Sex compulsion



Sex and love addiction is believed to be a progressive illness which cannot be cured but which, like many illnesses, can be arrested. It may take several forms. Including (but not limited to) a compulsive need for sex, extreme dependency on one person (or many), and/or a chronic preoccupation with romance, intrigue or fantasy.

Sex and love addiction may also take the form of a compulsive avoidance of giving or receiving social, sexual, or emotional nourishment. This avoidance of intimacy is known as anorexia. Obsessive compulsive patterns exist in which relationships or sexual activities have become increasingly destructive to career, family and sense of self-respect. Sex and love addiction leads to ever worsening consequences if it continues unchecked. The reality of having this addiction must be identified and accepted and the notion that it can be controlled alone successfully on the basis of will must be surrendered. Admitting personal powerlessness over this affliction, results in cessation of addictive behaviour. In S.A. Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (S.L.A.A.) recommends that sex and love addicts turn to guidance from a Power greater than themselves, make restitution for harm done to others, and reconstruct their lives physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

How can someone tell who is a sex and love addict?

Only the individual can tell if he or she is physically, mentally, or emotionally addicted to sex and/or love. Going to several meetings will allow them to tell if they can identify with other sex and love addicts. Answering their 40 Questions for Self Diagnosis will help to evaluate sexual activities, romantic behaviour, emotional involvements and avoidance behaviour.

Psychological perspective

Love addicts are characteristically familiar with desperate hopes and seemingly unending fears. Fearing rejection, pain, unfamiliar experiences, and having little faith in their ability or right to inspire love, they wait, wish, and hope for love, perhaps their least familiar experience.

Addictive sexuality is like most other compulsive behaviours: a potentially destructive twist on a normal life-enhancing activity. Defining sex addiction depends less on the behaviour itself than on the person's motivation.

Sex addicts display a lack of the ability to control or postpone sexual feelings and actions. The need for arousal often replaces the need for intimacy. Eventually, thrill seeking becomes more important than family, career, even personal health and safety.

As sexual preoccupation increases in terms of energy and time, the sex addict follows a routine or ritual leading to acting out on desires which is then followed by feelings of denial then shame, despair and confusion.

It may be helpful to examine the definition of addiction more closely. Addiction is characterized by the repeated, compulsive seeking or use of a substance or activity despite adverse social, psychological and/or physical consequences. Addiction is often (but not always) accompanied by physical dependence, a withdrawal syndrome and tolerance. According to S.L.A.A., physical dependence is defined as a physiological state of adaptation to a substance, the absence of which produces symptoms and signs of withdrawal.

Withdrawal syndrome consists of a predictable group of signs and symptoms resulting from abrupt removal of, or a rapid decrease in the regular dosage of, a psychoactive substance or activity; the syndrome is often characterized by over activity of the physiologic functions that were suppressed by the drug and/or depression of the functions that were stimulated by the object of addiction.

Tolerance is a state in which a drug or activity produces a diminishing biologic or behavioural response; in other words, higher doses or in the case of sex addicts, riskier behaviour is needed to produce the same effect that the user experienced initially.


For love addicts, love:

  • Is all consuming and obsessive
  • Is inhibited
  • Avoids risk or change
  • Lacks true intimacy
  • Is manipulative, strikes deals
  • Is dependent and parasitic
  • Demands the loved one's devotion

Sexual addictions usually are revealed in stages:

  • Preoccupation: continual fantasies about sexual prospects or situations. This can trigger an episode of sexual "acting-out"
  • Ritualization: a preferred sexual activity or situation is often stereotyped and repetitive
  • Compulsion: continual engagement in sexual activity despite negative consequences and desire to stop
  • Despair: guilt or shame over their inability to control behaviour or feel remorse
  • Other behavioural problems, particularly chemical dependency and eating disorders


In the case of love addicts, often their own growth and development were thwarted earlier in life. Similarly, many sex addicts report some form of abuse or neglect as children and frequently see themselves as diminished or damaged in the process. Their parents are often sex addicts themselves.

Stress also plays a part in fuelling compulsive sexual behaviour by feeding the addict's need for withdrawal and fantasy.

Levels of phenylethylamine (PEA) a chemical in the brain involved in the euphoria that comes with falling in love rise with feelings of infatuation, boosting euphoria and excitement.

Love and sex addicts, may simply be dependent upon the physical and psychological arousal triggered by PEA and stress-related neurotransmitters.


