A Guide for Partners of Sex Addicts
Edited by Stefanie Carnes, PhD
What Does It Mean if My Partner Has Shown an Interest in Minors?
Written by Barbara Levinson, PhD, RN, LMFT, CSAT-S
What Does It Mean if My Partner Has Shown an Interest in Minors?
Barbara Levinson, PhD, CSAT-S
Nearly every day you hear or read something about pedophiles, predators, child molesters, or the abduction of children. We are so aware of the issue that we have become a society that sees the boogeyman around every corner. It is important to be knowledgeable about these issues and be sensitive to the needs of our children and keep them safe. However, for people with partners who are sex addicts with behaviors that have included an interest in children, the trauma can be almost too much to bear. Finding out your partner has secret sexual behaviors is enough of a shock and trauma. Add to that the realization that his or her conduct also includes thoughts,behaviors, or fantasies about minors is frightening, abhorrent, mind-boggling, confusing,and disgusting. Knowing others have dealt with some of the same situations as you and have survived it can be comforting.
Susie was angry and frantic. A recent Pap test came back positive for human papilloma virus(HPV), an increasingly common STD. She was confused and had no idea how this could have happened. Although her gynecologist explained she may have contracted the STD long ago and it didn’t manifest until recently, Susie was mortified. Her doctor also told her she would need to tell her husband, Stan, who had likely also contracted the disease. Susie had had sexual partners before marrying, but had always used protection. Stan had told her he had not been very sexually active while single, and she believed him because he had inhibited attitudes and behaviors about sex.
The couple had been married seven years and had no children together. Susie, however, had a ten-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. Although her and Stan’s sexual relationship was good in the beginning, over the years the couple struggled to keep up an active sex life due to Stan’s work obligations. When Susie did suggest sex, Stan would often be uninterested. Susie began to wonder if her desire was abnormal.
Five years into their marriage, Susie’s daughter went to live with her father, who resided in another state. Once she and Stan were living alone, Susie believed their sex life would become more spontaneous. Instead, the couple had even less sex. Prior to her visit to the gynecologist,the couple had only had sex once in two months. Susie was petrified that Stan would think she had contracted the STD through an affair. But she also secretly wondered about Stan’s lack of interest in sex. And she had a “gut feeling” that something was odd about the way Stan stared at younger women and made sexual comments such as, “They shouldn’t dress like that. They’re just asking for it.”
Stan spent hours on the computer, and there were times she couldn’t reach him at work, which she also thought was suspicious. She had mentioned these behaviors over the years, but when Stan got angry, she dropped the subject. Her suspicions only increased after she discovered an open web page that contained pictures of partially dressed teenage models. When she confronted Stan about it, he became angry. She called him a pervert and told him she no longer trusted him.
Despite his denials, Susie couldn’t let it go. She became a detective, looking for evidence that Stan was cheating on her. She soon discovered not only that Stan had sex with prostitutes, but that he was also interested in viewing images of underage girls. She wondered, “Is my husband a pedophile?”
What is pedophilia?
Pedophilia is defined as a persistent sexual interest in pre-pubescent children. Clinicians rely on several different sources when considering the diagnosis of pedophilia, including self-report,a history of sexual behavior involving children, and psycho-physiological assessments. All of these sources have limitations, and people will tend to deny pedophilic interests for fear of being reported and getting caught up in the legal system.
Having interests, thoughts, or fantasies is different from acting them out. A person’s history of past sexual offenses in terms of the number, age, gender, and relatedness of child victims is informative but is only approximate because it is limited to known victims. For a clinical diagnosis of pedophilia, a person will have had the following:
• recurrent, intense, sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involvingsexual activity with a prepubescent child or children for a period of at least sixmonths. Moreover, the person has acted out on these sexual urges; or
• the sexual urges or fantasies cause marked distress or interpersonal difficulty. Theperson is at least sixteen years old and at least five years older than the child or children.
