Profile | Dr Vikki Prior
The shady side of sex addiction and the trauma of surviving domestic abuse.
First published in Go Festival magazine, 2014
Vikki smiles as she slides into a seat at my table. Alluring. Any man would be happy to park his shoes under her bed. Inappropriate? Perhaps. Although she’s just come from seeing a client, she’s on time for our lunch meeting, as I would expect of a professional who makes her living from charging for her time. Time and wisdom. Dr Vikki Prior is a Sex Addiction Therapist.
“I prefer to call it arousal addiction,” she says. “Unfortunately, the media has, with thanks to the likes of Tiger Woods, labelled it sex addiction.” She leans forward, mindful of the group of older ladies dining nearby. “… in ever increasing rates, young guys are coming in with erectile dysfunction, so early twenties, mid-twenties … which was always a disorder in middle-aged or older gentlemen. It’s all new. And this is absolutely attributed to their Internet usage. It’s about trying to cover trauma, trying to cover pain, trying to repress the stuff in their lives that’s too confronting to address.”
She experienced a violent episode. “The relationship was doomed.”
Vikki knows all about trauma and pain. A divorced, single mother, it was over ten years ago she first experienced a violent episode with her fiancé; a precursor of many incidents to come. “I remember sitting on the bed thinking to myself, here is a time where I have an opportunity to make a decision. And that decision got confused by the fact I wanted a child.” Her maternal clock ticking, she opted to try to make her relationship work. “That was doomed from the start.”
But something beautiful came out of that darkness. Vikki has a seven-year-old son, Matthew. “He calls me a ‘sexy therapist’,” she says, but she’s careful how she deals with the subject. “Oh, gosh no. He knows more about the psychologist side of things, not the sex side of things. And his understanding is that mummy helps people feel better. No, not sex.”
“It’s a fear of the penis shrinking and exploding. I thought no, I’m not touching any of that.”
She wasn’t always so passionate about her specialty. “When I was in the middle of my undergrad work, I absolutely, was definitely determined, not to have anything to do with sex therapy.” She had learnt about a disorder called Koro. Asian in origin, it’s a fear of the penis shrinking and retracting inside the body (and exploding, according to Vikki). Too bizarre, she thinks. “I thought no, I’m not touching any of that.”
Ultimately, she was forced into treating her first case of sex addiction. After an initial panic, she was advised to treat it like any other anxiety. “That was so amazing for me, so enlightening because I knew all the way through my work and study, I loved anxiety. Probably because I understood it. I think it’s so massive; so many people suffer from various forms of anxiety. It just fell into place.”
Even though Vikki believes her father was initially apprehensive about her choice of career, her family is proud of her achievement. “My 21 year old niece thinks I’m the coolest, because her aunty is a sex therapist.” Still, her specialisation causes a social difficulty for her. “When I say I specialise in sex addiction, generally people have the same reaction that I had when I started out: “Eww how revolting”. But it’s not. It’s so sad, when you actually see what it’s covering and what it’s escaping.”
A waitress pours us wine and Vikki falls silent. I have a chance to study her. Gracious is the word that comes to mind. She’s tall, swan-like, on the preferred side of forty five and wearing a translucent blouse and black skirt. Her hairstyle is modest and a single pearl hangs from a black cord around her neck. She’s not afraid of eye contact. Laugh lines frame her eyes and mouth, yet there is something vulnerable about her too. She holds her hand close to her mouth when she speaks. Afraid of saying too much?
I ask if I can take a photo and she nods, reaching for her geranium-red jacket. “I don’t like to be seen in all black.” She thinks it’s a harsh, depressing look. She shows me a picture of her front garden. A year ago, although her home was cosily furnished on the inside, it was a wasteland on the outside. Priorities – a symbol of her intuitive need to provide a comfortable womb for her young.
