Sex and love addiction
||This article needs attention from an expert on the subject. (December 2009)|
Sex and love addiction is a disputed condition that allegedly leads to the subject's repetition of specific thought or behavior patterns against the previously established intentions of the subject.
Sexual addiction is a relatively new term that reconceptualizes issues of degree, frequency, and kind', and remains 'caught between medical, moral, and psychological definitions'.
Emergence of Concept
Psychoanalysis had early established the 'type represented by "love addicts"...in whom the affection or the confirmation they receive from external objects plays the same role as food in the case of food addicts' Such figures, 'in their continuous need of supplies that give sexual satisfaction and heighten self-esteem simultaneously, are "love addicts", unable to love actively', often characters for whom 'the personality of the object is of no great importance. They need the supplies, and it does not matter who provides them'.
Thereafter works such as Dr. Stanton Peele's Love and Addiction and Dr. Patrick Carnes' Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction brought love addiction and sex addiction, respectively, into greater prominence for the therapeutic community and the general public. Later works, such as Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous illuminated the tight link between the sexual and the emotional dimensions of compulsive and addictive activities, and their accompanying thoughts.
Arguably however, because the popular awareness of sex and love addiction 'began with twelve-step programs, its origin is distinctly non-medical. It was only after the idea of sexual addiction permeated the media that we begin to see practitioners playing catch-up'. While the therapeutic community is intimately aware of the evidential support for this link between love/sex addiction and compulsion, questions still remain over whether 'abnormally active sexuality [is] an addiction, a compulsion, or actually part of the obsessive-compulsive disorder paradigm...The debate rages on in the professional journals'.
Many treatment centers, established 12 Step programs and clinical practitioners who use Patrick Carnes' materials, may approach addiction in general as migratory from one form to another. In essence, they repeat a message which Narcotics Anonymous uses—that anything can be a drug. Often, there is an assumed, core 'intimacy disorder' at the center of any addiction, but this is seen to be more clear with an addiction related to sexual behaviour, the feeling/process of 'falling in love', or the first stages of courtship, serial relationships, the collecting of multiple partners etc.
Sex addiction, romance addiction, or love/relationship addiction all are referred to by Patrick Carnes as intimacy disorders, which relate to "hijacked" stages of courtship. The materials which Patrick Carnes' and Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSAT) utilise indicate that it is only through abstaining from addictive behaviours when an addict can begin to see, with proper support, the deeper, underlying causes of the out of control thoughts and behaviours. Adequate support is generally seen to be available through a non-psychiatric, group-based program like Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous or Sex Addicts Anonymous where addicts are able to reduce shame and break secrecy and denial around their addictions when in the company of other, similar addicts with whom they can identify.
To substantiate the migratory nature of addiction to deeper, core issues as the more obvious behaviours are abstained from, a common wisdom at meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous is that newcomers, in their first stages of becoming sober, may quickly gravitate towards seeking romances, relationships or sexual acting out. When a member is seen to sexually 'prey' upon a newcomer, this is known as 'Thirteenth stepping'. In programs like Sex Addicts Anonymous, intriguing with other members is explicitly forbidden and is seen to be part of the addiction; it is assumed that a newcomer is experiencing intense upheaval, and will seek solace from anxiety through already existing, or more deeply rooted coping mechanisms: essentially seeking a maladapted desire for connection through intrigue, sex or romance.
Many CSAT therapists and the twelve step programs operate with the understanding that the habitual medicating of feelings is what drives an addiction, and unmet intimacy needs are at the core. Healthy ways to intimacy, resolving trauma, and sustained abstinence from addictive thoughts and behaviour are sought through participation in groups with others exhibiting similar symptoms, and through individual therapy.
If a subject who has been unable to break free from a relationship wrought with abuse and pain, is able with support to separate, it is common for the subject to pursue sexual encounters or engage in compulsive sexual activity, indicating that the love addiction that appeared to hold the subject in danger or discomfort was closely tied with sexual desire. 'Love addiction, therefore, is an addiction that often becomes visible to the codependent only after some work has been done on the core symptoms of codependency'.
Again, if a subject is able to refrain from compulsive sexual activity, it is common for intense emotional longing to occur, marked by an intense need to love and be loved. Thus for many people, neither the term sex addiction nor the term love addiction provide a full description of the condition experienced, whereas the term sex and love addiction adequately describes the collection of related addictive thought and behavior patterns and points to the need for comprehensive treatment of the condition to experience a full recovery.
According to 'the Web site of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous...the major organization dealing with this problem..."Addiction can take many forms, including but not limited to, a compulsive need for sex, extreme dependency on one person (or many), and/or a chronic preoccupation with romance, intrigue, and fantasy"'.
'There continues to be controversy over the reality and existence of sex and love addiction. The experts in the field each seem to have their own definitions'. At the same time, one of the founding fathers of the movement, Stanton Peele, later regretted that while in intention his book Love and Addiction was a social commentary on how our society defines and patterns intimate relationships, all of this social dimension has been removed, and the attention to love addiction has been channelled in the direction of regarding it as an individual, treatable psychopathology'.
The very concepts of sex and love addictions may be seen as part-products of the proselytizing element in 'the phenomenon of the development of new lifestyle diseases...[built] around a new cure which the expert touts as the breakthrough which will change things forever'. Nevertheless, although ' their impulse to describe etiology, diagnosis, and cure remains largely imprssionistic and confused...these attempts are taken quite seriously in some circles and continue to provide thriving models for the sexual addict'.
- Lennard J. Davis, Obsession: A History (London 2008) p. 167-8
- Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London 1946) p. 382
- Fenichel, p. 387-8
- Love and Addiction, 1975, 1991, by Stanton Peele with Archie Brodsky, reprinted with permission from Taplinger Publishing Co., Inc. ISBN # 0-8008-5041-6
- Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction (Paperback), 1983, 1992, 2001, Hazelden, by Patrick Carnes, Ph.D.
- Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, published by Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous Fellowship-wide Services
- Davis, p. 168-9
- Davis, p. 175-6
- Pia Mellody, in Davis, p. 178
- Davis, p. 169
- Eric Griffin-Shelley, Adolescent Sex and Love Addicts (1994) p. 17
- Quoted in Bruce E. Levine, Commonsense Rebellion (2003) p. 242
- Davis, p. 218-221
- Davis, p. 185
- Sex and Love Step Recovery Booklet - A twelve-step recovery process independent of any particular organization or community
- Sex Addicts Anonymous worldwide web site - An international fellowship dedicated to recovery from sex addiction
- Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous worldwide web site - Community of recovering sex and love addicts, unaffiliated with any other organization, movement, or cause
- The Stanton Peele Addiction Website - Stanton Peele, Ph.D is a social/clinical psychologist who has greatly influenced the addiction field.
- Discussion of Sex Addiction and Love Addiction - This site tends to categorize sex addicts and love addicts as two separate groups, although many people exhibit clinical signs of both addictions and identify with both paterns in group settings