Memoir tells of sex addiction, compulsive exploration, and hot monogamy

Affection: An Erotic Memoir by Krissy Kneen is a story of compulsive sexual exploration, sex addiction — and, ultimately, blissful, married monogamy. Australian author Kneen was raised by a group of protective and eccentric women who forbade any and every expression of sexuality… and we all know where that leads. We chatted to Kneen about her new book.

EM & LO: Your upbringing obviously had a huge impact on the way you approached sex and love. What do you think are the most important things for parents to teach their kids about sex and love?

Krissy Kneen: I think it is important that parents realize that the things they vehemently deny their kids are the things that their kids will want to do the most. I have seen friends refuse to let their kids have Barbie dolls and as a result the kid has grown up to collect Barbie dolls. Another friend denied their child sugar and as a result the now teenage girl is a sugar addict. I think it is important for parents to protect their kids, but a complete ban can lead to all kinds of problems.

The thing that I missed out on as a child was learning to set boundaries. Because any hint of sex was banned in our house I grew up without knowing when to say yes and when to say no. I also seemed to miss out on the idea that there were socially accepted expressions of sexualities and ones that were less accepted. On the positive side, I also didn’t learn to be closed-minded about some expressions of sexuality. I think my own sexuality has become more fluid as a result of this. I have kind of developed my own try-anything-once attitude to sex which has served me well.

A lot of people dismiss the idea of sex addiction. As a sex addict, can you briefly explain what that means?

While writing this book I thought long and hard about the title “sex addict.” I certainly hadn’t thought of myself in this way before I started this book, and it was from speaking to friends that I began to realize that my closest friends already thought I was a sex addict. Addictions are tricky things. We can be addicted to the most benign things and therefore the addiction is not a problem. How many people can’t face the day without a coffee? For me, the physical act of sex is like a drug. If I don’t get my “fix” I start to feel agitated and fall into bouts of depression.

This would be a huge problem for me if sex were not readily available. I have since spoken to other (single) people with a sex addiction and for them seeking out sexual partners is time consuming but essential. I have a husband and that constant sexual contact means that my addiction is mostly in check. When I was single it meant that the hunt for sexual partners took up time when I should have been getting on with day to day living, working, relaxing, socializing. All of these things seemed a bit like a distraction for the most important thing in my life which was figuring out where the next sexual experience was going to come from. I have to admit, I do miss the “hit” of that chase, but being married and knowing that I have a regular and much loved sexual partner means that my sex addiction rarely interferes with the rest of my life.

There are little things I suppose — I carry a mini vibrator around with me everywhere and get a little distressed if I haven’t put it back in my backpack or my handbag. If for some reason I haven’t had my fix for a while I will begin to act erratically, become upset and slide back into depression so that is a problem, but mostly life is manageable for me. I had an experience at a writer’s festival before my book had come out. Another writer, a man, singled me out and after a quick conversation, he said he knew I was a sex addict. He said that one addict could spot another one a mile away. He made me uncomfortable. His need was too fierce and I felt quite intimidated by him.

This is not the only time that a male sex addict has “outed” me like that. I think it must be different for men who are sex addicts. Sometimes they will not realize they have an actual addiction because it seems to be culturally acceptable for men to think about sex most of the time, where as if women do then it is seen as unusual or a problem. I read The Sex Diaries by Bettina Arndt which talks about the “fact” that women “go off sex” when they are married. This is so removed from my experience that I felt like an alien when reading that book. It is easy to see why women like me who more often than not need more sex than their partner end up feeling like there is something wrong with them.

Why do you think some people are so loathe to accept the idea of sex addiction?

If the sex addiction is getting in the way of day-to-day living then it is a problem and must be addressed, but if, like me, it is only mildly irritating then it is manageable. I think we don’t like to be labeled and also it is impossible to know if our need for sex is disproportionately high. I just met a journalist who is researching a new disease called “Female Sexual Dysfunction” which seems to be invented or at least labeled by drug companies so that they can push a kind of female Viagra into the market and make lots of money out of it. This is the problem with these kinds of labels. Sure, I am addicted to sex, but having sex and masturbation and a bit of patience is all I need to function reasonably normally.

Do you think sex addiction is about nature or nurture, or both?

