Although I wouldn’t consider myself a sex or love addict right now, I may have felt differently in the past. In fact, I can proudly say that I am happily married to a person that I truly love.
Recently, my job wanted me to attend a Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meeting. I wasn’t going there to get professional help but to be an observer of the meeting, take notes, and find out more about this program. But as I sat through the meeting, it surprised me how I could strongly relate to the people and stories in the group.
All About SLLA
The meetings for Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous are designed like your typical 12 step meeting that you’d expect from any Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous group. Last week the women’s meeting in Greenwich Village was very familiar. The women held hands and prayed the serenity prayer as a group.
Even more interesting, it was a really diverse group physically, by background, and by sexual preference. Some attendants considered themselves sexual anorexics. Others were addicted to romance and fantasy. And still others claim to be in recovery of their personal issues that they kept to themselves.
Janet, the fictitious name of an attendee at the meeting, confidently called herself a sex addict. She said that she started out addicted to drugs and alcohol but straightened up her act in her 20s and became clean and sober. Something was still missing once she removed the chemical addiction from her life and ended up becoming a sex addict.
Her life and her relationships experienced many crazy ups and downs. She didn’t discriminate between men and women although she considers herself straight. She once had a torrid affair with her best friend’s husband that was completely humiliating and traumatic, but also made her feel alive, destructive, and filled with adrenaline. At the end of the day, she was hoping to find someone to save her and fill up the hole in her heart but that never happened.
Sex and Love Addiction: What Is It?
Unfortunately, many people have a difficult time setting healthy relationship boundaries. These boundaries even become extreme on occasion, and that’s when you should consider it a potential sign of being addicted to love or sex.
Sex and love addiction characteristics include the following:
- Using sex to emotionally manipulate others
- Using sex because you fear true intimacy
- Using sex because you’re afraid of commitment
Even worse, many sex and love addicts repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Instead of ending damaging and hurtful relationships, they come back for more even when the experience is incredibly painful.
Alcoholics use booze as their weapon of choice to self-destruct. Drug addicts use opioids, crack cocaine, and other addictive substances. Sex and love addicts hurt themselves through dangerous and harmful liaisons.
Licensed clinical social worker and relationship expert Sharyn Levine understands the challenges of dating. She warns people that when dating patterns begin to appear, and you keep reliving the same relationships with different people, it indicates obsessive and addictive patterns.
Levine also believes that love and sex addicts get confused in the midst of relationships. They believe sexual intensity is the same thing as emotional intimacy with a long-term partner, but this isn’t really the case.
Many sex and love addicts are preoccupied by romance, fantasy, or sexual intrigue. Or they could potentially identify as sexual anorexics by avoiding emotional, sexual, or social nourishment from a giving or receiving standpoint.
Levine feels that in order for sex addicts to avoid feeling, they use the act of sex to numb themselves. It provides a surge of neurochemicals that diminish uncomfortable and negative feelings, the same way that alcohol and drugs do for others, or like food might do for someone suffering from an eating disorder.
On the other hand, she believes love addicts want to experience brand-new relationships and the endorphin rush that comes along with them. But these experiences and feelings never last, so they keep reliving the same experience over and over hoping to make an emotional and intimate connection on a deeper level.
How to Recover from Sex and Love Addiction
Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, or SLAA for short, was founded in 1976 using the same premise as Alcoholics Anonymous. Just like AA, you’ll need to:
- admit that you’re struggling with a problem
- find a sponsor to help you
- ask the community for emotional support
- work the steps to achieve sobriety
The major difference between AA and SLAA is the people suffering from sex and love addiction need to decide the best terms for their recovery. Some behaviors might not be acceptable any longer while other behavior still should be. Working with a sponsor will help you define problematic behaviors and uncover acceptable behaviors.
As an example, in the past you’ve maybe had unprotected sex or slept with somebody even though you didn’t want to. These are dangerous behaviors that need to be stopped, so you’ll do find them as problematic behaviors and no longer engage in them.
A contrasting example is to create healthy new intentions to become regular parts of your life while replacing old negative patterns. These behaviors will help you eliminate dangerous compulsions to lead a happier and healthier life.
Showing signs of recovery in Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous means you’re becoming more trustworthy, honest, and more accepting of yourself. After taking on this responsibility, people tend to love and accept themselves more. They are willing to take care of their own personal needs before diving into the next damaging relationship.
Whether or not you have a sex or love addiction, practicing honesty, trust, and self-acceptance seems like a good idea for everyone beginning a new relationship.
Levine feels that our culture is very shame-averse, meaning we really dislike shame. Entering a 12 step program means you can finally break the shame cycle. By stating that you have a problem and asking people for help, you’re taking an important first step.
Also, becoming a member of a group of like-minded people is a great way to stay on the road to recovery and get the help you need whenever you need it. The community aspect of recovery programs is often critical for member success. They treat the members like family because after sharing so many personal experiences with them, you start to feel like you know each other at the deepest levels.
Like Janet in our example above, you might not immediately go from addiction directly into recovery. You may travel across some bumps in the road along the way and even develop a different addiction. Just keep growing, keep thriving, and keep working toward your goals. This is a never-ending journey and you may never feel cured of your addiction, but you can keep it in check with the right help.