Sex and porn addiction are not often discussed, never mind a woman having this addiction. This alone makes Getting Off by Erica Garza stand out. Garza takes the reader through a very intimate journey of self-discovery and acceptance. There is an incredible innocence to her writing that is wonderfully unexpected. Shame plays such a huge role is this memoir. Its influence spreading from being a woman, to her Mexican heritage, where she grew up, and her sexuality. There is very little time in this memoir that Garza doesn’t feel shame and how she connects this to her addiction is fascinating.
Garza holds nothing back; she traces her addiction back to her prepubescence. Being twelve is already hard enough, but when Garza ends up with a younger sister everything gets harder. For a long time, she was the youngest of her family, getting all the love and affection she needed. Now, her parents are occupied and her brother wants nothing to do with her. Not only feeling unloved, she has insecurities with her looks when she has to wear glasses and is forced into a back brace.
She had her first orgasm at this age, even before getting her first period. Young Garza was completely ignorant when it comes to sex. She never had “the talk,” sex was shameful. Garza thinks something was deeply wrong with her. She searches for a reason for why she is like this; she’s has a pretty normal life, loving family, no sexual trauma. She looks around at her family trying to figure out if anyone abused her sexually, that’s how desperate she is to find a reason. You can feel the anxiety in Garza’s words as her younger self tries to stop the shame.
What starts out innocently enough with making a list of boys she wants to kiss, soon increases to every student in her class, girls and boys, and even teachers. Garza is desperate to find affection that she feels she isn’t getting from her family. This need for love takes her to cybersex through online chatrooms, creating different aliases to flirt with men. This is how young Garza thinks she will find love, the naïveté of this idea is almost as shocking as what she thinks cybersex will prepare her for:
“The more versed I become in cybersex, the more I learned about how the act worked, but it would still be years before I would experience anything remotely close to it in real life. I figured that when the time came, I’d sufficiently prepared.” (37)
The idea that cybersex can prepare you for the real thing is something a child would think. It’s this innocence amidst this display that cause the reader to pause and almost pity young Garza because she has no idea what she’s in for. That lost child searching for someone to fill the hole in her heart endears her to the reader.
That attention she’s so desperate to have is a great tool to ground the reader as Garza grows up before our eyes. The reader sees her giving into the pressure of sex, playing hard to get, pretending not value the relationship as much as she does for the sake of keeping men. Sex has become a norm for to get people to like her, it’s the only way she knows how. The only way she trusts. She knows it’s not right, that it’s not healthy, but she doesn’t know what to do otherwise. She tries Sex Addiction Anonymous meetings, quitting orgasming cold turkey, going on finding yourself trips like Eat, Pray, Love. But the problem is that the root cause never goes away. She always returns to her habits. It finally takes her controlling her shame in all its forms for her to feel whole.
“When shame creeps into her (Garza’s) house like an alley cat, she pours some warm milk into a saucer so the poor thing can have a drink and then she makes herself a cup of tea so she can have a drink too.” (198)
Watching Garza go down into the depths of desperation is painful to watch, she articulates everything she’s feeling with accuracy of it happening right before our eyes. By not holding anything back, she makes the experience feel live and in person instead reading words on paper. The innocence she conveys gives a tender feeling throughout the memoir. While it feels like the end happened abruptly, leaving the story feel unfinished, maybe we can take this as just first part of the journey. If we are lucky enough, Garza will let us follow her on the rest.
Erynn Porter has a BFA in Creative Writing from the New Hampshire Institute of Art; she is currently Assistant Editor for Quail Bell Magazine, along with being a book critic for ROAR Feminist Lit Magazine. She has been published or is forthcoming in Bust, ROAR, Entropy, Brooklyn Mag, and more. She often jumps between her interests of writing about her chronic illnesses, fiction, and to anything else that grabs her attention. You can often find her eating candy while editing her own work; she claims that candy is the perfect editing food. When Erynn isn’t editing, she’s reading with a cat curled up beside her. You can see more of her work at erynnporter.com
Erica Garza’s essays have appeared in Salon, Narratively, BUST, Good Housekeeping, and the Los Angeles Review, among other publications. She holds an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University. Getting Off, her memoir on sex addiction, is her first book. Born in Los Angeles to a Mexican father and a Mexican-American mother, she has spent the majority of her adult life traveling and living abroad. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.