Sex Addiction and Love Addiction: Are They Different?

In my journey toward recovery from sex and love addictions, I’ve come across many points of view about both the recovery process and the existence of the addictions themselves. Many friends of mine think that there’s no such thing as sex addiction or love addiction—I don’t come right out and tell them I’m in recovery from both, but as most people in recovery know, there are ways to talk to friends about these things without revealing your relationship to them. From the general public (meaning my friends who don’t know I go to meetings), I’ve heard definitive statements across a wide spectrum, from “there’s no such thing as sex addiction” and “people who think they’re love addicts are just needy” to “everyone is addicted to sex because it’s an evolutionary drive” and “we’re all addicted to love because love is what we’re all really looking for.” My usual response to statements like these is something along the lines of, “I’m pretty sure those addictions are real for the people who go to recovery meetings and even enter in-patient recovery centers for help.” I say this because I know that statement to be true: for me and for my recovery partners in my group, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), both addictions are very real: we deal with them every day of our lives. The question of whether they are different addictions is a little more intricate. Although there is considerable debate on the subject, the consensus among professionals is that although each addiction has its particular elements, there is considerable overlap between the two. Author Eric Griffin-Shelley has written an authoritative book on the relationship between sex and love addiction entitled Sex and Love: Addiction, Treatment and Recovery, which many people in recovery may find very helpful. Through personal experience, I find Griffin-Shelley’s point of view to be true—the addictions are fundamentally intertwined. At the same time, however, I quite often find value in viewing my sex and love addictions as separate issues.

The Internal Value of Separating Sex and Love Addictions

When I separate the two, what I find is this: the aspects of my addiction that are love related mostly have to do with how I behave in a relationship. Looking over my history, the elements of my failed relationships read like a case study for love addicts:

  • I’ve assigned magical qualities to my love interests
  • I’ve decided a love interest was my soulmate after only knowing them for a matter of hours
  • I’ve placed responsibility for my personal happiness squarely on the shoulders of my love interest
  • I’ve fallen for people who are married or otherwise unavailable
  • I’ve pursued relationships simply because I was afraid of being alone

Viewing my past in light of these facts has helped me to cultivate healthy relationships as I move forward in my recovery—it helps me enjoy a healthy present. On the other hand, when I look at the sex side of the equation, I also find that there are elements of my history that read like a case study for sex addicts:

  • I’ve pursued sexual liaisons to the detriment of my work performance
  • I’ve pursued sexual liaisons to deal with stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness
  • I’ve used sex to manipulate or control others
  • I’ve confused sex with love—countless times
  • My sexual activity has harmed my marriage

When I look at my past sexual behavior through the lens of addiction, it helps me to understand and control my sexuality in the present. I’m able to identify which aspects of my sexuality are a function of my addiction and which are simply the expression of a healthy sex drive. It’s not easy and it takes daily attention, but it is possible.

Sex and Love Addictions: Putting Them Back Together

There are times when I look at the big picture—sex and love addictions as a whole—and I just want to throw up my hands, run away or curl up in a ball and wish it would all disappear. I’m sure many people in recovery have felt the same; I know they have, because I hear it all the time in meetings. There are days, though, when seeing the two addictions as parts of a greater whole is incredibly beneficial: it allows me to understand things on a deeper level than when I view the addictions separately. The greatest benefit has come from identifying the relationship between my issues with intimacy and sex. When taken separately, sometimes each subject is hard to fully comprehend. When viewed together, though, the light bulb starts to flash all over the place, new connections are made and I feel like I’m making real progress on the road to a healthy, happy life—one that includes both sex and love. By Angus Whyte

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