Differentiating Sex and Love Addictions


While love and sex are certainly not inseparable, romantic love only rarely exists without sexual involvement. For many people, sexual attraction is a critical component of loving their romantic partner. Sex and love are certainly both intense physical and emotional experiences, and like many such experiences they can give rise to obsession and even addiction.

However interconnected love and sex may be, love addiction and sex addiction are quite different phenomena. Like all forms of addiction, they do share some common ground. The pursuit of an addiction becomes the most important focus of an addict’s life, to the detriment of their relationships, work, and health. However, love and sex addictions generally manifest in very different ways, and stem from the need to satisfy disparate kinds of emotional needs.

The Effect on Relationships

While love and sex addictions can both destroy positive relationships or prevent the formation of positive relationships, the reasons for these struggles are in many ways as different as they could be.

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For love addicts, an intense and binding relationship is the ultimate goal. They believe that finding love will give their lives purpose and stability, and a desperate need to find love leads them to develop rapid and obsessive attachments. The object of their attachment may change over time, but while relationships last they remain devoted almost to the point of worship.

In contrast, relationships lose priority for the sex addict along with their other interests and activities. Sex addicts in relationships are often unfaithful with multiple partners, as they are unable to satisfy their sex drive with a single partner. Many sex addicts also have frequent one night stands or even anonymous sexual partners. They may be in loving relationships, but the pursuit of sex becomes an irresistible compulsion even if that relationship begins to crumble.

The result for both love and sex addicts is often short and intense relationships in quick succession. The emotional instability and compulsive behavior that is universal in addicts certainly contributes to relationship failure in both disorders. Yet the failure of a love addict’s relationship often stems from unrealistic adoration and codependency, while a sex addict’s relationship more often fails due to neglect and unfaithfulness. Both addicts may make unrealistic demands of their partners, but the love addict’s demands are physical while the love addict’s demands are more likely to be emotional.

The Origin of the Addiction

Both love and sex addictions can arise from childhood or early young adult trauma that leaves the individual seeking desperately to fill the void inflicted by that trauma. Small events and genetic inclination can also more subtly influence the development of emotional needs and behavior that leads to these addictions.

However, love addicts and sex addicts are ultimately seeking different forms of satisfaction from different places. Sexual addiction is the pursuit of specific sex acts and encounters, regardless of who is able to provide those experiences. Sex addicts can gain equal satisfaction from one night stands and anonymous sex as from sex with a committed partner. When no partner is available, sex addicts can seek stimulus from masturbation, phone sex, pornography, voyeurism, or exhibitionism.

Love addicts are seeking the presence and love of a specific individual whom they believe will provide them with the passion and fulfillment that their lives have been missing. In some ways, these partners are just as anonymous as an anonymous sexual partner, because the object of a love addict’s affection is often a construct of their own minds and may bear little resemblance to the character and appearance of the actual person. Nevertheless, love addicts firmly believe that the individual(s) they become obsessed with are of paramount importance.

Worst Case Scenarios

The most extreme and destructive manifestations of sex addictions and love addictions help to highlight the different motivations behind these two obsessions.

When love addiction develops to extremes, individuals may refuse to sever relationships or injure themselves when relationships end. Without the stability and affirmation that a relationship provides, some love addicts will engage in self-mutilation or attempt suicide-they seek to punish their former partner, or feel that all meaning has gone from their lives. Love addicts may also become so obsessed with former or prospective partners that they become stalkers.

Sexual predation is an extreme manifestation of sexual addiction. Not all sexual predators are sex addicts, and relatively few sex addicts will commit molestation or rape. Nevertheless, some sex addicts do resort to forcing sexual encounters if they are not able to feed their sex drive in other ways.

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