Sex addiction, credit card debt often go together
Out-of-control sexual behavior can fuel runaway spending on trysts, porn
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A secret credit card can mask the secret expenses of a sex addict.
Maybe the addict amasses thousands of dollars in charges to cover pricey hotel rendezvous with high-dollar escorts – and to hide these deceitful expenses from a spouse.
While a secret credit card might be an extreme example, out-of-control sexual behavior and out-of-control credit card behavior easily can go hand in hand.
For instance, someone who lost his job due to a sexual addiction – perhaps he obsessively viewed porn on a work computer – might lean heavily on a credit card to pick up household expenses.
Ed Coambs, a sex addiction therapist and financial therapist, says a “significant number” of the people he treats for sex addiction are burdened by credit card debt.
What is sexual addiction?
Mental health professionals don’t see eye to eye on a definition of “sex addiction.”
According to Psychology Today, the term doesn’t appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by mental health professionals to diagnose and classify mental disorders. Why? Because “clinicians and researchers agree there is not enough empirical evidence to support this diagnosis,” Psychology Today says.
John Giugliano, a psychotherapist specializing in sex addiction and former president of the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH), says the problem is real, but “the name of the problem is controversial and still up for grabs.” He prefers to use the term “out-of-control sexual behavior.”
Giugliano notes that while there’s plenty of research about gambling and credit card debt as well as shopping and credit card debt, there is no research on out-of-control sexual behavior and credit card spending.
However, there’s no lack of accounts about how sexual addiction and credit card spending can become entangled.
How sex addiction causes credit card debt
People find themselves in debt for many reasons, but sex addicts might find their problems directly related to their need for sexual pleasure. Not only can sexual addiction cause emotional and physical damage, but it also can max out credit cards and sink an addict and his or her family into debt. Some of the ways this can occur include:
- Paying for sex: Sexual addiction can lead addicts looking for sex in many places. This includes using prostitutes and sexual favor services that can put an addict into debt. Eliot Spitzer, former governor of New York, spent up to $80,000 in the 10 years he was soliciting prostitutes and call girls.
- Unemployment: Many sex addicts find themselves having to satisfy their sexual impulses at all times of the day, including during work hours. It is not uncommon for workplace computer activity to be monitored and pornographic materials and use uncovered. This can lead to job termination, unemployment and a reliance on credit cards to support the addict and his or her family.
- Frequenting strip clubs: Attending strip clubs frequently can be an easy way to fall into debt, as an addict is likely to spend cash during visits, leaving him to rely on his credit card for basic needs.
- Paying for porn: While some porn is free online, more extensive pornographic material is available for purchase. To avoid others from tracking these purchases, addicts might open a new credit card specifically for this purpose.
Sex addict’s padded business expenses hit $500,000 a year
Giugliano says one man he treated held down a $2.5 million-a-year job that obliged him to shower clients with high-end dinners and VIP events. He put those charges on his business credit card, but he’d also sneak onto the card expenses connected to his penchant for hotel trysts with prostitutes.
Once the man’s employer uncovered his credit card shenanigans, the padded expenses had reached $500,000 a year, Giugliano says. Not surprisingly, the company fired him.
Frequent business trips like the ones taken by the fired executive can provide cover for out-of-control sexual behavior and, in some instances, out-of-control credit card spending.
These trips allow sex addicts to “act out” anonymously and away from home, leading “dual lives,” Coambs says.
Business owners can be especially adept at carrying out these “dual lives,” since they can siphon money from their companies “without anybody really noticing,” Coambs says.
This can help a sex addict control the situation by hiding expenses from a spouse who’s “particularly vigilant” about household finances, he says.
Sex addicts rarely seek help before hitting bottom
It’s usually not until after a crisis – such as a financial catastrophe – that a sex addict seeks professional guidance, Giugliano says. But it’s typically not credit card spending that triggers the crisis; rather, it’s the loss of a job, the impending breakup of a marriage or the deterioration of the addict’s health.
“That’s when they realize this is serious,” Giugliano says. “You hardly ever see people before there’s a crisis.”
Coambs says guilt about out-of-control sexual behavior also can prompt an addict to engage in credit card-powered overindulgence to appease his spouse and kids.
For instance, the addict might buy high-tech gadgets for the kids or fancy restaurant meals for the spouse.
Coambs says the addict’s mindset goes something like this:
“I feel really bad about what I’m doing. I don’t know how to stop myself, so I’m going to buy things for my family as part of a mask or a way to keep them at distance. ‘Hey, everything’s OK. Daddy loves you, Mommy loves you.’”
Coambs says a sex addict also might turn to shopping, enabled by purchases made on a credit card, as “self-soothing behavior.”
“It’s a way of trying to perk themselves back up after they feel the low of the sex addiction,” he says.
To complicate matters, someone’s sex addiction might be intertwined with an addiction to, say, shopping, alcohol or drugs, Coambs says. This can cause an addict to dig an even deeper financial hole.
'Part of the goal is not to be caught’
In general, Coambs says, one massive expense related to sex addiction doesn’t push an addict into financial distress. Usually, the erosion of financial stability happens slowly, with debt piling up in $100 or $200 increments rather than in one $50,000 chunk, Coambs says.
“It’s an accumulation over a period of time that typically is what gets people in trouble. It’s the quintessential story of the frog in the boiling pot that doesn’t even know he’s in a boiling pot until it’s too late,” Coambs says.
No matter what kind of spending occurs, some sex addicts, most of whom are men, maintain a secret credit card so their wives or partners don’t discover their out-of-bounds spending.
“I think part of goal is not to be caught,” Giugliano says.
Sometimes the secrecy goes to extremes.
Giugliano recalls one client who racked up more than $100,000 a year in charges on a secret credit card for calls he made to a phone sex service. The man was wealthy enough that he could easily pay off the debt. But every once in a while, his wife would figure out something was amiss, so the man would just cut up the secret credit card and open another hidden account.
By and large, such spending is a consequence of the addiction, Giugliano says.
“It’s like heroin or alcohol,” he says. “They’re not addicted to spending the money. They’re addicted to the drug, and the drug [addiction] just progresses and the expenses get increased.”
Sex addict had to confront out-of-control spending
When excessive spending accompanies out-of-control sexual behavior, it’s critical for a sex addict to face financial reality, says Barbara Winter, a psychologist and sexologist.
She recalls one patient who, over the course of several years, spent roughly $400,000 on living expenses, travel and pretty much anything his “girlfriend” desired.
“He was not at all wealthy,” she says, “but was clearly and quickly diminishing his savings.”
As part of his treatment, Winter had the man create a spreadsheet laying out his income and expenses so he could confront his financial predicament.
In this instance, the man was a co-dependent giver, lavishing money on his lover to fortify the relationship, Winter says. This behavior can push the addict toward considerable debt, such as cosigning for a prostitute’s home loan, paying a lover’s college tuition or even supporting a mistress’ drug habit.
When coping with that sort of debt, secret credit cards can come into play. In some cases, a spouse will have credit card statements mailed to a clandestine P.O. box to aid the cover-up, according to Winter.
“Remember, secrets are the hallmark of an addiction,” she says.
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