What Is Sex and Love Addiction?

Sex and love addiction are often separate addictions

Although often coupled together as a single addiction, sex and love addiction is often experienced as one or the other. People with love addiction do not always have sex addiction and vice versa.  It can be a complex addiction as the individual with the addiction, and the people that are affected by their actions and behaviour, will not immediately recognise that there is an escalating addictive problem.

There is also a very clear difference between the sex and love side of the addiction.  Sex addicts will usually use the lure of romance to attract sexual partners but love and relationship addicts will use sex as a lure to attract and keep a romantic partner.

There is now more opportunity to become a sex or love addict

The rise of online dating sites and the availability of pornography on the internet have increased the chances for those with a dependency to have their behaviour and actions become out of control sooner and for them to become addicted. However, if you ask people what they regard as an addiction they will normally say alcohol or taking drugs and for behavioural addictions they will acknowledge gambling or shopping. The general feeling about sex and love addiction is that it could be used as an excuse for promiscuity.

The reality though is that, like any other addiction, sex and love addiction is an illness in which someone can become addicted to something or, in fact, someone. Sex and love addiction will manifest its destructive self just the same as any other addiction and will be equally mentally harmful to family and loved ones.   

Sex addiction – characteristics and impact

Sex addiction will develop in several forms but is recognised as “out of control sexual activity.” Just the same as with any addiction, limiting one type of activity will soon not be enough to satisfy the individual’s needs so they will proceed with more extreme and risky behaviours to get the satisfaction they crave.  A few examples of a sex addict’s increasing repetitive addictive behaviour will involve at least some of the following characteristics:

  • Numerous sexual partners
  • Excessive use of porn
  • Numerous affairs whilst being in a relationship
  • Using prostitutes
  • Exploring more extreme examples of sex and pornography
  • Excessive use of sex chatlines and sex webcams
  • Viewing porn whilst at work
  • Intense sexual fantasies, urges and behaviours that are out of control
  • Unsuccessful attempts to reduce or control sexual urges and behaviour.

All this behaviour will lead to feelings of guilt, shame, sadness, anger and remorse but the addict will persist with this destructive behaviour as mentally they will obsess about it and will need to get their “fix” at all costs.  This behaviour will ultimately have a severe impact on the individual’s work, social and home life as, on a daily basis, the need to “act out” will increase and, whilst not engaging with sex, he or she will be spending more and more time thinking about it. The addiction centres on the euphoric effects and the increase in dopamine that the brain produces whilst either planning or actually engaging in the activity.

Love addiction – characteristics and impact


For those that suffer with a love addiction, they will have an overwhelming need to feel loved. They will find it very difficult to be on their own and this may also lead them to remain in a destructive and abusive relationship. They are unable to find a balance or maintain a healthy relationship for any reasonable period of time.

The person with the love and relationship addiction becomes dependent on the attentions of their partner.  Their behaviour will generally lead to feelings of very low self-esteem and they will often believe that they are worthless if they are not in any form of relationship. The result is that this now co-dependent person loses a sense of themselves and focuses completely on the needs of their partner. They feel that being in any relationship – even if bad – is better than being alone.

In a healthy relationship there are feelings of trust and mutual togetherness.  In a love addict’s relationship, there is a constant fear of rejection and coupled with the constant questioning to gain reassurance it will slowly create a destructiveness within that relationship that will destroy it.

Characteristics of a love addict include

  • Staying in an abusive relationship for the sake of being in a relationship
  • Never feeling satisfied within a relationship
  • Constantly moving from one relationship to another looking for love
  • Making personal sacrifices to please the partner
  • Being jealous and possessive of the partner
  • Feeling a constant need to be in a relationship
  • “Falling in love” without even knowing the partner
  • Constant questioning of a relationship will leave the addict feeling mentally depressed and with no self-esteem.

As with all addictions, sex and love addiction can affect anyone at any age from any walk of life, though with the vast expanse of pornography that can now be accessed off the internet there are far more young people being affected. Potential addicts can quickly move on from the occasional viewing of porn to excessive daily use.  For those with a predisposition to a dependency this will shorten the timeline to them needing to seek help.  TV programmes such as Love Island and Married at First Sight are even promoting how to find instant love and relationships with complete strangers.

Withdrawal effects

When a person addicted to sex cannot act out the desired sexual behaviour and when a person addicted to love experiences a breakup then, the same as with other addictions, they will experience withdrawal symptoms.  These symptoms can include depressive episodes, mood swings, anxiety, and restlessness. Also, as with other addictions, in order to remove these feelings, there will be the need for the individual to return to the addictive behaviour, even if they don’t want to.

Effects on relationships

Also, as with all other addictions, being addicted to sex and /or addicted to love will have damaging and devastating effects on relationships. Those with a sex addiction who are married or in a relationship will feel an immense sense of betrayal and shame when they discover their partner has a sex addiction. One of the biggest side effects and concerns for a partner is the risk of a sexually transmitted disease. With love addiction they find it difficult to concentrate on anything other than the relationship they are currently in and this causes them to lose focus on other areas of their lives, such as work and being unable to hold down a job.

Just the same as all other addictions, at The Haynes Clinic, we try and help people by reaffirming that there is the need for the person with the addiction to recognise that there is a problem that they cannot control and the need to seek help before their destructive, addictive behaviour spirals further out of control.