Love and Sex Addiction

Reading Time: 3 Minutes

We as humans all need love and intimacy in our lives to feel whole. However if your search for a sexual or romantic connection feels like an overwhelming need, you may be dealing with a dangerous addiction that can threaten your health, social life, and professional life. Individuals who have a sex or love addiction are more attracted to the sexual encounter or to the idea of love than being attracted to the actual person or the relationship. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) does not classify compulsive sexual behavior as a diagnosable mental health disorder. Debate continues as to whether the APA should include compulsive sexual behavior in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, sex and love addiction affect approximately six percent of the general population in the United States, making this topic an important mental health discussion. Sex addiction and love addiction are both intimacy disorders. Preoccupation with the sexual act or the idealized, fantasy relationship acts as a barrier between the addict and another person. 



Signs and symptoms associated with sex and love addiction 


Activities that are associated with sex and love addiction include the following: 

  • Compulsive masturbation 
  • Multiple affairs, sexual partners, and one-night stands 
  • Persistent use of pornography 
  • Practicing unsafe sex 
  • Cybersex 
  • Engaging with sex workers 

Behaviors and attitudes may include: 

  • The inability to contain sexual urges 
  • Detachment, meaning that sexual activity does not emotionally satisfy the individual 
  • Strong feelings of attraction to others alongside continually being in love and starting new romances, often leading to a string of relationships 
  • Feelings of guilt and shame 
  • Giving up social, work-related, or recreational activities to pursue sexual stimulation 
  • Unable to stop seeing a specific person even though you know that person is destructive to you 
  • Gets “high” from romance, fantasy, or intrigue 
  • Having “relationships” to try to deal with or escape from life’s problems 
  • Feeling desperation or uneasiness when away from your lover or sexual partner 


The link between unhealthy boundaries, borderline personality disorder, and sex addiction 

Research is limited on the causes and risk factors associated with sex and love addiction however these individuals often struggle with abandonment and boundary issues. Individuals with sex or love addictions will often become attached to individuals and the sexual acts before getting to know the individual. This can create feelings of emotional dependency, fear of abandonment, and low self-esteem. Individuals may often spiral into sex or love addiction because they felt abandoned in childhood or because they suffered a traumatic event and as a result, they use sex and love as a crutch to fill their empty void. Forming superficial bonds as an emotional crutch can result in unhealthy boundaries. You may become codependent on the other individual, which can create turmoil and negative emotions in both of your lives.  

A borderline personality disorder is a personality disorder characterized by an intense fear of abandonment, mood instability, unstable relationships, and impulsive behavior that ultimately drives others away. A borderline personality disorder is characterized by the following signs and symptoms (many of which are also seen in love and sex addiction):  

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment 
  • A pattern of intense and unstable relationships with family, friends, and loved ones, often swinging from extreme closeness and love (idealization) to extreme dislike or anger (devaluation) 
  • Distorted and unstable self-image or sense of self
  • Impulsive and often dangerous behaviors, such as spending sprees, unsafe sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, and binge eating 
  • Recurring suicidal behaviors or threats or self-harming behavior, such as cutting
  • Intense and highly changeable moods, with each episode lasting from a few hours to a few days
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness 
  • Inappropriate, intense anger or problems controlling anger
  • Having stress-related paranoid thoughts 
  • Having severe dissociative symptoms, such as feeling cut off from oneself, observing oneself from outside the body, or losing touch with reality


Seeking help for love and sex addiction 

Love and sex addiction often come with deeper underlying issues that should be discussed in therapy. Whether they are abandonment issues, trust issues, past trauma, low self-esteem, unhealthy boundaries, substance abuse, or eating disorders, all of these can be treated within time. We as humans want to love and be loved but if we are searching for love for all the wrong reasons in all the wrong places, we often will find ourselves unhappy and lonely. The goal of therapy is to be able to adapt tools and coping skills that can help us establish healthy boundaries with others and ourselves instead of using love and sex to fill an empty void.  

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