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This page was medically reviewed by Stephanie Chick (FDAP), Senior ATP (Addiction Treatment Programme) Therapist at Priory Hospital North London, in July 2020.

What is Sex and Love Addiction?

Sex addiction and love addiction are not the same, although they can share some similarities. They are intimacy disorders and have sexual behavioural problems.

Common themes pervading through both sex and love addiction include obsessive or intrusive thoughts similar to those experienced if you have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), only in this instance, it would involve preoccupation with sexual activity or a particular person respectively.

What is the difference between Sex Addiction and Love Addiction?

Sex and love addiction is characterised by sexual behavioural problems that involve a fixation with sexual urges, behaviours and fantasies, or preoccupation with a particular partner that interferes with your everyday life to the extent that your relationships and work life may be adversely affected.   

Love addiction, also known as co-dependency, or relationship/romance addiction, differs from sex addiction in that it is characterised by symptoms and patterns of behaviour similar to that of a substance addiction. This may involve intense cravings for a person and feelings of euphoria when you are spending time with them, which make way for withdrawal symptoms when you are not in their presence.

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Sex Addiction Symptoms

If you have a sex addiction, you will be drawn towards actions which are harmful to yourself and potentially others, and which can make your life unmanageable. These actions may include:

  • Engaging with multiple sexual partners
  • Excessive masturbation
  • Excessive use of pornography
  • Interaction with prostitutes
  • Being incapable of refraining from having sex with others, even when you are involved in a relationship
  • Typically feeling guilty, ashamed or disgusted with yourself after acting on your sexual compulsions
  • Acting on these thoughts and urges, not in order to experience joy or pleasure, but because you feel compelled to do so

Sex addiction is not simply about having a high sex drive, which in itself can be healthy, but rather engaging compulsively in sexual activity despite the serious negative consequences. Reported problems in this area include damaging relationships through searching internet pornography, causing financial difficulties due to excessive spending, and resulting in loss of employment because of a sexual preoccupation. There is also risk to your physical health through STDs.

In such an addiction, sex stops the creation of healthy relationships and intimacy is feared and avoided.

Signs of Love Addiction

If you have a love addiction, you become dependent on a relationship and the attention of another, to the extent that your life becomes unmanageable without that attention. Driven by false beliefs such as “unless I am with someone I am worthless”, the following characteristics may be displayed:

  • Clinging to an idealised relationship, despite a different reality
  • Returning time and again to an abusive and damaging relationship
  • Placing responsibility for your emotional wellbeing, or even your ‘survival’ on others
  • Craving attention from many different relationships and seeking new sources of attention
  • Mistaking sexual experiences or romantic intensity for genuine intimacy
  • Feeling lonely and isolated when not in a relationship
  • Missing out on important commitments with friends, family or colleagues to search for a new relationship
  • Seeking the euphoric ‘rush’ of a new relationship while in an existing one
  • Feigning interest in activities that aren’t enjoyable or manipulating a partner or someone new through sex in order to maintain contact
  • Relying on romantic intensity as a way to escape from underlying emotional or mental health difficulties such as depression and stress

In these situations, you may become dependent on the rush of finding someone new who is attracted to you. The condition hijacks the early stages of dating and you can find yourself wanting to repeat these stages despite the painful consequences.  Often, this co-dependent behaviour is linked to low self-esteem, derived from emotional neglect or abuse in childhood.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with the signs and symptoms listed above, you may benefit from professional sex and love addiction treatment

Emotional and Psychological Symptoms of Sex and Love addiction

The emotional and psychological impact of sex and love addiction can be profound, with dysfunctional behaviour associated with the disorders leading to or stemming from symptoms and mental health conditions including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • OCD-type symptoms
  • Shame
  • Inadequacy
  • Distress
  • Social and physical symptoms

If you have sex and love addiction, one of the main areas that can determine a diagnosis includes its effect on various aspects of life, with associated behavioural problems potentially leading to the following:

  • Disruption or ending of personal relationships, including friends and family
  • Problems in your job and difficulty focusing or completing required tasks
  • Physical symptoms such as sexual dysfunction or STDs
How are Sex and Love Addictions Assessed?

Despite no clear criteria being robustly defined for when sexual interest becomes excessive, the sexual addiction screening test (SAST) is a useful tool in helping to diagnose this mental health condition.

SAST was developed in co-operation with hospitals, treatment programmes, therapists, and community groups to provide a profile of responses which help to discriminate between addictive and non-addictive behaviour.

What Causes Intimacy Disorders?

As with other forms of addiction such as drugs or alcohol, one of the reasons that you may become addicted to sex is that it offers a form of escape or 'high.' These are some of the most common sex and love addiction causes:

  • Genetics and family dysfunction
  • Sexual abuse during childhood 
  • Substance abuse or other addictions 
  • Existing mental health problems 
  • Biochemical and/or hormonal imbalances
  • Medical conditions

Effects of Sex and Love Addiction

The specific ways that sex and love addiction can affect your life will vary depending upon a variety of personal factors, but the following are among the more common types of damage that this compulsive behaviour can inflict:

  • Strained or ruined friendships
  • Inability to form and maintain healthy romantic relationships
  • Separation and divorce
  • Health problems, including increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as HIV and AIDS
  • Legal problems as a result of exhibitionistic sexual behaviours
  • Job loss related to unacceptable behaviours
  • Substance misuse and addiction
  • Onset or worsening of co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Diminished sense of self-worth
  • Persistent sense of shame, guilt and self-loathing
  • Suicidal thoughts

When you choose to enter a comprehensive addiction treatment programme to get help for your sex and love addiction, you remove yourself from danger, avoid future harm and have the opportunity to begin healing from any past damage.

In a programme such as those that are offered at Priory hospitals and wellbeing centres, you have the professional support that you need to identify, address and develop strategies to overcome the negative thought patterns that have prompted you to engage in compulsive sexual and co-dependent behaviours.

Sex and love addiction is a complex challenge, but it can be overcome. With effective help, you can regain control over your thoughts and actions and can once again live the healthy and satisfying life that you deserve.

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding sex and love addiction treatment and rehabilitation, please call 0330 056 6023 or click here to book a FREE ADDICTION ASSESSMENT. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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