This diagnosis of pedophilia suggests that the person must suffer internal conflict or social consequences. Only a small percentage of sex offenders meet these criteria for pedophilia. A pedophile often starts offending at an early age and can have a large number of victims that are not family related. The pedophile is usually driven to offend and has actual sexual contact with victims. All too often, the term pedophile is used incorrectly and is misunderstood. Most of the time, sex addicts are interested in much older children who are past puberty and have sexual characteristics that are more developed.
Pedophiles are usually obsessed with children and they can behave in addictive ways. They usually have a belief system that could support a predatory lifestyle. There are also subtypes of the pedophilia diagnosis to further complicate the issue. These are:
• fixated pedophiles who identify with children and seek sexual relationships with them
• regressed pedophiles who are passively aroused by children
Pedophiles can have a rigid set of double standards and also can be very religious. Some studies report that a high number of pedophiles have been victims of childhood sexual abuse themselves. However, this is not always the case. True pedophiles are simply fascinated with children. They can describe children in very idealistic terms. They are often interested in childlike activities, rather than adult activities, and frequently continue to have the hobbies they had in childhood. However, that doesn’t mean anyone who collects toys or comic books is a pedophile; collecting behavior can be perfectly normal and appropriate.
Pedophiles will frequently make friends with single parents or work or volunteer in youth-related activities or professional positions that have contact with children. Again, that doesn’t mean every teacher, youth minister, or pediatrician is a pedophile. A pedophile usually prefers children who are close to puberty, but others may target younger children. If the pedophile was abused as a child, he or she will often target children who are the same age the pedophile was at the time of the abuse.
For the most part, sex addicts are distinguishable from sex offenders, who are also distinguishable from the true pedophile, although there may be some overlap in these groups. Sex offender is a legal term and should only be used for persons who have been adjudicated and involved in the legal system.
If your partner looks at or objectifies teenagers or comments on how “hot” they are, or you find some inappropriate images on a computer, don’t panic. It doesn’t mean he or she is a pedophile. Sex addicts often explore sexual avenues they may never have thought of before the Internet existed. Because all kinds of information, images, and videos are readily available online, the addict can get easily aroused or interested in behaviors that he or she may never consider doing.
There is, however, a difference between curiosity and preferential interest. Finding information about particular websites your partner has visited or downloaded images from, although concerning and possibly illegal, again doesn’t mean your partner is a pedophile. A careful assessment must be done to understand the behaviors. Pedophiles will typically have a large collection of pornography, if they use the computer to gather information and view pictures, and will categorize the images in separate folders. Often the collection will contain particular images or a series of images of particular children.
There are other red flags that can distinguish a true pedophile. For example, the type of movies or videos they buy or rent, souvenirs they keep, or how the home is decorated may indicate that their interest in children is problematic. Binoculars by a window facing a school, playground, or park can also be indicators. Fixated pedophiles can generate their own “erotic” materials from relatively innocuous sources, such as TV advertisements, clothing catalogs featuring children modeling underwear, and other available sources.
Can pedophiles be cured?
There’s much talk in the media about how all pedophiles are dangerous predators with a poor prognosis. In reality, most pedophiles can be treated and managed. Treatment of pedophilia is difficult, but not impossible. Often adults who have an interest or fantasies about teenagers or “adult-looking children” or “childlike adults” are not pedophiles.
If you believe your partner is a pedophile, it’s essential to start with a comprehensive evaluation or assessment. There are many variables that would direct the course of treatment. For example, are they regressed or fixated? Are they a pedophile, an incest perpetrator, a child molester, or someone who has had fantasies but never acted on them? The diagnosis may be further complicated if he or she has a personality disorder, developmental problems, or a significant mental illness. Many partners in your situation find tremendous relief when they seek the counsel of a qualified professional who can assist them in understanding the details of their situation.
Sex Offender or Sex Addict?
As noted earlier, sex offender is a legal term that refers to someone who has already committed a crime and has been adjudicated in the legal system. Sex offenders are usually referred to clinicians through the legal system or by attorneys or probation or parole officers. Providers of treatment for sex offenders must have specialized training. In some states, practitioners must be licensed to treat sex offenders in addition to holding other licenses. Other states have only certification or registration requirements for treatment providers. Some states have no special training requirements, although this is becoming rare.
