Part One - The Problem
Healthy romantic love
is a unique experience which can encourage bonding,
intimacy and the opportunity to play and explore with
that special new person.
Romance, with or
without sex, encourages personal growth as each new
relationship forces new insights and self knowledge.
The beginning stages of a potential love relationship
can be intense and exciting. Most people easily relate
to that "rush" of first love and romance;
the stuff of songs, endless greeting cards and warm
memories. Healthy intimacy, however, is characterized
by more than romance, intensity and sex. Intimacy
evolves over time. Loving relationships develop
partially through utilizing those first exhilarating
times to begin to build a bridge toward deeper, longer
It can be difficult
for anyone who is not a love or sex addict to
understand how love or sexuality can be exploited or
evolve into destructive patterns of addiction and
compulsion. Yet for the Love and Sex Addict, romantic
love, sexuality and the closeness they offer, are
experiences most often filled with pitfalls, anxiety
and pain. Living in a sometimes chaotic emotional
world of desperation and despair, fearful of being
alone or rejected, the Love Addict endlessly longs for
that "special" relationship.
Caught up in the
constant search for a partner, the addict's endless
intrigue, flirtations, sexual liaisons and affairs,
leave a path of destruction and negative consequences
in their wake of his or her behavior. Ironically, the
Love or Relationship usually has few options to
resolve these painful circumstances except by engaging
in even more searching, creating an escalating cycle
of desperation and loss. Just when seemingly
"safe" in the rush of a new romantic affair
or liaison the troubled Love or Sex Addict grows
steadily more unhappy, fearful and bored and ends up
pushing their partner away or looking outside the
relationship for yet another new intensity or
Thus the cycle begins
Unlike the healthy
person seeking partnership and sex as a complement to
their life, the Love and Sex Addict searches for
something outside of themselves (a person,
relationship or experience) which will provide them
with the emotional and life stability that they
themselves lack. Similar to a drug addict or
alcoholic, love and sex addicts use their arousing
romantic/sexual experiences in an attempt to
"fix" themselves and remain emotionally
When love and
sexuality are used as a way to cope, rather than a way
to grow and share, partner choice becomes skewed.
Compatibility becomes based on "whether or not
you will leave me", "how intense our sex
life is" or "how I can hook you into
staying", rather than on whether you might truly
become a peer, friend and companion.
relationships are characterized over time by unhealthy
dependency, guilt and abuse. Convinced of their lack
of worth and not feeling truly lovable, Love and Sex
Addicts will use seduction, control, guilt and
manipulation to attract and hold onto romantic
partners. At times, despairing of this cycle of
unhappy affairs, broken relationships and sexual
liaisons, some Love or Sex Addicts may have
"swearing off" periods (like the
bulimic/anorexic cycles of overeaters). The addict
believes that just "not being in the game"
will solve the problem; only to later find the same
issues reappearing when they re-engage in any type of
Typical Signs of Love
or Sex Addiction Include:
- Constantly seeking
a sexual partner, new romance or significant other
- An inability or
difficulty in being alone
choosing partners who are abusive or emotionally
- Using sex,
seduction and intrigue to "hook" or hold
onto a partner
- Using sex or
romantic intensity to tolerate difficult
experiences or emotions
- Missing out on
important family, career or social experiences in
order to maintain a sexual high or romantic
- When in a
relationship, being detached or unhappy, when out
of a relationship, feeling desperate and alone
- Avoiding sex or
relationships for long periods of time to
"solve the problem".
- An inability to
leave unhealthy relationships despite repeated
promises to self or others
- Returning to
previously unmanageable or painful relationships
despite promises to self or others
- Mistaking sexual
experiences and romantic intensity for love
For a Love or Sex
addict, the above signs or symptoms consist of
pervasive patterns of emotional instability inevitably
leading to isolation, heartache and loss. Not everyone
who has engaged in one or two of the above has an
addiction problem, many people may have their judgment
skewed by a difficult person or situation from time to
time in their lives. However, when these situations
become the norm, lived over and over again in some
form or another, the diagnosis can be made. Love and
sex addicts who are not in recovery, like any addict,
do not learn from their consequences and mistakes. It
is only when the pain of these behaviors and
situations becomes greater than the pain and
challenges of creating change, that recovery begins.
