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.