Escape from Intimacy: Untangling the ``Love'' Addictions: Sex, Romance, Relationships

Escape from Intimacy: Untangling the ``Love'' Addictions: Sex, Romance, Relationships

by Anne Wilson Schaef

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Schaef applies the addictions of sex, love, romance, and relationships to her broader addiction theory and clearly defines and contrasts the relationship addictions.


Schaef applies the addictions of sex, love, romance, and relationships to her broader addiction theory and clearly defines and contrasts the relationship addictions.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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1. Sexual Addiction

As I said earlier, there is an emerging awareness of sexual addiction and the destructive effects it has on the addict and on the object of a sexual addiction. The giant step we have taken in seeing and labeling sexual obsession as addiction is important for several reasons. First, addiction is a more accurate definition of sexual behaviors than are the purely psychological definitions. Second, the addiction model offers us the possibility of understanding a range of sexual behaviors that have been subtly integrated into the society as normal yet not clearly discussed and understood. Third, this approach offers us the opportunity of understanding the societal components of sexual addiction and the "commonness" of sexual addiction. Fourth, it offers hope and the possibility of recovery. Finally, this perspective allows us the possibility of understanding that sexual addicts are human beings who are hurting, who have a progressive, fatal disease that can wreak havoc on others and often does.

Characteristics of Sexual Addiction

As we often see when we are trying to understand an old phenomenon from a new perspective, there are a range of definitions of sexual addictions. I believe that this diversity of definitions is important and adds to our knowledge and understanding. At this point in the development of our knowledge, there is no need to have one, clear succinct definition on which we can all agree.

Patrick Carnes says, "The addict substitutes a sick relationship to an event or process for a healthy relationship with others. The addict's relationship with a mood-altering 'experience' becomes central to hislife."'

Charlotte Eliza Kasl says, "Addiction is, essentially, a spiritual breakdown, a journey away from the truth into emotional blindness and death." Further, "I believe the epidemic proportions of sexual addiction and co-addiction in this culture reflect the spiritual breakdown of patriarchy which is based on the exploitation of all women." She goes on to say, "Sexual addiction is about more than relationships or pairing. It is a state of mind and a set of beliefs that can exist separately from other people. It is a relationship with oneself."'

Both these writers' definitions emphasize important aspects of a sexual addiction. Sexual addiction, like any other addiction, is mood altering. It affects the individual like any mood-altering drug. Sexual obsession becomes a "fix," and addicts get their "high" from the sexual fix.

Addicts become progressively more preoccupied with the sexual "fix" until it becomes central to their lives. As the disease progresses, the sexual obsession takes more control of the person's life, and more and more time and energy need to be spent in the sexual activity in order for the addict to get the same high.

In sexual addiction, as in all other addictions, there is a loss of spirituality and a breakdown of the addict's own personal morality. There is a progressive movement away from truth. As with any other addiction, the addict moves away from reality and toward the state of "insanity." Any addict becomes progressively "insane." As the thinking and the behavior of an addict moves further and further away from reality, thinking processes become impaired. This impaired thinking process is based upon faulty beliefs, confusion, distortion, justification, and illusion, and it moves sexual addicts still further from reality and from their own value system.

Sexual addiction is a progressive disease and as I will show later, results in destruction and early death for addicts and often those with whom they are involved. Sexual addiction is of epidemic proportions in this society and is integrated into the addictiveness of the society as a whole. No treatment of sexual addiction can be -complete unless it explores the role of the society and the institutions of the society.

Sexual addiction exists within the individual and is different from romance addiction and relationship addiction. These addictions may interest and overlap and still they are not the same. I believe that it is imperative to understand these addictions separately as well as in relation to one another.

I believe that sexual addiction is an obsession and preoccupation with sex, in which everything is defined sexually or by its sexuality and all perceptions and relationships are sexualized. It is progressive and fatal. In all its forms, sexual addiction is destructive to the self, to others, and to relationships. Sexual addiction is a source of pain, confusion, and fear for the addict and also for those with whom the addict attempts to relate. Like all other addicts, sexual addicts become progressively dishonest, self-centered, isolated, fearful, confused, devoid of feelings, dualistic, controlling, perfectionistic, blinded to their disease (denial), insane, blaming (projection), and dysfunctional. In short, their lives become progressively unmanageable.

Sexual addiction, like all other addictions, is one expression of an underlying addictive process that has many forms of expression. As I stated earlier, we all have been exposed to and trained in the addictive process. Note that we have been trained in the addictive process; it is not core to our being. It is not who we are; it is what we have learned to be to fit into an addictive society. If we confront sexual addiction for what it is — an addiction — recovery is possible.

Sexual addiction is a hidden addiction; I have found more willingness to confront almost any other addiction. Sexual addiction carries a particularly large component of shame and denial with it. Paradoxically, it is also one of the addictions that is most integrated into our society as "normal."

It is only as the courageous persons with this addiction have come forth and named their addiction that we have been able to see the pervasiveness of this disease and the extent of the pain and suffering associated with it. Labeling this addiction a psychological illness allowed it to stay hidden. That process "protected the supply." Only as sexual addicts themselves have identified their addiction have we come to understand this progressive, fatal disease for what it is.

Much attention has been given recently to the acting-out aspects of sexual addiction (which, in itself, may be a form of sexual addiction called voyeurism). I plan to explore the full range of sexual addictions and the relation of sexual addiction to the institutions of our society and to our society as a whole...

Meet the Author

Anne Wilson Schaef, Ph.D., is the bestselling author of Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much, Women's Reality, and Co-Dependence, among others. Schaef specializes in work with women's issues and addictions and has developed her own approach to healing which she calls Living in Process. Her focus now is helping people, societies, and the planet make a paradigm shift.

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