If you've been attending 12 Steps meetings for sex addiction, you may have been struck by the remarkable range of sexual behaviors that people struggle with. If your sex addiction involves "normal" behaviors, you may wonder whether you belong in the same meeting with sex addicts whose addiction involves seemingly bizarre desires and activities. The answer appears to be yes. Research shows that all sex addicts share a great deal in common regardless of whether their sexual interests are "normal" or paraphilic. Most importantly, all sex addicts struggle to control intense, repetitive sexual thoughts and urges. Stressful circumstances and negative moods tend to increase the intensity of those thoughts and urges. Moreover, whatever specific interests a sex addict has, use of pornography and excessive masturbation tend to be present.
No doubt, you've also heard the term "sex offender." Technically, this term can be used to refer to anyone who has engaged in sexual behavior that is illegal. However, this label is generally applied to people who have committed serious sex crimes such as rape and child molestation rather than to individuals who may have gone to a prostitute or had consensual sex in a semipublic place.
I defined sex addiction in the last newsletter. So, now, I've covered three terms -- sex addiction, paraphilia, and sex offender. How do these three categories relate to one another? As I've illustrated in the diagram below, a given individual could fall into one, two, or all three of these categories. A person who has raped an adult but whose sexual desires and behaviors are not compulsive or bizarre is a sex offender, but he is not a sex addict, nor does he have paraphilic interests. A man who watches adult pornography many hours every day and masturbates compulsively is a sex addict, but he is not a sex offender and he may not have any paraphilic interests. An individual who is sexually aroused by and obsessed with other peoples' feet and shoes is a sex addict and has a paraphilia. If this person begins stalking others and stealing their shoes, he is also a sex offender.
One last term: Love Addiction. All of us have experienced infatuation. It's the euphoria of being in love. If that special person reciprocates, all is bliss. If our feelings are unrequited, we experience agony. Such passionate romantic attachment has been present throughout history and across cultures. It's highly adaptive when it causes us to bond with a long-term mate. Anthropologists tell us that most people experience such a passionate romantic attachment three to five times during our lives. The idea behind love addiction is that some people may experience such romantic attachments to new people countless times throughout the course of their lives. In these cases, rather than cementing a marital bond, infatuation continues to shift from one person to another -- even though the love addict may be married or the object of his/her affection may be inappropriate for other reasons, e.g., the addict's boss or the boss's spouse.
Love addiction is quite different from sex addiction. Love addiction is about emotional attachment whereas sex addiction is about sexual gratification. The infatuation that characterizes love addiction is focused on a particular individual, but the sexual desires of a sex addict can be gratified by innumerable people.
As I mentioned in the last newsletter, relatively little scientific research has been conducted on sex addiction. I'll talk more about that in the future. Virtually no scientific research exists on love addiction.
In the last issue as well as the current issue of The "S" Newsletter, I've defined basic terms that you are likely to encounter. In next month's issue, I will turn to research. However, I'll present findings from available research on the spouses and partners of sex addicts. Do spouses of sex addicts exhibit their own pathology?