Addiction: Part Two - Recovery
of the love addiction literature speaks to the love
addicts' inability to live their lives without a
relentless search for a partner in most any situation
or experience. Upon reflection many recovering love
addicts can relate to having used some strategy or
another all of their lives in an attempt to find and
keep sexual and romantic partners. One woman put it
this way, " I never once went to a party without
wondering who I could get a date with or get into bed,
I always dressed for it and I always looked for
it". Whether through revealing dress, flirtatious
manner or seductive talk; the addict is always hunting
and searching in one form or another to try to bring
that special attention, intensity and arousal that the
latest tryst or liaison can bring forth. One important
part of the love and sex addicts' recovery process is
recognition of those methods used to attract and
the addict begins to consciously cast these aside,
using the support of 12 step members, friends and
often therapy; they come to learn their real human
worth, lessening the need for superficial, sexualized
order for recovery from any addiction to take place,
there must be a bottom-line definition of sobriety.
For the alcoholic, this is a simple definition --
alcoholics and drug addicts define sobriety as the
amount of time they have abstained from the use of
alcohol and other mind-altering chemicals. Abstaining
from the use of these substances is the recovering
person's sobriety time. (E.g., "I stopped using
drugs and alcohol in on June 15, 1987; therefore, I am
over 10 years sober").
the recovering Love or Sexual addict, however,
sobriety can be a more challenging to define. Unlike
sobriety from the use of substances, love or sexual
sobriety is not usually considered to be complete
abstinence from romantic relationships and sex,
although recovering persons may use complete
abstinence for short periods of time to gain personal
perspective or address a particular issue. Love
addiction and sexual sobriety is most often defined as
a contract between the sexual addict and their 12-Step
recovery support therapist or clergy. These sobriety
contracts are best when written, and involve clearly
defined, concrete behaviors from which the addict has
committed to abstain in order to define sobriety.
relationship or sexual recovery plans have very
strictly defined boundaries -- "No sexual
activity of any kind outside of a committed marital
relationship" could be one such defined boundary,
"no sex without at least 30 days of dating",
another. Sobriety can be delineated as abstinence from
any romantic or sexual activity that causes the person
to feel shameful, hold secrets or which is illegal or
abusive to others. Personal definitions may change
over time as the recovering person evolves in their
understanding of the disease. An example of such a
plan might be, "I am sober as long as I do not
date anyone who is married or in another relationship,
whom I would not introduce to friends, who is abusive,
unresponsive or uncommunicative to me," or "
I am sober as long as I do not engage in flirtation,
intrigue or sexual seduction with strangers, have
sexual or romantic liaisons with strangers or with
anyone I have not known for at least 90 days."
These types of definitions are always discussed with
at least one other recovering person, therapist or
clergy, and are not changed without thorough
discussion and understanding.
underlying motive for a concisely written plan of
recovery, beyond a clear definition of unwanted
specific sexual or romantic behavior, is to offer the
addict an ongoing recovery reminder, even in the face
of challenging circumstances. One characteristic of
addiction, particularly for love addicts, is a
difficulty in maintaining clear focus on personal
beliefs, values and goals, when faced with situations
which potentially involve intensity, arousal and
stimulation. This is where the best of intentions, the
pleas to be trusted "just one more time,"
and promises "to be good" go out the window.
Without clearly defined boundaries, the love or sex
addict is vulnerable to deciding "in the
moment" what action is best for them.
Unfortunately most addicts' "in the moment"
decisions are not the ones which help them maintain
their long term goals and values. A written plan helps
to maintain a clear focus on recovery choices,
regardless of situation or momentary motive.
the love and sex addict recovers, they begin to
discover themselves in new and unexpected ways. Time
formerly put into flirtation and 'the hunt', now may
go into family involvement and work. Creativity
formerly used to seduce or attract now goes into
hobbies, self-care and healthy relationship
exploration. This self-redefinition allows the love
and sex addict to have a much clearer understanding of
healthy partnerships. As the single person begins to
really recover and their self esteem and understanding
improves, so does their choice of dating and romantic
partners. No longer willing to take anyone who might
have them or give him or her away, they begin to
develop clear criteria (often written down) of the
type of partners they wish to engage. Recovery for the
coupled person brings a deeper understanding of their
emotional needs and wants in their partnership,
encouraging them to take more intimacy risks in their
relationships. As hope and honesty slowly replace
despair and superficiality, the recovery process
brings about a deepening maturity and sense of choice
that the addict may have never previously known.
of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, by
Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., 1983.
published by Hazelden Educational Materials, PO Box
176, Center City, MN
This is the landmark book introducing and legitimizing
sexual behaviors and sexual fantasies as an addictive
disease. Dr. Carnes proposes three levels of sexual
addiction, describes the addiction cycle and its
progression, and presents the faulty core beliefs of
the addict and the co addict and their healthy
to Love: Helping the Sexual Addict, by Patrick Carnes,
published by Hazelden.
