At the end of Season 1 of the Netflix comedy "Love," Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) tells her sort of boyfriend Gus (Paul Rust) that she’s a sex and love addict. While they remain involved in Season 2, which premieres today, it’s not an easy path, with Mickey navigating the ups and downs of their relationship while attending Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (S.L.A.A.) meetings.
Mickey’s reveal prompts many questions. For starters, what is sex and love addiction? And why don't we hear about it in a serious light, as we do with alcoholism or drug addiction? If you are a sex and love addict, does that mean you have to give up intimacy for good? And our most pressing question: How do you know if you’re suffering from it?
Finding a definition is trickier than you’d think. For one, sex and love addiction isn’t even included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders (DSM), which is essentially considered the American Psychiatric Association’s bible.
“There’s a shame in our culture around sex,” says therapist Robert Weiss, a digital age intimacy and relationships expert. “You can talk about heroin, you can talk about alcohol; the second you say you have a sexual problem, everybody runs the other way."
What is sex and love addiction?
Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, a 12-step treatment program based on the Alcoholics Anonymous model, defines the organization as being “for anyone who suffers from an addictive compulsion to engage in or avoid sex, love, or emotional attachment.”
S.L.A.A.’s 12 Characteristics of Sex and Love Addiction include lacking healthy boundaries in sexual or romantic relationships, using sex or emotional dependence as “substitutes for nurturing care and support,” and excessively idealizing our partners.
Weiss, the author of several texts on the subject, including “Sex Addiction:101,” makes a distinction between addiction to sex and addiction to love. He defines the former as “using other people as objectified body parts” while the latter uses them “as emotional objects.”
While a person might exhibit symptoms of both, they often manifest separately. For example, a sex addict will engage in casual sex with multiple partners a week, while a love addict might go from one unfulfilling relationship to the next.
In both cases, it’s less about the sex or the romance, he explains. Instead the high the addict experiences is from the pursuit of the conquest or the person and losing themselves in the fantasy of it.
Are you suffering from sex and love addiction?
Haven’t we all, at some point, found ourselves in a dysfunctional romantic relationship, or obsessed over a lover who didn’t reciprocate the feelings? So how do you know when you have a problem?
“Ask yourself, are you compromising your ability to take care of yourself?” suggests Dr. Jeremy Frank, a Philly-based psychologist and addiction counselor. “Addicts gravitate towards substances or [in this case] another human being as a way to distract themselves from something they’re suffering from.”
Put another way, Frank defines addiction as a behavior that causes consequences in major functioning areas in your life. If sex or dating is affecting you, your family, your job or your relationship with a significant other, then that might be a sign.
Weiss, who oversees more than a dozen addiction and mental health treatment programs, including Promises in Malibu, says that the majority of his patients have experienced relational trauma in early life — be it a history of physical or emotional abuse or abandonment, which has led to an inability to trust others.
Because of that, a love addict will often seek out unavailable partners, because they don’t know what a healthy relationship would even look like. Similarly, a sex addict will engage in destructive behaviors, including putting themselves in abusive situations, to fulfill a desire to feel wanted.
The romantic notion of “losing yourself” in another person does not indicate a healthy relationship, Frank agrees. Instead, it's more like “when someone complements us and helps us know ourselves better, grow and challenge ourselves, rather than fulfils some unmet need.”
How to get help
If you think you might have a problem with sex and love, Weiss recommends taking S.L.A.A.’s 40 Questions for Self-Diagnosis quiz as a starting point. He also suggests reading S.L.A.A.’s book on the topic, the S.L.A.A. Basic Text, which includes personal stories from sex and love addicts in the program.
Visit slaa.org to learn more about sex and love addiction, treatment and resources and to find a meeting at your local S.L.A.A. chapter.