Example of the “Binge and Purge” Phenomenon
Phil is married but has a secret affair going on with a woman he met working out at the gym. He has frequent sex with her but refuses to be sexual with his wife, Fran, out of disinterest and guilt. Phil’s guilt about the affair builds, making him nervous. He notices that Fran is acting suspicious and he decides he’d better end the affair before she finds out the truth. He still refuses Fran’s sexual advances with the rationalization, “I know I betrayed her, which I can’t bring myself to tell her about; but it would be an even more humiliating thing to have sex with her without her knowing the truth.” He ceases to be sexual at all, which goes on for over a year. During this time Phil expands the Internet business he owns and stays very busy with the extra work. He also starts going back to church regularly which subconsciously is atoning for his transgression.
But eventually the opportunity for another affair presents itself—he has the occasion to meet a woman he has been doing business with online and right away he picks up unmistakable clues that she is available. The flirtatious energy and prospect of an exciting new affair awakens Phil’s romantic passion. He is surprised how alive he suddenly feels. Forgetting the rationalizations about betraying his wife, he enters into another affair of acting out romantically and sexually. About six months later he even starts a second affair, boldly giving the message that he is interested to an attractive young woman sitting across from him at a regional business meeting. Not surprisingly, Phil’s church attendance drops and then ends. He justifies this to Fran by citing several things about the church that he has come to dislike. He says he needs a break to think about how he feels but encourages her to continue attending.
One day several months later Phil is thrown into a panic when the first woman tells him that her husband has found out about the affair and has made threats, meaning that she must end the affair. Phil is not too despondent about not seeing the woman again but he is extremely afraid that the husband may come looking for him. It scares him to the extent that Phil decides to “mend his ways” again, ending the other affair and returning to church the very next Sunday. Fran is puzzled but pleased. Phil even seems to be more attentive and caring toward her. The following weekend Fran suggests making love and they do, for the first time in several years. The next weekend Fran prepares a candlelit dinner and gives every hint of wanting to repeat the previous weekend’s lovemaking. Phil is a little reluctant but agrees, only to disappoint them both because he is unable to perform sexually.
The next two times Fran indicates an interest in being sexual, Phil declines because he is tired or not feeling well. The second time Fran bursts into tears and becomes angry, shouting that Phil is selfish and “a poor excuse for a man.” Feeling truly guilty, Phil apologizes for hurting her feelings and says he himself sometimes thinks something is wrong with his libido. To further convince her of his sincerity, he consults a urologist, not revealing his affairs, and the urologist suggests he try using Viagra. But Phil has had an irregular heartbeat in the past and knowing Viagra affects blood pressure, he declines to try the Viagra. Perhaps he really has other motives, related to his anorexia.
Fran eventually asks Phil to move into another bedroom which secretly pleases him because now he won’t have to worry about her advances. Unknown to Phil, Fran begins an affair of her own in her loneliness and frustration. Fran is not too careful to keep the affair hidden, in fact leaves enough evidence for it to be fairly obvious. If he figures it out, she reasons, maybe he will be jealous and try to win her back. Phil does figure it out and is a bit taken aback but instead of being jealous or angry he is rather intrigued with it all and doesn’t reveal that he suspects anything. Phil is a little surprised that he begins wishing he could watch Fran and her lover having sex. It feels too risky to try to check out this possibility so instead he starts looking at pornography on the Internet, searching for scenarios that reflect his new interest in being voyeuristic. At about the same time that Fran ends the affair which she finds dissatisfying, Phil has begun another affair, starting in motion another phase of his addiction cycle.
Phil’s story illustrates how the “binge and purger” sex addict seesaws between compulsive indulgence in sex and compulsive abstinence from it.
Fran illustrates the companion condition of codependent sexuality in which the relationship partner can be described as addicted to the addict partner. Codependent partners exhibit addictive characteristics in violating their personal values and vainly trying to get their partner to change instead of taking control of their lives and setting firm boundaries that if not respected would prompt them to leave the relationship permanently. To learn more about the addictive codependency condition that the partners of sex addicts have, click here.