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The Difference Between Sex & Love Addiction

Many people often ask about the difference between sex addiction and love addiction. While they often go hand-in-hand, they are not the same.

Sex addiction has nothing to do with love. There’s really no such thing as love addiction. Love is desirable but not addictive. Addiction is something that a person does despite adverse consequences. Since love does not have negative effects, it cannot be addictive. People confuse passion with love. But for the purpose of this blog, we will use the customary term “love-addict” for people who may not be able to break a cycle of substituting intensely charged emotions for loving feelings based on safety and trust.

Sometimes people who think they love each other also experience sex addiction. The principle is the same as any other addiction. Take alcohol or drugs. A person may start off experimenting and become addicted over time. This doesn’t mean they don’t love their partner; it simply means they’ve replaced the act of love-making (sharing and receiving sexual pleasure) with sex.

Sex addiction is the need to have sex for no other reason than to get high from arousal and the orgasm, followed by negative consequences. For a teenager, this might be normal, but for an adult, it is not. Teenagers are often driven by hormones that they can’t control, usually without consequence. Adult consequences can vary from the inability to satisfy a partner’s needs due to lowered desire, financial, physical harm, or even arrests when illegal activities are involved.

Sex addicts are under the mercy of seeing people, places, or even things as objects of sexual desire. Eventually, the “high” of the preferred sex addiction is stronger than the desire for love-making, requires little to no effort, and often produces better, faster orgasms. Pornography addiction is a global obsession — 3,075 dollars are spent on adult content every second, more than 28,000 Internet users are viewing it, and every 39 seconds, a new pornographic video is produced in the United States.[1] This doesn’t include affairs and sex partners fetishes, prostitution, and the other variations that the sex addict will try.

Love addiction is the insatiable need to feel loved and approved. It is not contingent on a sexual connection, but the euphoria comes from the attention they receive. Love addiction may be directed toward one or multiple persons. If the love addict feels that her needs are not being met, she will seek approval and connection outside of the relationship. (This is not the same phenomenon as someone who is not getting their needs met in a relationship and has an affair). The love addict does not need sex to feel a connection. But the craving for attention makes this person highly susceptible to seduction, and they often find themselves in an unplanned physical relationship.

A sex and love addict could be solo or in a relationship. Co-addicts are people stuck in the cycle of on-again, off-again. They cannot mourn the loss of the relationship and move on despite the ongoing suffering they inflict on one another. The euphoria from the thought of reuniting overrides all memories of the destruction they’ve inflicted on themselves, each other, and anyone else involved. This is the hardest to see because they think they are “in love” so deeply that they picture themselves as Romeo and Juliet, who are somehow externally doomed and not internally wounded. This couple could transform their relationships into healthy love, but it would mean some challenging work by both. First, since they are reenacting their own childhood nightmares, they need to address those wounds and be willing to endure the discomfort of facing childhood pain. Then they would need to learn how to relate as healthy human beings, a tall order for people who are locked together by fear.

Neil Strauss’s autobiography, The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships, provides an excellent example of sex and love addiction. Unable to refrain from sexually acting out, including one of his girlfriend’s (so-called) best friends, the couple breaks up and reconciles time and time again. Each time, they experience withdrawal and get back together, expecting things to be different. Things do change, but for the worse. With time, his addiction takes him to the extreme limits of sex addiction, including orgies replete with drugs and every (un)imaginable paraphernalia (human and otherwise). He finally does some difficult (though insufficient) therapy, realizes he’s missed out on the girl of his dreams, and once again, they reconciled, got married, and had a child. Magnetically attracted and equally polarized by sex addiction, they were divorced three years later.[2]

If you suffer from sex or love addiction, or both, there is plenty of help available. These addictions can be treated as any other. There are 12-Step programs, therapy, and plenty of self-help books. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix. It takes a one-hundred percent commitment to yourself and accountability to others to achieve any chance of wellness. But, like any other addiction, it’s best until you’re ready to stop. Until you’re ready to choose love over self-seeking, fear-driven behaviors, you will not get results.

Addictions are easy to stop once you realize who you are and that there is no replacement for love.

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Dr. Donna Marks

Dr. Donna Marks

Dr. Donna Marks is a licensed psychotherapist and an addictions counselor. She is certified in Gestalt Therapy, Psychoanalysis, Hypnosis, and Sex Therapy.