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Ethlie Ann Vare Headshot

Sex And Love Addiction Aren't Different -- They're The Same

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Sex addiction and love addiction: Are they the same thing or entirely different? Depends on who you ask.

Those who recognize both as legitimate process addictions , similar to compulsive gambling or shopping, (and we can have a discussion about the nature of addiction another time) tend to put the two at odds: sex addiction versus love addiction. Love addicts are emotionally fragile victims (usually female), forever clutching at the ankles of love avoidant (male) sex addicts, those lying, manipulative jerks. This predator/victim paradigm is neat, clean and easy to digest ... and it misses the entire pathology of the addiction.

For one thing, love addicts are lying and manipulative, too. Take me, for example. I'm the kind of woman who would show up on the doorstep of some unfortunate one-night stand, two weeks later, with a suitcase and my dog in tow. I managed to do this across state lines, knowing only the guy's first name and a musical preference. The denial mechanism that made it seem like a good idea must have been gargantuan; undoubtedly, I told the best lies to myself.

"I'm not looking for a relationship; casual is fine with me" is as common a whopper as "My wife and I are separated," "I had a vasectomy" and "I promise I won't ..." well, you know the rest of that one.

 At the same time, I'm the kind of woman whose number hits three figures, because after a while being the victim gets really old. A girl just needs to go out and conquer something: The love addict flips and becomes the sex addict. Or you use sex as a coin to buy affection, assuming that if someone becomes your lover, there must be love involved. Or you discover that once you start making out with someone, it triggers a craving that isn't going to be satisfied until you're in that person's bed.

Hang on. I'm remembering some favorite beds. After all, if there wasn't something fun about acting out -- whether it's sleeping around or slamming back tequila shots -- no one would do it long enough to get to the not-fun-anymore stage. The not-fun part is when you really don't want to play this game any more, but you keep doing it anyway.

For men, the flip might manifest after years of happy-ending massages, phone sex hotlines and internet porn, when the unfaithful husband finds himself paying some stripper's utility bills and following her from work, only to end up parked outside her boyfriend's house in a tearful rage. The sex addict becomes the love addict, as desperate to be someone's knight in shining armor as someone else is to find one.

Just as both the binge-eater and the anorexic suffer from an eating disorder, both the love addict and the love avoidant suffer from a relationship disorder. The love addict craves affection; no amount will ever be enough. The sex addict craves stimulation; no amount will ever be enough. Both are trying to feel, to connect to something... but the mechanism of connection is stunted, or twisted, or broken entirely.

Can those connections be healed? I think yes. Neuroscientists are investigating how genetics may have short-circuited those connectors. Therapists explore looks at the way early childhood experience may have warped them. Philosophy looks at the need for a wider connectivity altogether. The first step, as with all addictions, is to stop using.

It's like the joke about the man who goes to the doctor, raising his arm over his head and complaining, "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." The doctor raises his own arm over his head: "So don't do this," he shrugs.