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Understanding the Differences Between Love and Sex Addiction

Love and sex addiction can impede your ability to process pleasure, reward, and happiness in healthy ways. According to an article from the Social Research Journal, for centuries we have broken happiness into two aspects: Pleasure and a life well lived. Thus, there is an intrinsic connection between our perception of happiness and pleasure.

For example, we derive happiness from the pleasure found in socializing with the people we love. Perhaps you recall the pleasure and happiness you associate with eating food made by a loved one. An important note on healthy pleasure as a path to happiness is the meaning that is derived from that pleasure. Whereas, the pleasure derived from love and sex addiction seeks pleasure for its sense of reward without that deeper sense of meaning and purpose.

At The Guest House, we identify love and sex addiction as process addictions toward certain actions in an effort to seek pleasure and happiness from the action. Therefore, the repetition of the action by any means necessary in an attempt to capture that sense of pleasure, and therefore happiness, is an addictive habit. Thus, love and sex addiction are representations of an overwhelming desire to replicate positive feelings you have difficulties connecting to nature. However, you may be wondering how you know if you have a love and sex addiction. Further, what makes something an addiction?

How Does Addiction Work?

According to an article from NIH News in Health, addiction takes over important survival regions of your brain, like the pleasure and reward centers. A healthy brain will reward healthy behavior with pleasure and happiness. For example, you may feel proud of yourself when you accomplish something important to your overall well-being, like exercising. Or, you experience happiness when you make time to bond with the people you love. The positive emotions you feel from healthy behaviors encourage and motivate you to repeat those healthy behaviors. Moreover, the survival regions of your brain also help you recognize danger and predict the potential consequences of your actions.

Addiction, on the other hand, rewires those pleasure and reward circuits in your brain to crave more and more of those positive feelings. Moreover, there is no regard for the potential consequences by which you achieve your craving. In addition, your ability to recognize danger becomes overstimulated by addiction. The addiction increases feelings of stress and anxiety associated with the fight-or-flight response. Therefore, you may find yourself not only craving pleasure and reward but also experiencing an overwhelming desire to quiet those negative feelings with the addiction. It can become a seemly unending cycle in which the addictive habit feeds the negative emotions you are trying to suppress.

Furthermore, addiction has been traditionally perceived as the unhealthy consumption of substances like alcohol and drugs. However, we have come to understand that addiction can include not only substances but addictive behaviors as well, such as process addictions.

What Is Love and Sex Addiction?

Love and sex addiction are often confused with each other, but they are two different types of process addictions.

Defining Love Addiction

As noted in an article from Frontiers in Psychology, romantic love and substance addiction have often been compared to each other. Romantic love is understood as an intense longing for and infatuation with another person. Thus, a parallel can be drawn to drug addiction, and a seemingly overwhelming desire for the thing that brings you pleasure. While romantic love and drug addiction share similarities of euphoria and craving for the object of obsession, they can deviate sharply from each other.

In the second phase of healthy romantic love, the relationship develops into a more stable love characterized by a sense of calm, safety, and balance. Whereas, in the second phase of drug addiction, the relationship with substance use becomes compulsive, and its addictive characteristics are magnified by repeated use. Therefore, we can compare healthy romantic love to unhealthy romantic love as love addiction shares more harmful qualities with drug addiction. According to the article “The Love Addiction Inventory: Preliminary Findings of the Development Process and Psychometric Characteristics” published by the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, love addiction is a compulsive need for relationships, even when there are adverse consequences.

When you are addicted to love, you lose interest in activities and relationships outside of your romantic relationship. You are more likely to ignore friendships, hobbies, school, and work in favor of your romantic partner. Disconnecting from the rest of your life to only focus on your romantic relationship can have a detrimental impact on your life. The obsessive and compulsive nature of love addiction can make it difficult to function, make plans for your long-term well-being, and maintain other relationships. Moreover, with love addiction, you experience negative emotions when you are not with your partner. Therefore, you look toward your romantic partner as your sole tool to cope with emotional distress.