Technology isn’t her strength: “I haven’t even looked at Facebook”
The yard is now landscaped. She’s made progress. Unlike her business website which for two years has got no further than the thinking stage. ‘See, that’s one of the stallers for me. I don’t understand technology. I understand pen and paper and I think that’s a blocker for me. I can do email. I don’t know if I’ve even looked at Facebook.” Perhaps it’s a safety issue? “Interesting psychological question.” She grins. “Yep. Definitely. Once it’s out there everyone can see it.”
We take up the thread of her profession again. Her hand has now moved underneath her chin. “Internet pornography has been termed the crack cocaine of the Internet because – and this is why it’s an area I chose to get into – because of the way it’s growing. What makes it so addictive is there’s always something harder, stronger, better, faster, weirder, something more to give you that hit of dopamine – that happy hormone. On the Internet you can find anything you want. Anything!” She pulls a face. Is she recalling something ugly? She’s reluctant to share. Ethics. “I hear some pretty bizarre things.”
She was earning just $14 an hour and at risk of losing her single parent pension.
So, her therapy work is a passion, but having grown up in a traditional family with a breadwinning father (a financial advisor) and a stay-at-home-mum, Vikki’s home life is her true priority. “My focus is on my boy. When I first left my husband, I chose to work in a kids clothes shop because I thought my son needs to be clothed.” She laughs. “May as well do it at a discount!” At that time, she was earning a meagre $14 an hour. Any more and she would risk losing her single parent pension of $111 a week.
Even now, she still has her traditional dreams. “To think that I could have money coming in while I am present for Matthew at home, would just be my dream come true.” There’s nothing wistful in her tone, and I’m picturing a woman in a Frederick McCubbin painting. She’s in a long cotton dress, a child draped against her legs, while she collects firewood to cook outside their tent in the fading bush light. Strength born of adversity. “I tried looking for a wealthy husband,” she jokes. “I tried Tatts. No luck there.”
Vikki has finished her lunch and is tamping wet fingers on her bread plate, picking up crumbs from the bread roll she ate earlier. I offer her the rest of my risotto. She accepts, “I’m starving.” She’s one of those lucky people who can eat the earth and not worry. I’m jealous.
“Off the record” she tells me about a venture she’s considering. What I’m allowed to reveal: she’d love to be able to write and hold courses. Although she’s admitted she has little patience with children — odd considering her dream of family life — she’s also considering books to help children comprehend separation. “Helping them feel absolutely loved and giving them understanding while mum and dad aren’t together.” An issue her own son faces every day. On a lighter note, she reminisces about an idea she came up with Matthew. “We made up a children’s book while we were swimming in the ocean at Port Douglas: ‘Whacko McQuacko and the Monkey of Doom’. What fun!”
Vikki has no regrets about her chosen field. She’s conducted interviews, presented at conferences and even coyly admits she’s considered contacting The Project for a possible interview; however, the comedic nature of the program is a problem. “I’d be worried about people seeing my reactions. The faces I might pull.”
Dessert arrives and we agree to share. Vikki is also sharing what she considers successes in her career. A throat full of icing sugar is unable to stop her. “There’s nothing better (cough cough) like the moment you’re sitting opposite someone (cough, laugh) and they finally have an ‘ah ha’ moment; gain insight into something that’s going to change their life forever. It’s a beautiful feeling.”
Does she have any perceived failures with clients? “Yes, I have. I’ve probably only felt it that severely once. But a part of that comes from learning.” Thoughtful, she pauses over her coffee. “She didn’t fit the usual criteria and I was reluctant to believe her. I don’t know whether I failed her. Now, in hindsight, if that’s the case, I’m so, so, so, so sorry.”
Will she continue with her practice long term? “Into my 70s or 80s, if my mind still works. Every single day I think to myself thank goodness I went back to uni. I look back on the diary that I kept when I separated. It says I have to come up with $500 dollars a week. How on earth am I going to do this? Thank goodness. Thank goodness.”