to “be a man.”
Weiss said the people he works with, for a variety of reasons, have difficulty getting their emotional needs met through healthy relationships.
“If you're my spouse, and I'm really open to you about what I need, you can reject me, you can trigger things inside of me,” Weiss said. “But if you're a prostitute or I'm having an affair with you or you're just porn, you can't hurt me. You can't let me down ... No prostitute is going to say, ‘Could you leave me alone for an hour? I have something else to do.'”
But sex addiction isn't about sex, per se. It's about a guaranteed escape, a controlled experience.
Many of the women that Weiss sees in his practice experienced overt sexual abuse as child and are re-enacting their experiences through their addiction. Overall, the people that Weiss treats are “broken” in a sense, seeking intensity, instead of intimacy.
“It's really the same problem with sex addiction or eating disorder or gambling,” Weiss said. “The general public doesn't understand how someone can get caught up in a lifestyle and not be able to make choices for themselves. Yet, we know people who gamble themselves out of their homes. People do the same with sex.”