Sex Addiction and Love Addiction – What’s the Difference?

sex and love addiction

Michael is a handsome 32-year-old lawyer, who divorced his wife shortly after they married – as soon as the sexual intensity began to fizzle out. He has since become hooked on the ‘high’ of the chase, incessantly pursuing unavailable, high-profile women (who somewhat resemble his wealthy, emotionally unavailable mother). He is convinced that his life will be fulfilled – that he will finally be content – if he can only get a woman like that to commit to him. As soon as one of these women does begin to show genuine interest, Michael finds that his fixation rapidly dissipates, and he moves on to the next seemingly unattainable female. Michael dreams of ultimately settling down and starting a family, but he cannot seem to maintain interest in any one potential partner. As he desperately moves from woman to women, he finds that his sleep patterns, appetite, and mood all fluctuate as well. He wants to settle down, and does not understand why it is that he cannot seem to end his self-destructive patterns and sustain a meaningful, long-term relationship.

Daniel is a quiet and subdued graphic designer, who began compulsively masturbating and watching pornography at age 11, in order to distract himself from the pain of living under the same roof as a verbally abusive and chemically addicted father. As he got older, his childhood ritual evolved – Daniel now meets up with strangers he connects with on dating apps, and has sex with them in public restrooms. Because he cannot control his impulses, his career has been threatened multiple times. His long-term girlfriend has finally left him, and his friendships have begun to suffer immensely. After he acts out on his impulses, Daniel is overwhelmed with shame, guilt, and self-loathing. He has tried to keep his behavior under control, but has repeatedly found himself unable. He has no idea why he continues to risk her personal and professional livelihood, and desperately wants to stop.

Sex Addiction

Both Michael and Daniel have developed ritualistic behaviors to help mask childhood wounds that never properly healed. Both were neglected and emotionally abused throughout adolescence, and have turned to alternative means of attempting to cope. And while the motivation behind each man’s actions are essentially the same, one is a sex addict while the other is a love addict. Daniel fits the classic description of sex addiction – he is far more attached to sexual encounters than he is to actual people. He is detached and avoidant, and prefers his sex partners to be anonymous and interchangeable.

Some of the criteria of sex addiction include:

  • A preoccupation with sexual activities or behaviors (or behaviors done in preparation, such as searching for pornography or finding a suitable sex partner online)
  • A great amount of time spent seeking sex, obtaining sex, and engaging in sexual activities
  • An increasing need to enhance the amount or intensity of sexual encounters
  • Restlessness, anxiety, or irritability when unable to engage in sexual behaviors
  • Continued engagement in such behaviors despite steadily accumulating personal consequences

Love Addiction

Michael, on the other hand, displays the behaviors indicative of a love addict. He pursues romantic experiences, and believes that his problems will be solved if only he can begin a relationship with ‘the right’ woman. The chaos of his relationships is echoed in his private life, and he generally feels unstable – both emotionally and mentally.

Some of the criteria of love addiction include:

  • An inability to stop seeing or speaking to a certain person despite knowing that the relationship is unhealthy and damaging
  • An unexplainable need to pursue romantic relationships at all times, coupled by a feeling of hopelessness and desperation when uninvolved
  • Beginning ‘relationships’ in order to escape or distract from personal problems and unresolved, underlying issues
  • Ample time spent fantasizing about romantic pursuits
  • Anxiety, distress, or irritability when away or separated from current romantic or sexual partner

Intimacy Disorder Recovery

Sex addiction and love addiction are both intimacy disorders, and they often both stem from childhood trauma, abuse, or neglect. Regardless of whether one is preoccupied with the sexual act itself or with the idealized relationship, the fantasy and pursuit will inevitably stand in the way of authentic interpersonal connection. Until treatment is sought, healthy and fulfilling relationships with other human beings will essentially be unattainable. In most cases, seeing as the vast majority of sex and love addicts simultaneously struggle with co-occurring disorders and unresolved trauma, inpatient treatment followed by a long-term program of aftercare is the most effective.

We at Next Chapter have extensive experience working with men who battle both love addiction and sex addiction. We are also excited to announce a new addition to our staff, Faith Niece, who specializes in intimacy disorders. Our comprehensive and individualized approach to recovery truly sets us apart from the rest. Please feel free to contact us with any additional questions or comments regarding sex addiction, love addiction, or our program of recovery for men.