What is sex and love addiction?
If we were asked to think of an addiction, we would probably think of substance addictions such as alcohol or drugs. When specifying behavioural addictions, we may consider gambling or shopping but what do we know of love and sex addiction? Is it just an excuse for promiscuity or should we in fact regard it with the same gravity as other addictions?
Sex and love addiction is not measured or diagnosed in quantity but instead by the negative impact and consequences associated with the behaviour, on yourself and others. It is characterised by obsessive feelings and behaviours which the sufferer feels compelled to repeat regardless of the consequences. These behaviours and thoughts get progressively worse, ultimately resulting in the breakdown of personal relationships. This repetitive pattern with negative consequences can happen both as a result of excessive acting out (sexual bulimia) or the opposite, sexual anorexia.
Love addiction behaviours
- Clinging to an idealised relationship, despite a different reality
- Returning time and again to an abusive and damaging relationship
- Placing responsibility for emotional wellbeing on others
- Craving attention from many different relationships and seeking new sources of attention
Sex addiction behaviours
- Engaging with multiple sexual partners
- Excessive masturbation
- Interactions with prostitutes
- Excessive use of pornography
The addictive behaviour fixes a problem
In an addict, we know that there is some kind of developmental immaturity which gets 'fixed' by their addiction (whether behavioural or substance). It is believed that these symptoms are borne out of adapting to survive emotionally within their family system. Co-dependent childhood experiences such as enmeshment on one extreme, or abandonment or neglect on the other, are major contributory factors.
At Priory, we offer treatment which helps with both the addiction and the underlying 'trauma' issues. The trauma re-parenting model helps someone take responsibility for moderating their behaviours through new coping strategies. Goals of recovery are to teach and enable our patients to process and come to terms with their reality and to develop and practise appropriate coping skills to deal with the feelings of powerlessness and unmanageability over their behaviours.