I remember eight years ago driving to Rocky Point Mexico with seven girls in my SUV to celebrate our friend’s 30th birthday. We were having a conversation about how many men we had sex with. One of the girls said, “Six,” another one said, “15.” One girl shouted out, “130!”
I said, “Wow! Really?” At the time I remember thinking, ‘well she’s just single and indiscriminately sexually active.’ Now, after researching on the topic and reading several books and articles on love and sex addiction, I realize that she is 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 can be formed by persistent preoccupation or engagement with sexual thoughts and behaviors.
Some of the behaviors of someone who is addicted to sex include:
- Excessive masturbation
- Numerous sexual encounters or repeated affairs
- Long hours in sex chat rooms
- Preoccupation with pornography
- 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. They are often detached and aloof when it comes to how their sexual behavior affects their partner. They avoid commitment and are unable to be monogamous in their relationships.
For sex to be classified as an addiction, the sexual thoughts and behaviors lack control and are compulsive, causing negative consequences physically and mentally. The addiction can also negatively affect finances, relationships, vocation, or personal goals.
Sex is a healthy human act and necessary for generations to continue thriving. If you are in a healthy sexual relationship, the sex will deepen the intimacy between you and your partner. There will be mutual respect for each other’s body and needs, and both partners will have the ability to be monogamous and make choices that enhance the relationship.
Although I have never been addicted to sex, I was addicted to love seven years ago. Having an addiction to love is not about having a preoccupation with sexual acts. It is about being dependent on the romantic experience or fantasy of creating the ideal, passionate relationship. A love addicted relationship is unable to sustain itself once the passion and romance fades.
When I was addicted to love, it sparked passion that I had not felt in many years. I was married at the time and although I was sexually monogamous to my husband, I would fantasize romantic scenarios in my head about a man I had met. This went on for several months before I put myself in therapy. The emotional withdrawal from love addiction was very painful.
It is estimated that about 12 million Americans are addicted to love. More females than males tend to have this addiction. 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, an estimated $1.08 billion annually is made from romance novels, with about 84% of women between the ages of 30-54 being the top buyers.
Love addiction can be formed by continually participating with a romantic obsession that activates the dopamine reward center in the brain. Sex, bonding and romance all activate the dopamine reward system. The brain remembers this reward or pleasurable feeling and wants more. The person who is addicted to the ideal love relationship is unable to be present in a real relationship, causing negative emotional and relational impairment.
According to Love Addicts Anonymous, some typical thoughts and behaviors of someone who is addicted to love include:
- 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, to be who your partner wants you to be.
- Using relationships to escape or deal with life’s problems.
Sharing love with someone is a necessary component to building a healthy relationship. It is also a basic emotional need to feel loved.
If you are in a healthy love relationship each partner will have the ability to be monogamous and maintain the relationship long after the passion and romance diminishes. There will be commitment to work through difficulties and each partner will contribute to enhance the relationship.
More than 75% of people who meet the criteria for sex or love addiction often have a history of abuse, trauma or neglect in their childhood. Anyone who grew up in a home where the parents or caretakers were not available to nurture, soothe or comfort them during emotional distress, will have difficulty calming themselves down emotionally. If they do not learn ways to soothe and calm themselves during stress, loss, or disappointment, then they become vulnerable to seek something outside of themselves to distract or give them relief from emotional, or physical discomfort. Some people use relationships or sex to make them feel better, while other people may use food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, gambling, sports, or video games to get relief from distressing thoughts and feelings.
If you or someone you love struggles with an addiction to sex or love, there are several effective treatments that can restore them to having healthy loving, sexual relationships.
One treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This type of therapy focuses on helping the person who is addicted change unhealthy thoughts, which in turn leads to more wholesome feelings, and produces better choices.
Other healing treatments for sex or love addiction include:
- Working with a qualified professional to heal past abuse or unresolved trauma.
- Joining a recovery group, such as sex addicts anonymous or love addicts anonymous.
- Engaging in healthy relationships to learn how to be authentic, vulnerable and connected.
- Working with a sex therapist to learn how to have healthy sex in a relationship.
- Respecting your mind and body, so you make choices that value your being.
- Exercising for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, to burn off stress and release endorphin’s that help regulate emotions.
- Practicing daily self-talk that reassures your worth as a person, so you don’t use people to feel better.
- Keeping your thoughts in the present moment, to decrease anxiety.
- Doing a minimum of 15 minutes of meditation each day, to decrease your reactivity to impulsive thoughts.
There are many healthy ways to feel pleasure without causing negative consequences for yourself 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, which is healthy and rewarding. Healing from an 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.
Creating a life that is rewarding and balanced makes long-term recovery a wonderful journey.