Friday October 24th 2014

Do sex addicts love?

Emotions and the sex addict: what is love?

“The Eskimos had fifty-two names for snow because it was important to them: there ought to be as many for love.”  Margaret Atwood

There seems to be a cliche in our culture that every sex addict is a cold-hearted sociopath devoid of caring. The truth is that sex addicts report a wide range of complex emotions, but typically haven’t learned a healthy relational model for appropriately expressing and regulating their emotions.

As it is, love is a most mysterious feeling. It is often interchanged with more technically specific feelings of longing, preoccupation, attraction, affinity, appreciation, validation, comfort, commitment, and security. When we speak of love, it is very easy to get lost among assumptions and projections. This is because, perhaps more than any other emotion, love means something different to everyone. Love will even mean something different to the same person at different times.

Even non-addicts may occasionally find themselves questioning the nature, reality, and consequence of love in their lives. Such confusion might be traced to conflicting information that is perpetuated about sex and love around the world. We don’t have to look very far to find strange and distorted concepts about the true nature of sex and love in any culture.

Sex addicts and expressions of love

Often sex addicts first get into treatment to save a relationship (sex addiction and marriage are rarely compatible). In treatment, sex addicts who relate with any of the 10 types of sex addiction do report feelings of love. While it might seem that the reasons for cheating are to get out of a relationship, most sex addicts I’ve met do not want to get out of their primary relationship. They express genuine love for their partner, whatever that looks like.

At the same time, sex addicts will sometimes express momentary feelings of love for prostitutes and other acting out partners. Contrary to all these feelings, there can be a complete avoidance of love in any relationship. This raises many questions, with no easy answers. How can the sex addict feel love and yet show such lack of caring through their actions? Are sex addicts deceptive or truthful when they say they love?

A sex addict typically sexualizes situations and tries to manipulate outcomes. The sex addict brain will use people, places and things to escape reality. This is not an honest and transparent way to interact. Some addicts might even think they’re being honest, might think they love, but they might be in denial and might not actually know that they’re being deceptive. Others might experience a clear awareness that they are being deceptive when proclaiming their love, but they too might be in denial and might be avoiding true feelings of love.

An addict is emotionally unavailable

If there is one trait that applies to all sex addicts, and all types of addicts, it is emotional unavailability. What does this mean?

All addictions serve to numb overwhelming feelings of stress and trauma through substance abuse. In the case of sex addiction, addicts will compulsively substitute pornography, prostitutes, binge sex, stalking, obsessing for appropriate feeling and relating. Feeling and relating are two aspects of intimacy. In fact, sex addiction is often referred to as an intimacy disorder. Intimacy is related to the verb “to intimate”: to make known. Sex addicts are usually incapable of making themselves truly known as they often lack the tools for healthy self-knowledge.

Why?

Most addicts have suffered trauma – either in childhood through early neglect or abuse, or later on in life through a pivotal traumatic event. When such events have not healed, we refer to this as unprocessed trauma. It’s possible that the love experienced between an addict and co-addict might more aptly be described as a form of trauma bonding.

Early childhood attachment patterns

There are four basic attachment patterns that are imprinted during infancy. These are secure, insecure-ambivalent, insecure-avoidant and disorganized/disoriented. Secure attachment is established when the primary caretaker is able to relate appropriately with the child by sharing love and affection, responding to the child’s needs in a timely manner, setting healthy boundaries that support the psychological growth of the child, and repairing any disruptions to these interactions. Repairing is one of the most important stages for secure attachment and will impart a healthy model for how to repair difficulties in any relationship with tools for handling stress and trauma.

Without a significant psychological event establishing a new pattern, these four infancy attachment patterns will develop into the following four adult attachment patterns:

  1. Secure Attachment – A relational pattern typified by the capacity for healthy intimacy.
  2. Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment – A relational pattern typified by a general need for enmeshment at the expense of intimacy.
  3. Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment – A relational pattern typified by a general need for independence at the expense of intimacy.
  4. Fearful-Avoidant Attachment – A relational pattern typified by a general need for self-protection at the expense of intimacy.

Secure attachment and intimacy is possible

Through therapeutic treatment and/or recovery in support groups and 12-Step programs, sex addicts learn new patterns of secure attachment implicitly modeled for them by therapists, support groups, and sponsors. In therapy, this is called Empathic Attunement, the capacity to connect, resonate and calibrate with a client’s state of being for the purpose of developing relational intimacy as a continuous and dynamic process.

