T'go Luv never had a proper male role model, he says, until he was a teenager and his mother brought home a new boyfriend, whom Luv affectionately called his "play dad."
"My play dad told me, 'Whatever you do in life -- even if you're a dick sucker, as long as you're the best dick sucker -- I'm proud of you,' " Luv recalls. "That blew my mind. I was 14. I was an honor roll student. I brought home all A's, maybe one B, and I never got recognized for that."
Coincidentally, sexual exploration had already been a part of Luv's home life -- ever since he was a little boy. On roughly a weekly basis starting when he was 5 and continuing into his adolescence, he used to sneak into his parents' bedroom and examine his then-stepfather's penis while the man was sleeping. "I would look at it, feel it, get aroused," Luv says. "That was very, very exciting to me."
Later, in his teen years, his grandmother told him she'd pay half his tuition if he could get into an Ivy League university. But Luv had plans to become a famous entertainer. Furthermore, his grandmother's encouragement came as a bitter pill -- she has never accepted that he's gay. "My grandmother recognized me, but for me, it was for the wrong reasons," he says. "I didn't want to be conformed to her way of thinking."
So he declined her offer and took his play dad's encouragement to heart. At 16, not long after contracting HIV, he enrolled at Michigan State University and signed on with an escort agency to help pay his way. "I was very proud of what I accomplished," he says. "I was at the top of my game as an erotic masseur. All the clients wanted me." So he shared the news of his achievement with his mother. "My mother was very proud of me," he says. "To her, I was succeeding beyond what she could even conceive of achieving."
But outside of a need for accomplishment and recognition, Luv had another piper to pay -- a sex drive so rampant, he explains, that he couldn't get through the day without multiple sexual encounters. Escorting became not only a source of abundant cash but a practical way to satisfy this insatiable urge. After receiving his bachelor's degree in business at 20 and then training as a nurse's assistant, he ditched nursing and went into the escorting life full-time. Over the course of a decade, he says, he typically had about three johns a day and would also have sex with ongoing partners between appointments.
But there was still enough time to work on demos for a singing career -- which he's still hoping will pan out -- and also to dabble in modeling and dancing. In his mind the sexual urge was the equivalent of professional drive and ambition: He believed his prowess was laying the foundation for a glittery career in pornography. "I wanted to go to Las Vegas and win me a 'Woody,' " he says, referring to a porn-industry award. "I wanted to be so popular that everybody on the street knew what I did."
Fame eluded him, though. He bounced from city to city -- Miami, Tampa, Atlanta, Detroit -- in search of contacts in the adult-film industry, but he was only ever able to perform in a couple of scenes. "I was like, Something has got to give," he says. "I'm just too good with all these things that nobody wants to hire me."
Now 38, Luv lives in New Orleans and gets by on the Social Security benefits he's received since suffering a stroke eight years ago. He's had a few relationships over the years, but he says it's been difficult to find anyone who could match his sexual intensity. "I wasn't sure if I could ever find a person who could deal with it," Luv explains. "I would meet people, and they would say, 'I have a really high sex drive.' And I would say, 'I don't think you do. I don't think you know what a high sex drive is.' "
The way he saw it, human contact was a transaction -- two people with perhaps competing wants and needs come together and either hash out a deal with some compromise or walk away if the sacrifices are too great. "I couldn't find someone who -- when I said, 'I want some' -- would give me what I want," he says. "And I wanted consistency. If we start off doing it three times a day, let's stay consistent."
Luv continues, "I've never had a 'date' in my life. If it did not have sex in it, I didn't do it." But he laments, "I wanted to know what it felt like to have somebody just take me out on a date or just go to the movies and just go our separate ways."
One boyfriend tried to crack Luv's stoic exterior by demanding to see him cry. "I don't cry for anybody," Luv says. "I won't even cry at funerals. I'm not willing to give you that just to prove to you that I care about you." The two promptly split up.
He eventually took up with a new man, and the two of them enjoyed steady sex at Luv's desired fever pitch, often with other men in the mix. Until one day his partner declined his demand for sex. Luv was enraged. His boyfriend wasn't holding up his end of the bargain, he felt. Luv says he considered breaking off the relationship. Instead, he was able to take a step outside himself and recognize how his sex drive was blinding him to reason -- and possibly spoiling a good thing. He says, "I was like, I've got to find a way of curbing this appetite."
He and his boyfriend went to a couple meetings of Sex Addicts Anonymous, which he saw as "asinine" gripe sessions. Nevertheless, he began to identify as a sex addict.
The concept of sex addiction is controversial within psychiatric circles. Some argue that borrowing the terminology of alcohol or drug abuse is inflammatory and a misuse of the concept of addiction.
"But certainly the fact of the matter is that there are people out there struggling to integrate their sexual needs into otherwise productive, successful, and responsible lifestyles," says Fred Berlin, an associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University and an expert on sexual disorders. "They may need help either because they're personally distressed by the behavior or by the kind of temptations that they are succumbing to. Or like a severe alcoholic, they're just not able -- despite the dictates of their conscience and intellect -- to bring their behavior under control without some sort of professional assistance."
Luv says he eventually was able to make the adjustments he felt he needed to in order to change his life without professional help -- but not entirely on his own. "I found that I wanted something more substantial," he says. "I wanted to be intimate with one person. Multiple partners was great, but it gets old after a while."
While doing volunteer work at the New Orleans AIDS Task Force, he met his current boyfriend, whom he gushingly calls his "sexy man." So far, the two are having a monogamous relationship and sex -- cut back to what Luv considers a more reasonable three times a week -- that he describes as "wonderful, phenomenal."
"It's the emotional side that I've come to realize does exist in me," he says. "That I can actually leave everything else alone and focus on one individual."
And while transactional language still coats his description of love and commitment, he's made progress toward balance. "I have to give," he says, "as much as I get."