If you discover you are in an addictive relationship, you may want to seek professional assistance. Specialized counselling is available for those dealing directly or indirectly with this form of addiction.

Overcoming sexual compulsivity and addiction starts with recognizing that you are out of control sexually. Getting to that point requires taking a hard look at yourself and the problems emotional, physical, or financial caused by your sexual behaviour.

Treatment should probably involve at least some of the following:

  • A commitment to abstinence
  • Rebuilding relationships
  • Managing stress
  • Self-help

Some treatment for sex addicts follows the format employed by alcoholics. This model views addicts as individuals chronically addicted to a behaviour in spite of their attempts to change. They are in a vicious cycle of use, self-judgment, and avoidance that is repeated time and again. The model focuses on three elements of the cycle:

  • Use of sex
  • Self-judgment
  • Avoidance behaviours

The approach to counselling is strongly based on 12-step models.

The three elements of the addictive cycle are impacted by a process created by using:

  • A therapeutic environment
  • A thorough assessment
  • A group process
  • Education
  • Self/peer assessment

All five items are incorporated into a therapeutic process, which begins with the first contact.

The creation of an environment that supports the therapeutic process is essential to this approach. Clients must be provided with an opportunity to explore their self-judgments without fear of the judgment of others. They must feel they are listened to with empathy and respect. In earlier models of this approach, the counsellor was the only one who possessed so-called counsellor characteristics. Although this element is still critical, it now applies to the whole multidisciplinary team, a staff of professionals who are naturally therapeutic. Such teams can be found by contacting S.L.A.A.

The counsellor conducts an initial assessment, identifies the presenting problem, and, if indicated, schedules the client for treatment.

A thorough psychosocial assessment is conducted, and identified blocks to treatment or problems are noted. The counsellor begins the bonding with the client during the assessment process. All counselling skills come into play. The counsellor then prepares a therapeutic or treatment plan (i.e., the change model) to help the client deal with those identified problems or blocks that will prevent response to the treatment process.

The client follows a simple change model that closely aligns with the 12 steps of NA and AA.

40 Questions for Self Diagnosis excerpted from 1985 S.L.A.A. The following questions are designed to be used as guidelines to identifying possible signposts of sex and love addiction. They are not intended to provide a sure-fire method of diagnosis, nor can negative answers to these questions provide absolute assurance that the illness is not present. Many sex and love addicts have varying patterns that can result in very different ways of approaching and answering these questions. Despite this fact, short, to-the-point questions have often provided an effective a tool for self-diagnosis as have lengthy explanations of what sex and love addiction is. Diagnosis of sex and love addiction is a matter that needs to be both very serious and very private. These questions will prove helpful.

What is sobriety in sex and love addiction?

Sobriety is the return of choice, sanity, and personal dignity which comes from surrender to sex and love addiction, followed by involvement with S.L.A.A.'s Twelve Step Program of recovery. There are no absolutes for sobriety in S.L.A.A. as individual patterns of sex and love addiction vary. However, each SLAA identifies for him/herself major addictive behaviour which is personally relevant, and becomes "sober" by abstaining from this behaviour on a daily basis.

How can I tell if I am a sex and love addict?

Only you can tell if you are physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually addicted to sex and/or love. Going to several meetings will tell you if you can identify with other sex and love addicts. Obtaining the pamphlet Sex and Love Addiction: 40 Questions for Self-Diagnosis will help you evaluate your sexual activities, romantic behaviour, and emotional involvements.

What is acting out?

Acting out is becoming involved (or re-involved) with addictive "bottom line" behaviour. Addictive indulgence is hall marked by loss of control over rate, frequency, or duration of bottom line behaviour. This loss of control always leads to negative self-destructive consequences which, over time, continue to worsen. Acting out patterns, and therefore "bottom line" behaviour, can differ markedly among individual sex and love addicts. This acting out behaviour can run the range from obvious promiscuity involving countless individuals, to solitary acts such as compulsive masturbation, voyeurism, and exhibitionism, to obsessive commitments to fantasy and romantic intrigue.

It may include hyper dependency problems involving one (or many) individuals. Some acting out patterns can involve all of the above, but more often a "bottom line" acting out scenario highlights one or two major areas.

