NEWPORT BEACH – Nine men are huddled in a hotel room – all strangers, their nametags filled only with first names.
Over the next 90 minutes, little by little, they reveal their demons.
Sex with strangers.
It’s day one of a weekend workshop on sexual addiction, and the men have gathered at this Newport Beach hotel because they’re desperate for help. Though there is no medical consensus on whether sexual addiction is or isn’t a mental illness, the men in this room say their obsession – whatever label you want to put on it — threatens their lives.
“Bobby” shuffles in his chair.
The 46-year-old tells the group that his lust for pornography started when he was 8 and exploded, in adulthood, into a seemingly endless cycle of booze, drugs and sex.
He cheated on his wife three months into their marriage. He figures he averaged two affairs a year for 20 years.
Five years ago, his marriage nearly imploded. Miraculously, after 25 years, it hasn’t.
A therapist leading the small group session listens intently, a look of empathy and understanding on his face.
“I know this is a winnable victory,” says Bobby Dorantes, who gave the Register permission to use his full name and to be photographed for this story.
“But it’s a struggle.”
More than 50 men from around the country recently attended the three-day workshop, “Every Man’s Battle,” run by New Life Ministries in Laguna Beach.
Most participants describe themselves as Christian. Most have wives and children. And most are attending this $1,400 seminar after receiving an ultimatum — clean up your act, or leave.
Jason Martinkus, 32, a recovering sex addict and therapist from Colorado, is the key presenter at the seminars, which are held monthly throughout the United States.
The attendees in Newport Beach range from stooped-over, older gentlemen to young, muscular guys wearing baseball caps – their hearts filled with guilt and shame.
Martinkus, at the start of the seminar, declared the larger meeting hall a “No Shame” zone, where men won’t be judged if they speak freely.
His own story is harrowing.
Martinkus became obsessed with porn as a teenager. Since then, his behavior escalated to include online chat rooms and multiple sexual encounters.
Now married, Martinkus is in recovery. He hasn’t looked at porn in 7½ years, he tells the men.
Whatever your issue is, it’s OK, he tells them. Just stop hiding.
Three minutes into his presentation, a man in the back of the room starts to weep.
Forty-seven percent of Christians say that pornography is a problem in the home, according to studies cited by New Life Ministries.
Launched in 2001, the Every Man’s Battle workshops aren’t Bible studies. Through a combination of large teaching sessions and smaller group-counseling meetings, the workshops aim to provide tools to help sex addicts recover.
As with Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs, recognizing that there’s a problem is crucial – as is coming clean with spouses.
Dorantes, who owns a lock and safe business, already has come clean.
But last month, on a cruise to Puerto Rico, Dorantes says he felt the familiar urges. And while he didn’t slip during the cruise, and he hasn’t looked at porn or had an affair in five years, he was concerned enough to sign up for the workshop.
He also knew enough about his addiction to avoid, like the other men at the workshop, the hotel lobby.
Mary Kay Cosmetics was holding a conference at the same hotel, and during breaks, the lobby teemed with women.
For four years, Dorantes has been leading a sexual-addiction recovery group at Florence Avenue Foursquare Church in Sante Fe Springs.
The father of three grown boys has stood up before his congregation to publicly detail his own struggle with sexual addiction.
And he was back disclosing his impulses at the Every Man’s Battle workshop.
“Sex is not about two bodies,” Jim Phillis, the therapist in charge of Dorantes’ group, tells the men. “It’s about two souls.”
Men shared rooms in pairs to avoid being tempted to watch porn. They avoided alcohol and were told not to leave the hotel.
A key moment occurred Saturday night when the men symbolically cleansed themselves of their addictions, covering up things they’d written on a large white poster board when they started the seminar.
One man uses his red paint to cover the words “I’m a monster.”
During one point in the conference, Martinkus sat down with the therapists to ask them how their group sessions were going.
“Any same-sex issues?” he asked between bites of salad and meatloaf.
“What about animals?”
Not exactly typical dinnertime chat, but Martinkus and the therapists – most recovering sex addicts themselves – have heard it all.
During one of the large-group meetings, a participant asked Martinkus, “What does victory look like?”
He thought for a moment.
“The temptation is always there,” Martinkus responded. “But the compulsion has gone away.”
The weekend over, Dorantes is staying in touch with two of the men in his group to support their continued recovery.
Hank, a retired nuclear engineer in his 70s, wrote of the weekend: “I came depressed, down, and worried about what I would be subjected to. I learned a lot. We got great tools.”
Gary called the three-day seminar a “wonderful, eye-opening experience.”
Another attendee said that coming to the seminar would not have crossed his mind if he were not married.
“I now have brothers in arms who understand my struggle,” he wrote.
Dorantes, too, found the seminar valuable, and said two men in his group made great progress. One, he said, made a tearful and painful disclosure about being molested as a child.
But back again in the real world, Dorantes believes his struggle will continue.
“We live in a sex-saturated society,” he says. “What do you expect?”
For more information, visit everymansbattle.com
Contact the writer: 714-704-3764 or firstname.lastname@example.org