I’m simply reaching out for help to a problem that has spanned a couple decades now. I am 41 and have been married 14 years to a good hearted – hard working woman who is very loving. We have no children. Since as far back as high school I have had this emotional urge to be an exhibitionist, I would put my self in positions where I could expose myself (always to the opposite sex) to a various cross section of women. Twice in the long time I have been fighting this I was charged and put on probation. Once I was ordered by the court to seek Psychiatric care which solved nothing! Since the internet, I have stopped exposing myself in public and began leading a life of deception and a virtual cyber-exhibitionist lifestyle in chat rooms, on-line. I often pose as many different people, teen, male, female, single, gay, etc….All with one purpose in mind to engage in talk of sex and get gratification from this. Sometimes I spend 6 hours a night on-line chatting and viewing photos of people, and making contacts. Some of these contacts lead to phone calls, or inter-net video activity. Once I made an actual in person meeting, but played a charade as to who I really was. I’m tired of this. I want to break this compulsion to go on-line and find pleasure this way. To me it is more exciting and intriguing than having sexual relations with my wife. She hates all the time I spend on-line but though I manage to explain it off, her rope is wearing thin. Basically I’m still struggling with the same issues that got me in trouble before except that the inter-net has me off the street and in my den but it has connected me to a much larger and seemingly co-cooperative group that feeds my compulsion. I know I need therapy. But my HMO does not cover it. I can’t afford $100-$150 an hour, that would compound problems and add the stress of financial hardship to my life which will slip me into deeper isolation and make me retreat to what brings me satisfaction. I am too ashamed to list most of my activities in a public forum. But would be happy to tell you in private e-mail or some other way. How can I solve this problem and get back to devoting my time to my wife, so she can be happy again and not worried about me on-line half the night?
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Considering your statements above it seems to me that you are ambivalent about whether or not you are really ready to give up your lifelong sexual habits. You state that you are ‘tired’ of your exhibitionism, but in the same paragraph you also state that you derive more satisfaction from your exhibitionism than from relations with your wife. I get the sense that you find your exhibitionism and internet sexual activity to be compelling, and are not 100% behind wanting to quit. This is okay and probably normal. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t sincere in wanting to quit; rather it suggests that (like any addict) you may be of two minds about giving up this important, if self-destructive, activity. If you want to quit, then stop making excuses for why it is difficult for you to begin the process. Case in point: If you need therapy (and I would agree that quitting will be much easier with professional support and guidance behind you), then don’t make excuses for why you can’t afford therapy. Instead, find ways to fund therapy, thinking about it as an investment in the quality of your life. First, know that there are therapists out there who will work for considerably less money per hour than $150. I’ve seen quality therapy be offered at rates in the $70 per hour range near major cities. Second, find ways to come up with the necessary money, possibly by giving up some subscription services that you don’t really need (like cable television, a cell phone, an expensive car loan, etc.) With some creativity, you can find ways to come up with the cash if you are motivated to do so. After all – you probably never have trouble coming up with money when you need it to feed your exhibitionism. Third, recognize that therapy is a temporary expenditure – it doesn’t have to go on for years to be helpful. In fact, most modern forms of therapy that are designed to help addicts and impulsives (exhibitionism would fit in here somewhere) are short-term, lasting months in duration, rather than years. There are other steps you might take as well. One of the strategies that financial counselors sometimes take when working with people who have massive credit card debt is to advise them to cut up their credit cards, so as to stop them from containing to use them (and getting further into debt). It’s a radical solution, but an effective one for a motivated person. In your case, a solution might be to ‘out’ yourself to your wife, asking for her help in monitoring your compulsions, and then get rid of home internet access. You can’t get on line if you don’t have access. Again – this doesn’t have to be permanent – even a temporary extended break of several months may help you to interrupt your habits and give you the space to develop new ones. Heck, you can put the money you save on internet costs towards therapy. It takes most addicts several tries at recovery before they get it right and are able to maintain sobriety for any extended period of time. The thing that separates recovering addicts from active addicts seems to be persistence in the face of difficulty. Don’t expect that you will necessarily fail in early attempts at quitting your exhibitionist ways, but don’t beat yourself up if you fail at first either. Re-channeling a lifelong sexual habit is a very difficult thing to do. You get better at managing it with practice, expert professional coaching, and an attitude that doesn’t let shame get the best of you. If you do fall down, cry for a while and then get back up. Good luck.