Sex and love are depicted everywhere in American society—from pop culture to pornography, stimulating material is almost unavoidable. Television, movies, and advertisements invade your life from all directions with depictions of nudity, explicit sex acts, and unrealistic love stories. And the internet has made sexual material accessible with a click or a tap. We now live in a society where it is socially acceptable to go on Tinder, swipe right, and meet a new person every night of the week. These cultural realities can make treating sex and love addiction treatment challenging.
Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (S.L.A.A.) is a fellowship of men and women struggling with sex and love addictions. S.L.A.A. is for any person who suffers from either a compulsive need for or a compulsive avoidance of sex, love, or emotional attachment. The foundation of S.L.A.A.’s treatment program includes the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous.1
Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meetings take place all over the world. They are free and open to anyone who needs them. Meetings focus on overcoming the destructive patterns of sex and love addictions, with the only qualification for membership being a desire to break these patterns. And if you live in an area without meetings, you can find online or phone meetings.
Behavioral HealthMany people with behavioral health issues have co-occurring mental health disorders or underlying traumas and emotional issues that contribute to their maladaptive behaviors. Read More
The people at S.L.A.A. believe that giving and receiving support from your peers is essential to recovery. Newcomers learn from people with similar behavioral health issues who are in recovery and more senior members can share the wisdom of their experience and mentor others. In S.L.A.A. you learn to accept the reality of your addiction and surrender the idea that you can control it without help.1
S.L.A.A. has a spiritual component, but you don’t have to believe in God to attend. Members of S.L.A.A. seek to make amends for harm done to others and reconstruct their lives physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Meetings also help people battling sex addiction learn to relate to others in non-sexual, non-addictive ways.1
There have been no recent large-scale studies into sex and love addiction and, as a result, scientists are unclear about the current prevalence of such conditions. However, about 20 years ago, researchers estimated that 3–6% of the population struggled with sex addiction.2
One recent study screening specifically for sex addiction in 1,837 college students found a prevalence rate of 2% (3% for men and 1.2% for women.).2 A smaller study of 240 college students says that more than 17% of people display characteristics of sex addiction.2 The numbers vary because research into sex and love addictions is still in its infancy, and there is still a lot that researchers and clinicians do not understand or agree on.
What Are Sex and Love Addictions?
Sex and love addictions are sexual behavioral health problems that interfere with your daily life at work and at home. Sex addiction is characterized by an intense and repetitive preoccupation with sexual urges, sexual behaviors, and sexual fantasies that cause distress or lead to negative consequences.2 Love addiction is characterized by repetitive patterns of behavior and other defining elements more commonly associated with substance abuse, such as a preoccupation with a lover, followed by cravings for that person, euphoria when you are around them, and withdrawal when you are not.3 Both of these addictions involve a major preoccupation (obsessive or intrusive thoughts) about a person or behavior. They differ in that some people primarily yearn for a physical connection and others an emotional one.3
Sex and love addictions are difficult for researchers to classify, in part because human sexuality is extremely complex. The scientific community continues to debate how best to classify these disorders and has yet to declare them addictions. In the past, sex and love addictions were classified in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) as “unspecified sexual disorders”.4 But the diagnoses did not include any criteria beyond a general notion that a person’s pattern of sexual behavior was causing them distress.
The new version of the DSM does not include specific diagnostic criteria for sex or love addiction. During a recent revision, there was a failed push to include sex addiction as a diagnosable condition called hypersexuality disorder, but the psychiatric community didn’t have enough data to support the addiction theory. There is some research supporting a classification of behavioral addiction, but other data points to impulse-control and obsessive-compulsive disorders.4 In the end, the psychiatric community was left with more questions than answers.
Members of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, on the other hand, believe that sex and love addiction is a progressive mental health illness that cannot be cured, but can be controlled. Sex and love addictions appear in many different forms, which you may see in your support group. You may encounter people who have a compulsive need for sex, an extreme dependency on one person, or a chronic preoccupation with fantasies and desires. Like substance addictions, sex and love addictions lead to ever-worsening consequences without treatment.
S.L.L.A. characterizes the 12 characteristics of sex and love addictions as follows:5
- Having few healthy boundaries and becoming sexually involved with or emotionally attached to people without knowing them.
- Fearing abandonment and loneliness; staying in or returning to painful, destructive relationships; concealing dependency needs; and growing more isolated and alienated from friends and loved ones.
- Fearing emotional or sexual deprivation; compulsively pursuing one relationship after another; and sometimes having more than one sexual or emotional liaison at a time.
- Confusing love with neediness, physical and sexual attraction, pity or the need to rescue or be rescued.
- Feeling empty and incomplete when alone. Fearing real intimacy but continually searching for relationships and sexual contacts.
- Sexualizing feelings of stress, guilt, loneliness, anger, shame, fear, and envy. Using sex or emotional dependence as substitutes for nurturing care and support.
- Using sex and emotional involvement to manipulate and control others.
- Becoming immobilized or seriously distracted by romantic or sexual obsessions or fantasies.
- Romantically pursuing people who are emotionally unavailable.
- Staying enslaved to emotional dependency, romantic intrigue, or compulsive sexual activities.
- To avoid feeling vulnerable, retreating from all intimate involvement, mistaking sexual and emotional anorexia for recovery.
- Assigning magical qualities to others. Idealizing and pursuing them, then blaming them for not fulfilling fantasies and expectations.
The Role of 12-Step Groups in Recovery
People struggling with addictions of any kind face an uphill battle, but sex and love addictions are particularly difficult because they involve the most intimate and vulnerable moments of your life. Recovery is not as clear-cut as it is for alcoholics, drug abusers, or people with other behavioral health problems like compulsive gambling. The treatment goals are different for sex and love addictions—recovery means achieving a healthy love life, not a lifetime of abstinence.
Groups like S.L.A.A. are run by and for people with sex and love addictions, so you are unlikely to find a place less judgmental than these meetings. The psychological community moves slowly. It can take years for some disorders to gain official recognition, which is problematic for people seeking treatment. Insurance companies often require an official diagnosis before they agree to cover mental health treatment, so finding the right counselor—someone experienced and non-judgmental—is a challenge for many people. And that is where peer-run support groups can come in.
Groups like S.L.A.A. are run by and for people with sex and love addictions, so you are unlikely to find a place less judgmental than these meetings. In S.L.A.A. meetings, you will learn that you are not alone. You will meet people in recovery who have the experience to guide you, and you can share your story with other people. Talk therapy with a psychologist is always helpful, but support groups provide a different level of camaraderie and inspiration.
- The Augustine Fellowship, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. (2004). For the professional: information about S.L.A.A.
- Derbyshire, K. L. & Grant, J. E. (2015). Compulsive sexual behavior: a review of the literature.Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 4(2), 37–43.
- Fisher, H. E., Xu, X., Aron, A. & Brown, L. L. (2016). Intense, passionate, romantic love: a natural addiction?Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 687.
- Kor, A., Fogel, Y., Reid, R. C. & Potenza, M. N. (2013). Should hypersexual disorder be classified as an addiction?Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 20(1-2).
- The Augustine Fellowship, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. (1990). Characteristics of sex and love addiction.