The treatment of sex offenders requires a very structured program geared toward group therapy. It’s usually a cognitive behavioral and psycho-educational approach, and most often the offender uses a workbook designed specifically for the treatment of sex offenders. In most states there are strict requirements about treatment guidelines and strategies. Homework assignments are almost always given, and offenders must adhere to a strict “treatment contract” that outlines what they can and cannot do. The guidelines are usually prohibitive, and the treatment provider almost always works in conjunction with probation or parole.
The laws governing sex offenders outline where they can live and work. There are restrictions regarding contact with children, both theirs and others, and the activities in which they can be involved. The main goals of a sex offender treatment program are:
• no more victims
• community safety
• for the offender to have a successful and happy life
Not all sex offenders are sex addicts and not all sex addicts are sex offenders. Just because your partner is an addict, it doesn’t mean he or she has overtly committed a sexual offense. The following figure outlines the similarities and differences between sex offenders and sex addicts.
Sex offenders have victims, not only the people they offend against but also their victims’ families, friends, and loved ones. The offender also abuses people who care for them, since they are affected by the crimes they commit. Often, sex addicts don’t believe they have victimized anyone, which perpetuates their behaviors. The person who looks at child pornography may believe it doesn’t hurt anyone; however, the children in those linages are living humans who have been victimized.
A person who finds out that his or her partner is attracted to or participating in sexual behaviors with others is deeply hurt. Both sex addicts and sex offenders have victims. A major difference is the sex offender has been accused of or did something that was illegal or criminal.
Will my partner go to jail?
If a crime has been committed, your partner may become involved with the legal system. In fact, this may be how you became aware of your partner’s secret life. Here are some examples:
• A man caught with 20,000 images of child pornography on his computer was sentenced to five years in prison.
• A man who engaged in an online sexual chat with minors was charged with Enticement of a Minor for Sexual Purposes and sentenced to three to five years in a federal prison.
• A man caught masturbating in his car was charged with Indecent Exposure and received a year of Probation.
• A man charged with two counts of Indecency with a Child received six years of Probation
• A woman who had sex with her sixteen-year-old son’s friend was sentenced to a lengthy jail term.
All of these people were sex addicts who became sex offenders; none, however, were pedophiles.
I think I found child pornography on my husband’s computer! How can I be sure? What should I do?
If your partner has had sexual contact with a minor, consenting or not, he or she can and most probably will go to j ail or be given Probation, depending on the state, risk level, and the circumstances of the crime. In the United States, the legal definition of someone who can be convicted of child pornography is this : “Any person who knowingly mails, transports, ships, receives, distributes, reproduces, sells, or possesses any book, magazine, periodical, film; videotape, computer disc, or any other material that contains an image of child pornography that has been mailed, shipped , or transported by any means, including the computer shall be fined or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both, but if such person has a prior conviction, such person shall be fined under this title and imprisoned for not less than 10 years or more than 20 years.”
The legal definition of someone who can be convicted of child pornography may not capture all the material that an adult with a sexual interest in children may consider to be arousing. There are several categories of pictures that may be sexualized by an adult with an interest in children. For example, non-erotic and non-sexualized pictures of children in their underwear or swimming suits from commercial or private sources in which the context and organization by the collector indicates inappropriateness. There may be pictures of children naked or semi-naked in nudist settings. Another form is pictures of children in play areas or other environments showing their underwear or varied degrees of nakedness. These may not fall under the legal definition of child pornography but may nonetheless be indicative of an interest in children. The legal definition of child pornography has some different phrases in it that often lead to confusion and have been subject to some scrutiny.
As it stands, child pornography means any visual depiction, including any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computer-generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means of sexually explicit conduct where
• the production of such visual depiction involves the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct;
• such visual depiction is a digital image, computer image, or computer – generated image that is, or is indistinguishable from, that of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or
• such visual depiction has been created, adapted, or modified to appear that an identifiable minor is engaging in sexually explicit conduct .
