I remember driving to Rocky Point, Mexico, with seven women in my SUV to celebrate our friend’s 30th birthday. We were discussing how many men we’d had sex with. One of the women said, “Six.” Another one said, “Fifteen.” Then one woman shouted out, “One-hundred-thirty!”
“Wow! Really?” I responded.
At the time I remember thinking, Well, she’s just single and indiscriminately sexually active. Now, after researching the topic and reading many books and articles on love and sex addiction, I realize she was addicted to sex.
According to Christopher Kennedy Lawford, author of Recover to Live: Kick Any Habit, Manage Any Addiction, more than 16 million Americans are addicted to sex. About one-third of them are women. Sex and love addiction are both intimacy disorders. The person who has the addiction is unable to be present, vulnerable or genuinely authentic with a partner who is available for a relationship.
An addiction to sex may be indicated by a persistent preoccupation or engagement with sexual thoughts and behaviors. Some of the behaviors include: excessive masturbation, numerous sexual encounters or repeated affairs, long hours in sex chat rooms, preoccupation with pornography, and voyeurism or exhibitionism.
Individuals who are addicted to sex use people or experiences to soothe themselves, get relief or escape the discomforts of their life. When it comes to how their sexual behavior affects their partners, they are often detached and aloof. They avoid commitment and are often unable to be monogamous in their relationships.
For sexual behavior to be classified as an addiction, sexual thoughts and behaviors must lack control and must be compulsive, causing negative consequences both physically and mentally. These behaviors may also adversely affect finances, relationships, vocations or personal goals.
Sex is a healthy human act. If you are in a healthy sexual relationship, the sex will deepen the intimacy between your partner and you. There is a mutual respect for one another’s bodies and needs. Both partners have the ability to make choices that enhance the relationship.
Although I have never been addicted to sex, I have been addicted to love. An addiction to love does not mean having a preoccupation with sexual acts. It means being dependent on the romantic experience or having a fantasy of creating the ideal, passionate relationship. Once the passion and romance fade, a love-addicted relationship is unable to sustain itself.
When I was addicted to love, it sparked passion I had not felt in many years. I was married; and although I was sexually monogamous to my husband, I would fantasize romantic scenarios involving a man I had met. My preoccupation continued for several months before I went into therapy. The emotional withdrawal from love addiction was very painful.
It is estimated that almost twelve million Americans are addicted to love. Women tend to have this addiction more often than men. Fantasy is a top-selling genre in the movie world and romance is a top-selling category in the book industry. According to Nielsen Books & Consumer Tracker, romance novel sales are estimated to exceed $1.08 billion annually, with about 84 percent of women between the ages of 30 and 54 being the top buyers.
Healthy sex, bonding and romance activate the brain’s dopamine reward system. Love addiction forms by a pattern of romantic obsession that repeatedly activates this function of the brain. The brain remembers this reward or pleasurable feeling and continually desires more. Someone who is addicted to the idea of an “ideal love relationship” is typically unable to be present through the ups and downs of a healthy relationship.
According to Love Addicts Anonymous, listed are some typical thoughts and behaviors of someone who is addicted to love:
- continuing to see or fantasize about a particular person, even though the love is not reciprocal;
- falling in love too quickly or feeling lonely when you are not in love;
- feeling high or euphoric from romance, fantasy and intrigue;
- sacrificing who you are in order to be who your partner wants you to be;
- using relationships to escape or deal with life’s problems.
Shared love is a necessary component of a healthy relationship and a basic human emotional need. In a healthy love relationship, each partner is able to be monogamous and maintain the relationship long after the initial passion and romance diminish. They exhibit a commitment to work through difficulties and contribute to enhance the relationship.
More than 75 percent of people meeting the criteria for sex or love addiction have a history of childhood abuse, trauma or neglect. When parents or caretakers are not available to nurture, soothe or comfort children during emotional distress, children often grow up have difficulty calming themselves emotionally. If they do not learn ways to soothe and calm themselves during stress, loss or disappointment, they become vulnerable to relying on outside distractions that relieve their emotional or physical discomfort. As adults, some may use relationships or sex to make themselves feel better. Others may use food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, gambling, sports or video games to find relief from distressing thoughts and feelings.
If you or someone you love struggles with an addiction to sex or love, several effective treatments can condition one to experience a healthy, loving, sexual relationship. One such treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT helps the addicted person change their unhealthy thoughts, which may in turn lead to healthier feelings and life choices.
There are many healthy ways to feel pleasure without causing negative consequences for you or others. Think back to a time when you were enjoying yourself. Were you playing? Riding your bike? Enjoying time with friends? Camping or enjoying nature? Listening to music? Creating or building something?
It is important to give yourself something to look forward to each day, something healthy and rewarding. Healing from any addiction is a daily commitment for the rest of your life. Millions of people do recover from sex or love addiction and go on to live productive, happy lives. A life that is rewarding and balanced makes long-term recovery a wonderful adventure and journey.
Healing Options for Sex or Love Addiction
Work with a qualified professional to heal past abuse or unresolved trauma.
Join a recovery group, such as Sex Addicts Anonymous or Love Addicts Anonymous.
Work with a sex therapist to learn how to have healthy sex in a relationship.
Engage in healthy relationships to learn how to be connected, authentic and vulnerable.
Respect your mind and body, so you can make choices that value your being.
Exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes a day to burn off stress and release endorphins that help regulate emotions.
Practice positive self-talk daily to reassure your worth as a person.
Keep your thoughts in the present moment to decrease anxiety.
Meditate a minimum of 15 minutes each day to decrease your reactivity to impulsive thoughts.