I think there are a variety of factors. Certainly my childhood environment meant that I was unusually interested in sex and set no boundaries, but I was also a masturbator from an unusually early age and have very clear memories of orgasms in early childhood so perhaps it is part biology as well. I certainly have a very physical relationship to the world and experience things in quite a sensual way. Maybe it is the combination of nature and nurture, although for some people it might be an early sexual experience that leads to their addiction. I watched a documentary about a sex addict who had to go to visit prostitutes despite his very solid marriage. It was the idea of prostitutes that became the addiction, not the actual sex itself. I can see how that is mostly about environmental factors as it is not just the physical act of sex that he is seeking, but a particular type of experience.

Our culture is one that associates sex with youth and beauty, to an obsessive degree. How has this impacted sex and sexuality for women as they age? And how have you pushed back against these influences?

I often become furious at how sex is so often associated with youth and beauty. I was watching a film at a film festival about sex and these two older women were making love and the entire audience went “ewwww.”  In movies we often use older people making love as some kind of comic relief. It has always bothered me, but more so now when I find myself aging and I see that women in particular become invisible as we get older. It is a conversation I have had with many of my older female friends. They all feel like they become invisible with age.

I don’t make it easy for myself either. I suppose it is because I work with a lot of younger people, but I tend to hang around with people in their twenties mostly and then if from time to time I find myself getting a crush on one of them they make it very clear that they are not attracted to me and then I remember that I am almost twice their age. Even people old enough to be my father find young women attractive. We have been conditioned to think that “sexy” relates to a certain age and look.

I do understand that, biologically speaking, women are at their breeding best when in their late teens or early twenties, but sex is more than just baby-making and I think it is time that we had a good long look at how we culturally position sexuality. I personally still struggle with this. When my book first came out in Australia I was very stupidly worried about my first book tour. Mostly I was worried that people who had read the book would take one look at me and go “she’s not sexy.”  I bought new clothes and had my hair done and tried to look my best, but I was constantly insecure at book events, particularly when I was put on the “sex panels” and the other women on the panels were all really attractive and much younger. Insecurity makes us a bit mad really.

For me sex is an enjoyable physical act. I have always thrown myself into it with gusto. I suppose the only way you can counter the cultural assumptions is to just get on with it, be honest about what you are feeling and hope you can show people another way just by the way you live. I suppose my book can be a way of countering these assumptions. Here I am, a middle-aged, not gorgeous, ordinary woman who loves sex and is happy to talk honestly about it. I hope that other women – and men – will read it and reassess their idea of sexy. If they find my book sexy then maybe they will understand that I feel sexy too and so do other women my age and older.

We know this is a huge question that can — and did! — take a whole book to answer, but can you talk a little about how you managed, in your own life, to make monogamy work for you? Despite a fairly broad and, at times, compulsive sexual appetite?

Monogamy is just plain hard. I am constantly finding other people attractive outside my marriage. I am also lucky that I continue to find my husband attractive even after twenty years together. Still, I get significant crushes on other people and some times these feel like they are going to be the death of me. I tend to get crushes on unattainable people — friends who are half my age and not in the least bit interested in me; smaller, less significant crushes on strangers that I have a brief interaction with. It is impossible for me to control these crushes and when I try not to like someone it only makes me like them more. Maybe it is only luck that these people have not been interested in me as well, or maybe it is self-preservation. Maybe I choose impossible people so that I will not be tempted to stray outside my monogamous relationship.

My husband is a very wonderful, kind and tolerant person. He is also incredibly good looking and talented. He is stable and solid as a rock. I really don’t want to have an affair outside of my marriage but it has been really hard work to remain monogamous when there are so many temptations out there in the world. I don’t believe we were made to be monogamous. I think that is a cultural construct, but it is also something that makes life a bit easier.

I do miss the hunt, the chase and the variety of sexual partners, but I also know that without this stable relationship I would spend my whole time searching for the next sexual partner and craving sex where as now it is just a matter of asking and being patient which frees me up to have a normal life. I still flirt a bit with other people and there is often someone or other haunting my fantasies or my dreams but mostly they can’t compete with my husband. He is actually quite a catch and every time I catch a glimpse of him I realize he is the one I would be chasing after if I wasn’t already married to him. Still, there are years to get through and I do find monogamy difficult at times. It is hard work and there are no prizes for resisting temptation. Every day holds a new challenge, but I am getting better at meeting those challenges and conquering them.

Affection: An Erotic Memoir by Krissy Kneen is on sale now