Sexually explicit conduct in the context of child pornography means
• graphic sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex, or lascivious simulated sexual intercourse where the genitals, breast , or pubic area of any person is exhibited;
• graphic or lascivious bestiality, masturbation, or sadistic or masochistic abuse; or
• graphic or simulated lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of any person .
More investigation on the sexual interest of children should be done. The current research doesn’t take into account all the new technologies that have developed. The lack of research into this important area can hamper our ability to help individuals and their families, and to distinguish between levels of risk.
The Internet Trap
A high percentage of partners first find hard evidence of questionable sexual behavior on their partners ‘ computers. You may have also stumbled across other information, such as sexual chats involving young children, instant messaging, newsgroups, bulletin boards, or websites aimed at children. The following four areas indicate serious sexual on-line behavior.
l. Possessing new or recent images or images associated with sex
2. Participating in an on-line community of offenders
3. Trading of images
4. Cataloging of images
There are also other types of “images” you may become aware of, such as the so-called model sites that have original photographs of scantily clad children. Or perhaps you have evidence of your partner looking at clothing catalogs or family nudist sites. Some of the images in online advertisements show toddlers wearing tight underwear or slightly older children wearing makeup and posing with feather boas.
In a recent New York Times article, more than 200 of these online advertising sites Aimed at pedophiles were found. Most legitimate modeling sites are password-protected with access granted only to companies and casting agencies after a background check. The New York Times article exposed another site that claimed to be a company that helped children start modeling careers. There is, however, no identifying information on this company, and it was linked to as many as six other sites featuring little girls.
If you have discovered child pornography on your computer, it does not necessarily indicate your partner is a pedophile. It is possible that your partner opened up a site without knowledge of what was there. Pornographers use tricks in the recruitment of new customers. The following are some methods typically used to push pornography to new users:
• Porn napping: Purchasing experienced domain names and then redirecting the user to their own sites
• Cyber-squatting: Purchasing legal domain names and putting explicit pornography on the site
• Doorway scams: Figuring out ways to use search engines to get their sites high on the search engine list when someone could be searching for perfectly legitimate information
• Misspelling : Taking domain names of legitimate sites and using the most common misspellings to get the user to their website
• Advertising: Using creative fake system-error messages that users believe they have to click, but in reality they are dicking on a pornography link.
• Entrapment: Falling prey to any of the above scams depending on what was done at the porn site, whether an unintentional or intentional visit, a whole host of problems can be incurred
What if there is no indication of any computer usage or pornography, but there is a suspicion of interest in children, verbal comments, staring or looking at children, a history of sexual abuse of a child, exposure of genitals, past involvement in the criminal justice system, or admission of incest as a young child?
Once again, this doesn’t necessarily indicate pedophilia. These behaviors can indicate other problems and should be evaluated by a trained therapist.
If you suspect any inappropriate behavior with children living in the house, get immediate help and do everything you can to keep the children safe. Contact the local authorities or a twenty –
four-hour child abuse hotline to report suspected child abuse. If you are not sure what to do, get in touch with a professional who can immediately assist you.
Other common scenarios include interest in younger children and teenagers, sexualization of teenage girls and boys, and grooming activities that are often used to entice these vulnerable adolescents in to consenting to sexual behavior because they “are in love” or see it as an escape for them. Usually a power differential, to make the child feel vulnerable, is a significant part of that relationship.
I’m so embarrassed. How do I get help?
Most partners are embarrassed, feel shame, and will not tell anyone. They may even want to protect their partners. There are stories in the media about people being caught in sting operations, going to jail, being beaten up, being ostracized and unable to live in certain areas, losing their jobs, or worse. Of course, you want to protect your family, your loved ones, or your status, and there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to tum or anyone to turn to.
You may wish you could just make it all go away. Maybe you have done that before only to have the problem resurface. You are scared, feel guilty, think the worst, and wonder if you will be held culpable for not reporting this behavior or seeking help. You can’t tell your neighbors, the police, your family, or even your best friend. You don’t know whom to trust.