Furthermore, we often confuse romantic love and sex as one and the same or interconnected factors. However, while love and sex can go together, they can each exist independently. As stated in an article from the Psychiatry Journal, in the United States, our understanding and acceptance of sexuality have grown significantly. Not only is the visibility of sex more accepted, but we have also broadened our perception of love and sex. Thus, our definitions surrounding sexuality have expanded to encompass romantic and sexual orientation as two separate and not necessarily compatible things.

Comparing Love and Sex Addiction

According to the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, sex addiction is a repetitive and intense obsession with sexual fantasies, urges, and behaviors that are distressing and or impede your functioning. Moreover, sex addiction is typically categorized as paraphilic and non-paraphilic. Paraphilic sex addiction is typically characterized as:

  • Sexual behaviors, which:
    • Are deemed socially unacceptable
    • Cause suffering to yourself or your partner
    • Involve children and or non-consenting partners

On the other hand, non-paraphilic sex addiction features more commonly accepted sexual desires, but sexual acts are typically compulsive. Non-paraphilic sex addiction typically includes:

  • Compulsive sexual behaviors, which include:
    • Sex acts with multiple partners
    • Masturbation
    • The use of pornography
    • Sex and sexual acts in a consensual relationship
    • A fixation with a seemingly unobtainable partner

Moreover, defining love and sex addiction helps highlight the similarities and differences between the two process addictions. Love and sex addiction share tendencies toward obsessive and compulsive behaviors for specific stimuli. In addition, there are similarities in the common use of at least one partner as an instrument to fulfill the compulsion. However, the major difference between love and sex addiction is the source of the obsessions and compulsions. In summary, the source of love addiction stems from an obsession with romantic love which becomes entangled with a preferred partner, while the source of sex addiction stems from an obsession with some features of sexuality.

Signs and Symptoms of Love and Sex Addiction

According to the article “The Love Addiction Inventory” mentioned earlier, there are six core dimensions of love addiction. Listed below are the signs and symptoms typically seen in love addiction:

  • Salience:
    • All your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors revolve around the partner
  • Tolerance:
    • An increasing need to spend more and more time thinking about or being with the person you are in love with
  • Mood modification:
    • You think about or use your love as a way to cope with emotional distress
  • Relapse:
    • Difficulties reducing the amount of time you spend thinking about or being with the person you love
  • Withdrawal:
    • You experience physical and or psychological withdrawal when you are not with the person you love
      • Nausea
      • Stomach issues
      • Anxiety
      • Irritability
      • Frustration
  • Conflict:
    • Being with and or thinking about the person you love interferes with other areas of your life
      • Job
      • Education
      • Other relationships
        • Family
        • Friends
      • Leisure activities and hobbies

Moreover, as noted in the article “What Is Love Addiction?” from Verywell Mind, love addiction can manifest as:

  • Overly dependent on your partner
  • Feeling lost without your partner
  • Depression
  • Sad when you are not in a romantic relationship
  • The gravitation toward romantic relationships even when you know it would be an unhealthy relationship
  • Difficulty leaving unhealthy relationships

Furthermore, as noted in the aforementioned article by the Psychiatry Journal, in comparison to love addiction, the signs and symptoms of sex addiction are more subtle or hidden. Sexuality is more visible and accepted in society today. Yet, there is still a significant about of stigma around sex that makes it difficult for people to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. In addition, the line between healthy sexual behavior and interest, unhealthy choices, and addiction can have some overlap. For example, while sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can have some correlation with risky behavior, it does not necessarily indicate that you engage in compulsive sexual thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Despite the subtlety and stigma surrounding sex, listed below are some of the potential signs and symptoms of sex addiction:

  • Increased risk for STIs
  • A reduction in productively in multiple areas of your life
    • Spending large amounts of time searching for and or viewing pornography
  • Increased likelihood of experiencing physical injuries due to repetitive sexual practices
  • Financial issues
    • Spending excessive amounts of money on the obsession
  • Increased likelihood of experiencing legal issues that threaten livelihood and well-being
    • Solicitation
    • Engaging in illegal paraphilic acts
  • Forms unhealthy and unrealistic expectations for sexual gratification with sexual partners
  • Fractures intimacy and connections with others due to compulsive sexual behaviors that incite
    • Deception
    • Secrecy
    • Violation of trust
  • Creations of unhealthy perceptions of intimacy
    • Harms ability to form healthy relationships

Now you may wonder what is the likelihood of having a love or sex addiction. Can love and sex addiction co-occur with each other or other disorders?

