Dear Thelma: Feeling guilty over past relationship with sex addict

Dear Thelma

I never thought I'd come to the stage where I would be writing to you some day. I used to read all the letters other readers sent in when I was in school. Now, I'm in my 20s and struggling to cope with guilt, regrets, anger issues and loneliness. That pretty much sums up my life currently.

I was a studious young girl at school, the favourite daughter who never went against her parents, pious and ambitious. I was very contented with my life then. A year after I entered college, I got into a relationship with a guy for weeks, and he broke up with me months later.

I was devastated, because I loved him and never saw it coming. However, as much as I wanted to, I never went back to him, as I later discovered that he was a sex addict. I felt betrayed, like an idiot and blamed myself for all that happened.

It has been two years now, and there are some things which even close friends of mine are not aware of. I never told them about him. I hate to be seen as vulnerable, besides the fact that I'm so embarrassed.

I've also been having anger issues lately, and I get cranky and take it out on my friends, and my mum as well. My relationship with some of my close friends have been strained, which has just made my entire world bitter.

I have an extremely loving mum whom I can talk to, but I never felt she understood. She is probably not the best counsellor around. It is devastating, when you feel like you are all alone, despite having a loving mum and close friends. All I have now is my faith in God. But when will this pain really end? - The Girl Who Doesn't Want To Back Down

Thelma says:

Firstly, there is no shame in writing for advice. It is meant for situations just like yours where people feel they cannot share their problems with anyone else. This column offers not only anonymity, but also the prospect of getting a different perspective from someone who has nothing to do with the lives of those who write in.

Secondly, you should not feel ashamed for whatever it is you experienced during your relationship with this guy. It is unclear what you mean by calling him a sex addict. This term has become rather popular in the minds of society after high profile confessions of some Hollywood celebrities.

However, sex addiction has not been considered a "real" problem.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not recognise it as a condition. Neither do o ther international classification of diseases. The main issue is a lack of a "standard" for how many times a day, a week or a month people engage in sexual activity.

Everyone is different and as such, their needs are also different. It has been assumed that younger men have higher sex drives compared to older men as they are more eager to try new things and, in general, are thought to have higher levels of energy. However, there is no concrete evidence to support this claim.

Women also have sex drives. It is completely normal for women to desire sex. Again, there is no standard for what are acceptable levels of sexual activity. Every woman is different.

Expressions of sexuality are also mediated by cultural factors. For instance, it is widely assumed that women do not have sexual desire. Also, there are many harsh terms used to refer to women who do express their sexuality freely.

It is not considered acceptable for women to behave in such sexual ways. The situation is reverse for men. There is also an expectation that it is only acceptable for men and women to engage in sexual activity after marriage.

Factors like these affect society's views of sex. The result is that there is a sense of shame that is associated with something that is actually completely normal.

This sometimes makes people miss the most important aspect of sexual relationships - respect and equality. Both partners must have respect for each other's wants and needs; and a relationship based on their desires and dislikes freely, without fear of prejudice.

The other important factor in sexual relationships is emotional maturity. Sex is more than just an act. It involves complex thoughts and emotions which many people find very difficult to deal with.

The problem is not that he may have a "sex addiction".

Or, that you were associated with him. The problem arises if you may have been pressured or coerced into doing things that you may not have been comfortable with. Perhaps, that is why you are feeling ashamed?

Consent is something that is hard to define. True consent is provided when saying "no" will not result in any retribution. What often happens is that there is an assumption that if one person does not want to do something the other wants, it will mean that the first person does not love the other. This often happens in relationships.

How many times do you hear: "If you love me, you would …"; "If you don't do this, it means you don't love me." When lines like these are used to obtain consent, it is called coercion. If this is what happened to you, there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. It is he who should feel ashamed as he manipulated you into doing something that you were uncomfortable with. You are not to be blamed.

You are right in saying that your mother is not telling you what you want to hear. How can she when you will not tell her what exactly the problem is? It may be best for you to speak to some experts who may be better placed to give you the appropriate responses.

You could try telephone counselling if you want to remain anonymous, or if you don't want to explain to your parents why you are seeing a counsellor. If you are able to see a counsellor directly, that might be better.

Speaking to someone will help you deal with the complex feelings that you are experiencing now. It will also provide an avenue for you to talk about things you may find difficult to raise with your friends or your mother.

This is because trained professionals will not judge you. Your confidentiality will also be respected so no one else will have to know unless you choose to tell them. Just remember that is not your fault and you have nothing to be ashamed of.

You could try either the Women's Aid Organisation at 03 7956 3488, or the All Women's Action Society at 03-7877 0224.