Love Addiction Vs. Sex Addiction: What’s the Difference?

Posted by on 01 25 14 in Sexual Addiction | Comments Off on Love Addiction Vs. Sex Addiction: What’s the Difference?

Love addiction. Sex addiction. Most people want love and most people desire sex, so how does this constitute an addiction? And wouldn’t sex addiction and love addiction simply be two sides of the same coin? To a person with a healthy sense of sexuality, and who has a history of functional romantic relationships, love and sex are positive things that typically go hand in hand.

But for the addict, sex, love and relationships go beyond the realm of enjoyable and healthy aspects of life and into the den of insatiable need. The relationship of sex, love and healthy intimacy between two people is shattered into fragments and the pieces get parceled into separate categories. Typically, the sex addict wants sex without love, the love addict wants love—sex or not—and in both cases, personhood undergoes a profound distortion. The sex addict craves the elimination of the partner’s personhood while the love addict desires a total melding of the two into an inseparable one—an indecipherable unit without individuality or sense of self.

Yet as opposite as these two conditions appear, they have, at their root, very similar causes. Both conditions are dominated by common factors such as fear of abandonment, a history of childhood abandonment or abuse, emotional pain and/or trauma, and the inability to cope with adult life in a healthy and functional way.

Sex addiction may be easier to define because it involves an obsession and compulsion with the physical act of sex—solo or with a partner—and the emotional high that results. Sex addicts, averse to the emotional intimacy required by a relationship with another person, seek to have their sexual needs fulfilled through engagement with pornography, cybersex, anonymous and and/or short term partners, and sometimes prostitutes. Their desire for sex goes beyond normal human sex drive. It is an obsession of the mind and a compulsion of the body that cannot be stopped or quelled until it is fulfilled. The insatiable need often leads sex addicts to risky and destructive behavior despite their best efforts to stop.

Love addiction is a far vaguer, more nebulous concept. In short, the sufferer is in love with love. This sounds sweet but the condition is more than hopeless romanticism. It has the power to affect and damage the addict’s life in ways that rival a drug or alcohol addiction. Romance is no longer something to be enjoyed or shared, it is a relentless need, one that will often cause those who are addicted to it to take great personal risks in order to obtain it. A charming picture of romance mutates into Fatal Attraction.

Love addiction seeks another person and a relationship with that person as an escape from a life they view as unmanageable. The relationship and the illusion of total love and protection is the high. They pursue it even at great risk to their own well-being and their other relationships.

Determining whether one is a love addict is not always as simple, as the criteria can be fairly subjective. Individuals must look at their lives, and their patterns of behavior and thought as they regard love and romantic relationships, and determine if the issue is a life-controlling problem.

While sex addicts eschew emotional intimacy with another person, often seeking their release through pornography or anonymous encounters, the love addict cannot have enough intimacy. The tendency is to smother the partner as they seek an inseparable union that promises to shield them from all future loneliness, stress, insecurity, fear and self-doubt.

Both addictions seek their “drug” from a place of urgency and deep psychological need. Later, as the brain registers the pattern of need and fulfillment in the reward center, the craving becomes increasingly physical. The body is out of step and hungry until the need is fulfilled. While non-addicts evaluate the physical and emotional risks involved in sex with anonymous partners, jumping into emotionally compromising situations, and pursuing the “wrong” kind of people, the addict is unable to differentiate between what is healthy and what is not. If addicts are able to see that they are making an unwise decision, the disease forces them not to care enough to stop it.

Pain underlies both addictions as the addict seeks to inhabit a world of sexual or romantic fantasy away from the challenge and pain of healthy, adult relationships. To the addict, the risk of vulnerability is too great. He or she must quickly secure either a committed long-term partner or immediate short-term sex. In both cases, the addict is seeking to eliminate the possibility of rejection and emotional vulnerability. The love addict quickly seeks to secure an unbreakable bond and the sex addict pursues no bond at all. Fear of abandonment pervades both addictions.

There is hope of recovery for both of these conditions. The approach will depend on the severity of the disease and other mental illnesses that may be operating in the addict’s life. Options include one-on-one or couples therapy, residential and/or outpatient treatment programs and 12-step programs such as Sexaholics Anonymous and Love Addicts anonymous.