Creating secure patterns of attachment is a slow process that actually changes the neural pathways of the sex addict’s brain that were established over a lifetime. To use a simile, it is like re-routing a nation’s transport infrastructure to reach a remote island – and the remote island is healthy love. Healthy love is a place that is not accessible to the sex addict, but it resides inside all of us. With the help of a higher power (higher than the sex addict’s own overpowering addiction – be it therapist, support group, or sponsor,) the sex addict can develop reliable tools to locate and develop true healthy love.

Questions about sex addiction and love

Do you have questions about sex addiction and love? Do you want to bring some light to your own personal experience as a sex addict? Please leave your questions, comments and feedback here. We do our best to respond to all comments with a personal and prompt reply ASAP.

Leave a Reply

11 Responses to “Do sex addicts love?
Anthony R.
1:32 pm August 30th, 2012

I agree that sexually addiction has the power to overcome one’s ability to love. I further agree that we can regain that ability to love somebody selflessly when we turn to Christ -I’m Christian- and ask Him to help remove that burden from us, and then put in the work that we have to.

I have a blog about my recovery from sexual addiction from a spiritually-based approach. You can check it out at pasgonline[dot]blogspot[dot]com. PASG stands for Pornography Addiction Support Group.

Lisa
6:57 pm February 7th, 2013

I was in a relationship with with a sex addict….I always felt something was “off” but thought it was my insecurity. We went from romantic/sexual partners to friends….no type of sex what so ever. He married someone else but I always felt that he loved me….is that possible? his addiction came to light after he was married….he confessed to me that i was “one of the things he obsessed about.” I wondered if that began as a genuine feeling of affection toward me?

8:29 am February 9th, 2013

Hi Lisa. It’s natural to wonder whether or not former lover experienced deep feelings of love for you. But seeing how things have ended, it might be better to just move on rather than torture yourself with these questions.

Lars
9:58 am March 21st, 2013

I have just gotten out of a 3 year relationship with a SA. Through the entire relationship I always knew something was wrong and when I approached her about it she would lie emphatically. She lied all the way to the end – and it was only through a mutual friend that I discovered how active she had been. In 3 years there must have been dozens. She is an extremely beautiful girl, which enables her to easily act out. She has had breast enhancements and a nose job. I was very upset when she did these things because I could tell that she had little to no self-esteem. She keeps telling me that she’s fat – although she has a perfect body – and I believe that she may develop an eating disorder. In fact, I believe that she may continue down the road of self-loathing and wind up as a prostitute. She fills the holes in her heart with designer bags, shoes, etc – and without access to my money (she does not work) I believe she may turn to prostitution.

When we broke up I found that she had already entered into a relationship with someone else. I felt like she had just been using me over the years and when I became inconvenient that she just jumped ship to make it easier on herself. I wondered – and still do – if she ever loved me. When we broke up, she called me up crying and told me that everything was her fault, that I was the only man that had ever cared for her. But she still lied about her relationship with her new boyfriend and about the 3 years of infidelities when I asked her.

I find myself going through previous lies, when my gut knew something was wrong and I can’t believe I didn’t listen to myself. I would pack her bags and throw her out – but she would bang on the door for hours until I let her in. She would dilute the truth into a lie that seemed like it was less of an offense and beg forgiveness. I would forgive her and she would do it again. I guess that seems pretty codependent – huh?

I have contacted her once since I last saw her. After our mutual friend told me what had happened I was so angry – I wanted to hurt her back. I IM’d her and told her that I knew what she had done and that I was happy that she was out of my life. She wrote back and told me that it wasn’t true and that she didn’t care what I thought anymore. I gave her specific examples so she would know that I knew. I told her I never wanted to see her again and then she blocked me. I often wonder if she’ll be back in touch or if she’ll just try to forget me. At least I would know that she cared if she tried to contact me again.

I have been really confused about why I allowed things to go on so long when I knew deep inside that something was severely wrong. I have gone to a doctor and had an STD test – negative thank god! The feeling of betrayal is like nothing I have ever known. I want to forget this person and move on. I want to be able to recognize the signs early so I can avoid this type of person in the future. I need to address this issue of co-dependence – but I live overseas in Asia and there is not exactly much psychotherapy available here. Are there any books that I can read to help?

Since researching this, I have come closer to finding peace. Maybe she loved me – but I don’t think you can really love anyone if you hate yourself. Maybe she cared about me – but the way in which she manipulated me makes me doubt it. I think she’ll just move on from man to man until I’m just a distant memory that can’t hurt her anymore.

After reading about various people’s experiences I feel exceedingly fortunate that I did not marry this person. I had it in my mind – but I realize that I had fallen in love with an idea rather than a person. I need to move on. It’s not my fault and I showed her as much love and caring as I could. She was just too broken inside to know how to deal with it.