Prevalence of Love and Sex Addiction

As noted in an article from Evaluation & the Health Professions, researchers have estimated that the prevalence of love and sex addiction in the general U.S. adult population is between 3-6%. More specifically, it is estimated that 3% of U.S. adults have a love addiction and 3% have a sex addiction. In addition, researchers have found co-occurrence between love and sex addiction, as well as substance use disorder (SUD) and some other process addictions.

After comparing studies, approximately 50% of people with a love addiction have a sex addiction. Moreover, 40% of people with love and sex addiction have co-occurring SUD, while 20% of people with love and sex addiction have another co-occurring process addiction. The most prevalent co-occurring process addictions with love and sex addiction are:

  • Eating disorders
  • Gambling addiction
  • Exercise addiction
  • Shopping addiction

Furthermore, the estimated percentage of people with love and sex addiction seems small. However, people’s lives and overall well-being are still being negatively impacted by these process addictions.

The Impact of Love and Sex Addiction

Many forms of addiction, whether it is a substance or process addiction, can find their roots in trauma. According to an article from Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, there are numerous similarities between addictive substance use and the interpersonal attachments we form in love and sex-based relationships. As noted in an article from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, attachment trauma highlights how the trauma we experience in the interpersonal relationships we form in early childhood can negatively impact the attachments we form in adulthood.

For example, if you were verbally abused by your primary caregiver, you are more likely to normalize the behavior as an adult. Through the normalization of unhealthy attachments, you learn to expect that type of behavior from your romantic partners in adulthood. Thus, when the traumas you experienced in early life are not properly addressed, they manifest themselves in self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors like addiction. Moreover, your addiction becomes an unhealthy coping mechanism to deal with the pains of the unaddressed trauma.

Therefore, uncovering and understanding trauma plays an important role in the healing process from love and sex addiction.

Healing Love and Sex Addiction at the Guest House

At The Guest House, we believe in the importance of seeing beyond stigma. Seeing beyond stigma means acknowledging that love and sex addiction are serious disorders. Love and sex addiction stem from complex issues with attachment relationships and emotions. Despite some controversial perceptions of sex and love, they are a natural part of many people’s lives. However, when deep-seated traumas are left unaddressed, love and sex can morph into unhealthy thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

We know these intimacy disorders often stem from early childhood trauma like abuse, neglect, and abandonment. By addressing your traumatic experiences, you can start building tools to support healthier emotional, romantic, and sexual connections. In addition, learning how to dismantle self-defeating behaviors can help you rediscover yourself, happiness, and meaningful connections with others.

We at The Guest House are committed to supporting you on your journey to long-term healing with a wide range of therapeutic modalities. We are dedicated to supporting you with therapeutic techniques designed to treat the whole person in mind, body, and spirit. With a variety of conventional and alternative practices, we work collaboratively with you to build a treatment plan that makes sense for you and your specific needs. Moreover, we know talking about addiction can feel overwhelming and uncomfortable. Even more so, we know reaching out for support for love and sex addiction may feel daunting.

However, seeking support is the first step in building the foundational pieces necessary to support your recovery journey. Here at The Guest House, we are committed to supporting you on your journey to a healthier you. Our holistic approach to care and mission for trauma-specific care gives us the ability to offer you care and support in a non-judgmental setting. When you know you have the space to explore, reflect, and deepen your understanding of yourself, you can truly start to heal.

Process addictions like love and sex addictions are often confused with each other. However, love addiction relates to issues with forming healthy attachments with romantic partners, whereas sex addiction relates to engaging in distressing and harmful sexual behaviors. Love and sex addictions can impede your ability to function in your daily life and form healthy relationships. While intimacy disorders often carry stigma with them, we are committed to providing a safe, nonjudgmental space where you can truly start to heal on your journey to recovery. At The Guest House, we offer a wide variety of holistic and therapeutic modalities to support you in addressing the traumas at the root of your addiction. Call us at (855) 483-7800 to learn more.