02/16/2012 03:59 pm ET | Updated Apr 17, 2012

Portrait of the Love Addict as a Young Woman

The publicity department of HCI Books read my manuscript for "Love Addict: Sex, Romance and Other Dangerous Drugs" -- 288 pages on the history, science and treatment of sex and (mostly) love addiction -- and this is what they came away with: "Ethlie had her first sexual experience at 18 and by age 22, had slept with 75 men." I don't know if the writer of press releases was shocked, titillated or appalled at the number. I thought it more noteworthy that I did all this while maintaining a 3.75 grade point average.

The main thing they missed, though, is that not once did I think of myself as promiscuous. I was convinced that each of these young men was my soul mate, my knight in shining armor, the love of my life of the week. My problem wasn't so much sexual profligacy as unmitigated optimism. There was the Red-Headed Artist, and the Catholic School Virgin, the Roommate's Boyfriend (I'm sorry ... ) and the Married Record Promoter (sorry again ... ) There was a guitarist, a drummer, a keyboard player and a vocalist -- no, not from the same band. Some of them have even names I can associate with their faces.

See, I went to college after the Pill, before AIDS, and when a hook-up was the trailer hitch on the back bumper of your dad's car. Sex was the adult version of holding hands, a demonstration of romantic togetherness. For a love addict-in-training like me, sex was a secret shortcut to intimacy. My "affection deficit disorder" led me to reason that since I was sleeping with you because I saw myself in a relationship with you, surely you were sleeping with me for the same reason.

This made me, among other things, a cheap date. I was in more of a rush to the bedroom that he was, usually, because I mistook sweating on each other for bonding. Hurry up and commit your naked body to me; if I get to know you, I may lose interest. Novelty was my favorite aphrodisiac; between my ears, excitement passed for happiness and desire for affection.

Now, I would plead youth and naïveté (also jug wine and nonmedical marijuana) if it weren't for the fact that I was still doing much the same thing at 30. And, God help me, 40. Long after most women learned important life lessons like "moisturize, moisturize, moisturize" and "don't be so flattered; men don't always think with their brains," I still thought that because a man wanted me, he wanted me. Despite all evidence to the contrary. I was metaphorically eating brownies over the sink in hopes that somehow, this time, the calories woudn't count.

It's what's known in the addiction biz as denial, and I was an addict -- addicted to the intoxication of infatuation. I was every bit as clueless as the woman inhaling a cigarette through her tracheotomy in those American Cancer Society commercials. You know she's hurting herself. I know she's hurting herself. Maybe even she knows she's hurting herself. But she keeps doing it anyway.

There's a biological reason for all this, by the way; novelty, anticipation, infatuation and lust all stir up the brain's dopamine production and I have always loved me some dopamine. Other ways to increase your dopamine production? Gambling, cocaine and cigarettes. I hear they're addictive, too.

I still don't think I was a slut, but I guess that depends on your definition of "slut." Was I an addict, sure. Self-deluded? unquestionably. Serially monogamous with a short attention span? Guilty as charged. But here's the thing: Stay single for a few decades and even if you're taking lovers at a fairly modest pace, you eventually find yourself with a number that raises eyebrows. Dear publicity department: You thought 75 was high? That's just when I stopped counting.