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Sex vs. Love Addiction: Differences, Similarities, and Seeking Help

Reviewed by Whitney White, MS CMHC, NCC., LPC · December 02, 2020 ·

It’s human nature to not only enjoy but seek emotional and physical connections with others -- often daily. Part of what makes us human is our ability to feel for others, feel with others, and ultimately want others. At the end of the day, we all have wanted, and we all have needs.

Unfortunately, many people take these wants and need too far, and they cross the line between normal human behavior and unwanted addictive behavior. Once that line is crossed, the individual’s behavior starts having a negative impact on themselves and others.

While some of these people are living with sex addiction, others are living with love addiction. Either way, it’s an addiction that needs to be cared for and treated before it causes any more damage in either person’s life.

So, is there a difference between sex and love addiction? 

The short answer here is yes: sex addiction and love addiction are two completely different addictions. With that being said, many people are unaware of the difference and often use the two addictions interchangeably. We’re here to clear things up for everyone.

Sex and love addictions are both considered behavioral addictions, much like gambling addiction or shopping addiction. Since we wouldn’t consider addiction to gambling the same as an addiction to shopping, we shouldn’t consider addiction to sex the same as an addiction to love.

Where a lot of the confusion starts is how the addictions act inside the brain. Whether you’re addicted to gambling, shopping, sex, love, or drugs, it’s the release of dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins in the brain. This is what allows us to feel pleasure, and it activates our ‘reward center’. In simpler terms, it makes us feel good.

The main difference between sex and love addiction is that one person is addicted to love -- which is more of an emotional want -- while the other person is addicted to sex -- which is more of physical want.

So, they might be addicted to the same chemical reaction inside their brain, but they’re seeking that chemical reaction in different ways.

Among the strict differences between these two addictions, it’s understandable why so many people use the terms interchangeably. Many love addicts utilize sex to get the love they desire from their partner. Similarly, sex addicts are often manipulative and use the idea of love to lure others into their sexual desires.

Of course, understanding the full difference between the two would require a bit of knowledge about each condition. Don’t worry; we’ll take a deeper dive into sex and love addiction below, including the many similarities and differences.

What Is A Love Addiction?

love addiction is characterized by an addiction to falling in love or the feeling of being in love. Love triggers the release of endorphins and neurotransmitters in the brain, which causes the individual to constantly seek it time and time again.

Individuals living with a love addiction are often staying in or returning to an abusive or harmful relationship -- even though they know how it always ends. They might idealize or fantasize about a relationship that doesn’t exist and is extremely clingy when someone finally gives them what they want.

Since many people with a love addiction lack emotional stability and life stability, they often seek it from others. Relying on others for their emotional well-being, these individuals crave attention and enjoy receiving attention from new people. That’s why some people with a love addiction have multiple partners that are kept a secret from one another.

Although there’s absolutely nothing wrong with seeking love, falling in love, or being in love for an extended amount of time, those with a love addiction love to the point it’s unhealthy -- for the individual and their partner. It’s damaging and harmful physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially.

Their obsession over their partner’s love causes them to weigh their partner’s needs and wants above their own. As a result, their partner is often living well, while the individual’s true priorities are being ignored. When that relationship ends, the individual decides to seek love from someone else instead of addressing their own needs.

What Is Sex Addiction?

Much like love, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with sex. It’s completely fine to seek sexual partners, it’s normal to have fantasies, and it’s normal to frequently engage in sexual behavior. With that being said, there is a point where having sex starts to have a negative impact on your life.

It’s not necessarily a result of having sex too often, but rather the consequences the individual ignores when engaging in sexual behavior. If these consequences start to have a negative impact on the individual’s life, and they continue to engage in those behaviors, they might be forming an addiction to sex.

Those living with a sex addiction often have multiple sexual partners, whether or not they’re in a personal relationship with them. These sexual relationships often cause distress in their lives and don’t contribute to their life positively. In fact, these individuals often don’t care about the relationship behind the sex and are only interested in the sex the other person provides.

Sex addiction is also characterized by excessive masturbation and excessive use of pornography. These two things are completely normal in moderation, but they also can negatively impact someone mentally, emotionally, physically, and socially.

When a sex and love addict can’t get what they want, they have no problem paying for sex, having sex with prostitutes, and paying for sexual encounters over the phone or internet.

Sexual addictions often exhibit sexual obsessions, sexual compulsions, sexual fantasies, and sexual urges that control their thoughts, actions, and behaviors. Since this type of addiction is progressive, it gets worse over time if not treated properly.

How Do Love and Sex Addictions Affect Your Life?

Now that we have a better idea of the differences between a sex addiction and love addiction, it’s important we also understand how these addictions can affect someone’s life or aspirations -- especially since they can impact someone in a variety of ways.

Let’s take a look at some of the major characteristics of sex and love addiction, also known as SLAA characteristics, as well as some of the consequences experienced as a result:

  • Individuals with a sex or love addiction often assign magical qualities to the person their seeing. This causes them to idealize and pursue them in ways the other person can’t satisfy.
  • Some people living with these addictions decide to eliminate love or sex from their lives to avoid vulnerability.
  • Individuals often feel enslaved by their sexual obsessions, emotional dependency, and romantic intrigue.
  • Sex and love addiction often make people attracted to those that are emotionally unavailable.
  • The romantic and sexual fantasies the individual experiences start to take over the individual’s life and cause massive distractions.
  • Sex and love addicts often use sexual behavior and loving acts to lure or manipulate others into fulfilling their fantasies.
  • Living with sex or love addiction often means the individual is using sex or love to cope with stress, guilt, fear, anger, loneliness, shame, or worry.
  • These individuals are often feeling their worst when they’re alone. Furthermore, their true pain is masked when they are around their partner.
  • When living with a sex or love addiction, the urges or obsessions are often fueled by the fear of being alone or being abandoned. The fear of being deprived of sex or love can also fuel these addictions.
  • Individuals with a sex or love addiction often don’t have boundaries, or their boundaries are extremely loose compared to other people.

Living with a sex and love addiction can be harmful for everyone involved. The problem is most people don’t know they have an addiction, are reluctant to admit they have a problem, and often don’t have anyone willing to step in and help the individual find the proper treatment.

That’s why awareness today is crucial, not just for sex and love addictions, but for all different types of addictions and medical conditions.

Can You Receive Help for Love or Sex Addiction?

The truth is millions of people have effectively recovered from these addictions, and you can too!

While early detection is the best form of ‘medicine,’ any detection at any stage is cause for concern and should be handled by a professional immediately. Once diagnosed, they’ll be able to direct you towards the right help and provide the right treatment plan when getting you better.

That’s why we’ve created an exciting new group of mental health tests designed to help people just like you determine their risk of developing certain disorders and addictions.

With our comprehensive sex addiction test, you can see how your experiences line up with sex addiction. Our test can’t diagnose you with the addiction, but it’s an excellent first point of contact when getting familiar with your symptoms.

In fact, we stay by your side to ensure you’re directed to the right help. That’s why we match you with therapists and medical health professionals in your area that has experience working alongside people just like you. It’s one of the ways we’re committed to providing others with a happier and healthier life!

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