In this sequel to Out of the Shadows, Dr. Carnes adds
to his original descriptions of sex addiction,
describing the stages of the illnesses. He presents
here his Sexual Addiction Screening test, useful to
therapists and addicts alike.
Gentle Path Through the Twelve Steps, by Patrick
Carnes, Ph.D., 1992.
This is the first workbook on the Twelve Steps
specifically designed with sex addicts and co addicts
in mind. It offers comprehensive and practical
exercises for each of the twelve steps for anyone for
anyone working a sexual recovery program.
Call It Love: Recovery from Sexual Addiction, by
Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., 1991.
Bantam Books, 666 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10103.
Based on research involving over 1,000 recovering sex
addicts and co addicts, this comprehensive work
outlines the stages of recovery and presents advice
from the addicts and co addicts themselves as they
work to overcome their compulsive behavior.
Recommended both for counselors and for recovering
All the Time: Recognizing, Understanding and
Overcoming Sex Addiction, for Addicts and
Codependents, by Ralph Earle, Ph.D. and Gregory Crow,
Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1230 Avenue
of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
This book addresses the needs and concerns of all
sexual addicts, regardless of their sexual
orientation, and also of the addict's codependent
partner. They authors explore the causes and symptoms
of sex addiction, .They also include a comprehensive
and practical approach to recovery for the addict and
Addiction: Case Studies and Management, by Ralph H.
Earle, Ph.D. and Marcus R. Earle, Ph.D., 1995.
Brunner/Mazel, Inc., 19 Union Square West, Nw York, NY
Written for the professional who treats sex addiction,
this book describes a comprehensive treatment program
for the addict and family. It is highly recommended
and Recovery: A Twelve-Step Guide for Healing From
Compulsive Sexual Behavior. 1987.
published by Hazelden.
This was one of the first books to comprehensively
describe the application of the Twelve Steps of
Alcoholics Anonymous to sexual addiction and
compulsivity. It also includes a wide range of
personal stories in which recovering sexual addicts
share their experience, strength, and hope.
Sex, and Addiction: A Search for Love and Power, by
Charlotte Davis Kasl, Ph.D., 1989.
Ticknor & Fields, 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York,
This book is a major contribution to the understanding
and healing of sex addiction, romance addiction, and
sexual codependency in women. It is full of wisdom and
insight, shedding light on what happens to women in
our society, how they survive it, and some roads to
& True: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction, by
Mark Lauser, Ph.D, 1992.
Zondervan Publishers, Inc., Grand Rapids, MI 49530.
This book approaches sex addiction and recovery from a
Biblical perspective. Dr. Laaser traces its roots in
families and in culture; shows how sex addiction can
poison the lives of pastors and lay people alike; and
describes a Twelve Step program for treatment and
It Love or is it Addiction? by Brenda Schaeffer, 1987.
published by Hazelden Educational Materials, Center
This book helps readers understand love addiction and
to sort out the unhealthy, addictive elements in their
romantic relationship. Brenda presents a solid theory
of love addiction and healthy love, with practical
examples to illustrate her concepts.
From Betrayal: Recovering From his Affairs, by
Jennifer P. Schneider, M.D.,Ph.D.
Published by Ballantine Books, 201 E. 50 St., New
York, NY 10022.
Dr. Schneideris pioneering work is the first written
for women whose husbands keep getting involved in
affairs. Based on interviews and her own experience,
she addresses the anguish and helplessness which
codependents feel daily. In clear, compassionate, and
informed writing she describes the nature of sexual
coaddiction, helps co addicts understand their own
disease and their denial and isolation, and outlines a
path to recovery.
Lies, and Forgiveness: Couples Speak on Healing From
Sex Addiction, by Jennifer Schneider and Burt
Based on interviews with about 100 couples, the
authors describe how to rebuild trust, forgive past
hurts, improve communication, and address the sexual
problems which recovering couples often face. Very
practical, it includes hundreds of comments from sex
addicts and co addicts on what worked for them in
enhancing their relationship. Women Who Love Sex
Addicts; Help for Healing from the Effects of a
Relationship with a Sex Addict, by Douglas Weiss and
Diane DeBuske, 1993. Published by Discovery Press,
6500 West Freeway, Suite 202, Fort Worth, TX 76116. A
practical guide for sexual co addicts. Revised
speak to a therapist about relationship issues call:
FindingStone Counseling Center
4450 North 12th Street Suite 210
Phoenix, AZ 85014
Speak to a therapist online