After the initial shock, confrontation, the guilt and shame, you might feel angry, furious, enraged, revengeful, depressed, hopeless, worthless, and traumatized. People may tell you that you seem different or suspicious, and you may go into rages or withdrawal or simply act crazy. You are not crazy, but you do need help. This cannot be dealt with on your own.
No matter how much your partner begs, pleads, threatens, or promises to change, you must tell a professional. It is important to know that if you tell a therapist your partner is viewing child pornography, the therapist is not a mandated reporter in that situation. The therapist is still required by law to maintain your confidentiality. This is not the case, however, if you partner is manufacturing child pornography or being sexual with a child. Creating child pornography is reportable, and your therapist will be required to contact the appropriate authorities.
If you feel that by telling someone you will be in danger, make sure you are safe before you take action. There are organizations that can help find safety for you and your children. See the Resource Guide on page 259 for additional resources to help guide you in the right direction .
Making the Decision to Stay or Leave
When Diane met her future husband, she instantly fell in love. Jack had been looking for the “love of his life.” But after being married for only six months, the couple was asked to leave their apartment complex because someone reported that Jack had been exposing himself to young children. Diane couldn’t believe it.
This could not possibly be the quiet, gentleman she knew and loved. Jack was arrested, given Probation, and admitted into a treatment program for sex offenders.
Over the next year, Diane tried to understand and come to terms with Jack’s behavior. What unfolded was devastating for her. While in treatment, she discovered Jack had been molested as a child and had been exposing himself to children since he was a young teenager. Jack’s past revealed a significant interest in young children, and as a teenager, he had been predatory in nature. His compulsivity extended itself to other forms of sexual behaviors, such as pornography, erotica, and collecting children’s movies.
As time went on, the couple faced many hard choices. Although Diane remained married to Jack, she struggled with the decision. She felt like there was little support for her in group therapy since she felt different from most of the other women whose husbands had not committed a sexual offense. Jack wanted to develop a healthy sexuality and realized that his interests for children may always be there, but he could manage his behaviors. After soulsearching therapy, Diane was able to set boundaries for herself and was clear about her expectations in the marriage. The couple decided they would never have children, and Jack continued treatment and group therapy. Diane also continued psychotherapy. They both knew what the possibilities for the future may hold if Jack did not maintain his sexual sobriety.
As part of his Probation, Jack submitted to polygraph tests. During a test, it showed deception. Jack had violated his Probation by looking at child pornography. He was sent to prison for five years for violating his Probation. When he left prison, he returned to treatment, and Diane took him back.
But shortly after his release, Jack began visiting massage parlors and prostitutes, and viewing catalogs and pornography online at work. Although he had no hands-on contact with children, he was deceitful and violated the treatment contract established in group therapy. He had engaged in high-risk sexual behaviors and put himself and his wife in dangerous situations. Diane asked Jack to move out and is now deciding whether to stay in the marriage or get a divorce. Jack continues to work on his deviant arousal patterns and his sexually compulsive behaviors.
Each person must make their own decision about what to do about their partners’ addiction. There is no right or wrong answer. You will hear others say, “I could never stay if my partner did ….”’ No one actually knows what they would do in any particular situation. Sometimes you find the courage you never thought you had. Hopefully, what you are reading in this chapter will help guide you in making whatever decisions you need to make. The best advice is don’t make any impulsive decisions and always ask for help. Immediate steps should be taken, however, if someone is in danger.
The Arousal Template
An arousal template starts to emerge between the ages of five and eight years of age. Because of this, events early in life can have a profound impact on the emergent sexual self. Early childhood experiences, family messages, influence from peers, the media, religious teachings, sexual experiences, and exposure to sexual stimuli as well as a variety of other factors go into an internal process called sexual arousal. Traumatic experiences, such as early abuse, can also have a tremendous impact on someone’s arousal template. Arousal is a physical phenomenon; however, it is influenced by the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs we have about ourselves and the world around us. Here are some examples of how an arousal template takes shape in childhood or early adolescence.