Kassi
4:56 am October 22nd, 2013

lars I wouldn’t waste another thought on her and your right she is broken inside

Aaron
2:26 pm December 8th, 2013

I am a sex addict. I have had many several-month to several-year relationships with women, including one marriage and several instances of living together. The common thing in all of these relationships was the sense of entitlement the women had to “love”. For all of them “love” was shortand for me tolerating behavior that I would not tolerate otherwise. Endless boring conversation. Demands that I agree with them, or tell them they are right when they aren’t. Letting them scream or cry or act in otherwise childish ways. Of course, provide them with financial support. Tell them they are the most beautiful person in the world. Tell them I will “love” them “forever” so they can feel secure about the future. Tell them once I met them, my sexual attraction for other women faded, because they are just that amazing. I have come to the conclusion that the vast majority of “love” is simply a mutual agreement to lie to each other so you can hide from reality. All the rituals associated with love are about escaping from the simple truth that we are each utterly alone in our own heads with our own thoughts. So much of addiction counselling is about addicts readjusting to depending on this system of mutual lies again, rather than addiction, which finds a way to temporarily accept this solitude rather than create a web of lies to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Lulu
6:29 am February 23rd, 2014

Aaron, is all of that true? Are sex addicts incapable of true love? Am I to believe that everything that has been told to me, which is very much what you said, all lies? Please enlighten me. I’m not judging you in any way. I just want to understand.

Kate
1:43 pm March 19th, 2014

To Lars

If you ever read this- I had exactly the same experience except for 6 years. He cheated on me for 2 with casual people, then met someone he liked more and saw regularly. We were finished exactly 3 months after she appeared. I did everything you did. He lied emphatically like she did. We had great times and great intercourse. I was truly happy. I stayed miserable and in denial just hoping that the old man I knew would re-appear. I’m still trying to accept the relationship is over. He still gets this seedy, sordid intercourse out of me as I miss him so much. But every time I see him, I feel terrible. He ignores me, is rude and snaps at me and doesn’t even treat me like a human being. He’s manipulated me and character assassinated me to his friends that he never let me meet. It was when I exposed him that he flicked a switch. He shut me down. I am so damaged and the road back is hard. He took advantage of me financially too.

Sonya
4:56 pm May 28th, 2014

My boyfriend of 18 months and I just broke up last week because I caught him telling other women he wanted to kiss their feet and that he fantasizes about them sexually. I have seen, although minimally, the side of him where he truly expresses love for me. He says he does not want to hurt me. I know he doesn’t want to continue to hurt me so he pushes me away. I just want to work through this even though I know it would be a long road. Especially since I was married to a sex addict before. I have been researching it and trying to understand my role in it. Should I just move on? It is obviously a pattern I have so even if I move on I will more than likely just meet another addict. I would rather stay with the man I love and work through it than keep repeating patterns. Any thoughts

8:28 am May 29th, 2014

Hello Sonya. You may want to talk this out with a certified psychologist who is trained in sex addictions/compulsion. Sex addicts experience issues with intimacy, and if you notice a pattern in who you’re attracted to, you may want to address this. But ultimately, you have the answers to your own questions inside of you. You may need some guidance in bringing these answers to light.

Jennifer
6:46 am July 29th, 2014

I almost married a sex addict. I “discovered” him about four months ago. He said he would stop and then I caught him again and again. It was mostly internet related (web cam porn $, dating sites, masturbation chat room sites, social media flirting, texting other woman, Skype, and FaceTime). We finally sat down and made the decision to end our relationship due to his compulsive behavior. It all just became too much for either of us to handle. He called me and told me that he admit’s he’s a sex addict, went to the doctor and has got on antidepressants, and has started one on one therapy with a professional psychotherapist. We made the decision not to speak for a few months so we can both heal independently. Am I crazy to have a glimmer of hope that him and I ever have a fighting chance again? I don’t even know why I would put myself in that situation again, however I almost married him and I still love him deeply. I don’t want anyone else but him. Should I take it as I “dodged a bullet? ” or do I take it as he’s getting the help he needs and there is hope for a happy, healthy future? Please advise.

Leave a Reply

About Alexandra Katehakis, MFT

Alexandra Katehakis, MFT is a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist/Supervisor, AASECT Certified Sex Therapist/Supervisor, and Clinical Director of the Center for Healthy Sex in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of Erotic Intelligence: Igniting Hot Healthy Sex After Recovery From Sex Addiction. Please visit our website or contact (310) 843-9902 for more.