Nancy, forty-three years old, came into therapy because she was only able to have an orgasm while masturbating with the recurrent fantasy involving a teenage girl seducing an older man. It was apparent that this fantasy had been developed to give her some sense of control over a situation from her childhood where she had felt powerless.
John had grown up in a sexually repressive environment and did not receive the affection and nurturing a child requires. He can recall soothing himself through genital touching while still in diapers. As John grew, when he was unable to deal with the stresses of life, he experimented with wearing diapers in order to access those old feelings of self-soothing. His use of diapers during masturbation quickly evolved into compulsive use, and he was unable to engage in sex with a partner.
Charlie came into therapy because he realized that his interest in teenage girls was inappropriate, and he was in a position where he had access to them. He realized that if he could not get his urges under control, he would have to leave his job. When exploring Charlie’s background, it became evident that he had been sexualized by a female babysitter, and his attraction to teenage girl s did not change as he grew older. There were other factors that related to his fixation, such as feeling inadequate as a teenage boy, having low self-esteem, and growing up in a house with an alcoholic father and a mother who was codependent. He became fixated on young girls who he could manipulate and would encourage their “admiration” of him. He was married and had children of his own. Over the years, Charlie explored his arousal template but had not acted out with any teenagers. Charlie admitted there could have been acting out, but his use of his recovery tools and open and honest communication with his wife helped to avert any damaging behavior.
The Internet has had a profound ability to expand arousal templates. Old arousal templates can be changed or supplemented. In areas that are illegal or unhealthy, the Internet makes it possible for people to reinforce that undesirable behavior and strengthen an unhealthy arousal template. The hypnotic effect of the Internet, along with the vast array of sexual information available, can become a powerful tool for getting us involved in a world we never knew existed. Many people report feeling as though they are in a trance until somehow by chance or accident, they are abruptly pulled back to reality. Once they become aware of what they have done, they are dismayed by the fantasies, thoughts, or behaviors they engaged in, things they never imagined they would participate in. Anything can become part of an arousal template. Sometimes the unlikely pairing of two things can form an arousal template. For example, Cheryl’s sleep was often interrupted by her parent s’ fighting. They would scream and curse at each other. In order to soothe herself, she would masturbate. As an adult, she realized it was only when her partner would use profanity that she was able to reach orgasm.
Arousal and profanity had become linked together.
Objects, situations, and scenarios can become sexualized. Even anger can become sexualized. Our sexuality is comprised of many things and, hopefully, can grow in a healthy way. When we are affected by our environment and experiences, our sexuality can be influenced and become shameful for us. A healthy understanding of ourselves, our values, and our beliefs will open up a whole world where we can enjoy our bodies, our sexual uniqueness, and our fantasies and have sexual and love experiences that will become part of our arousal template.
What do I tell my children, neighbors, family, and friends?
This is probably the hardest of all. Whom can you really tell and who will understand? First, it’s not your job to tell anyone. It’s the addict’s responsibility to tell the people in his or her life about what has happened. In a perfect world, your partner will not be in denial, will seek out help, and will understand how his addiction has affected others. However, we do not live in a perfect world and there are many occasions when that does not happen. You have to decide where to get support.
The people you tell today may be the very people who will judge you if you decide to stay or even leave the addict. The addict may even ask you to not tell anyone. Sometimes the anger is so overwhelming; you will want to tell anyone who will listen. But once recovery begins, you may regret sharing such explicit information with others. Keeping all this in and handling it by yourself is also not the answer.
If your partner does get into treatment, then the two of you can deal with these questions within the framework of the therapeutic process. If you are struggling with the questions raised in this chapter, be assured that you’re not alone. Unfortunately for many people, the pain and confusion you are experiencing now is becoming more common.
Remember, you need a lot of support during this time. Reach out for resources in your community. Seek out others who have been through what you are going through. Explore local support groups. Find a qualified therapist. Addiction happens in secrecy; recovery happens in community. Shame is reduced by sharing your stories. Be thoughtful and kind to yourself. Get help and support. You do not have to do this alone.