Characteristics of sex and love addiction

  • Having few healthy boundaries, SLAAs become sexually involved with and/or emotionally attached to people without knowing them.
  • Fearing abandonment and loneliness, SLAAs stay in and return to painful, destructive relationships, concealing our dependency needs from ourselves and others, growing more isolated and alienated from friends and loved ones, ourselves, and God.
  • Fearing emotional and or sexual deprivation, SLAAs compulsively pursue and involve ourselves in one relationship after another, sometimes having more than one sexual or emotional liaison at a time.
  • SLAAs confuse love with neediness, physical and sexual attraction, pity and/or the need to rescue or to be rescued.
  • They feel empty and incomplete when they are alone. Even though we fear intimacy and commitment, they continually search for relationships and sexual contacts.
  • SLAAs sexualize stress, guilt, loneliness, anger, shame, fear and envy. They use sex or emotional dependence as substitute for nurturing, care, and support.
  • They use sex and emotional involvement to manipulate and control others.
  • They become immobilized or seriously distracted by romantic or sexual obsession or fantasies
  • SLAAs avoid responsibility for themselves by attaching to people who are emotionally unavailable.
  • They stay enslaved to emotional dependency, romantic intrigue, or compulsive sexual activities.
  • To avoid feeling vulnerable, SLAAs may retreat from all intimate involvement, mistaking sexual and emotional anorexia for recovery.
  • They assign magical qualities to others. SLAAs idealize and pursue them, then blame them for not fulfilling their fantasies and expectations.

What is a sponsor?

A sponsor is a person who gives us individual support and guidance in applying the S.L.A.A. Twelve Step Program of recovery to our lives. A sponsor is neither a parent, a therapist, nor a confessor. Accordingly, a sponsor is a person with whom SLAAs have no ulterior motive, whom they do not pay, and from whom they seek neither absolution nor judgment. Their sponsor is, in fact, a fellow addict. As such, a sponsor does not counsel from a pretence of higher moral ground. Sponsors are not "perfect" people working "perfect" programs. Sponsors are human, too, with struggles and confusion, just as anyone else in the Fellowship. Indeed, seeing the imperfections in our sponsors helps relieve them of their own compulsion to be perfect.

The beginning of the sponsor/sponsee relationship

Recovery rarely is accomplished in isolation. When SLAAs incorporate the experience of others into their lives, they begin to experience a broader view of life and recovery. With an S.L.A.A. sponsor, they learn to become honest and open, asking for love, support, and guidance in their lives. Through the patience and understanding of their sponsor, their fears of condemnation and shame slowly fade. Gradually they become more able to be vulnerable and open with their sponsor. This increase in trust allows them to more fully benefit from another's help. From the attention and acceptance they receive, they begin to fold that acceptance into their inner selves, which promotes their healing.

With their sponsor, SLAAs begin to address recurring problems. Their sponsor helps guide them through the rough passages many of them experience as a result of letting go of their addiction. They explore options which had previously not occurred to them. A sponsor shares his or her own experience and feelings from having been in situations similar to theirs, taking care not to give advice. By listening, a sponsor supports the sponsee without trying to "fix", and offers understanding without judgment.

How is a sponsor selected?

A sponsor ideally has solid abstinence from his/her addictive patterns and is willing to guide the sponsee through the Twelve Steps. SLAAs look for someone who has found sobriety, freedom, or joy through the Twelve Steps and who understands the process of S.L.A.A. recovery. Perhaps his/her qualities or character assets seem to complement their current phase of spiritual growth. A prospective sponsor's time in the Program, i.e., months or years, is only one of the criteria that can be used to select a sponsor. They attend a variety of meetings in order to identify certain individuals in the Fellowship whom they come to know and respect.

Criteria that are used to select a sponsor include

  • Will this person be honest with them and point out their areas of denial?
  • Can they trust him/her with their secrets?
  • Are they comfortable with this person?
  • Does he/she listen attentively to them?
  • Can this person discuss his/her own experience rather than give advice?
  • Is he/she willing to work with their "bottom line" issues?
  • Does he/she also have a sponsor?
  • Does this person's level of spirituality complement theirs?
  • How is this person working the Steps?
  • How much time can he/she give them on the phone? In person?
  • Do their schedules fit in well?

Ideally, the prospective sponsor has a sponsor of his/her own. As in much of the recovery process, identification with others is paramount. A sponsor who has been sponsored him/herself will be more likely to relate to them. They are reassured when the person whom they choose for guidance is seeking guidance as well.

A sponsor should be a person that they are not in danger of acting out with, or are likely to find intrigue with. A potential sexual partner as sponsor would interfere with the primary purpose of the sponsor relationship, which is recovery through the program of S.L.A.A. Sometimes this means that the sponsor and sponsee should be of the same sex: sometimes of the opposite sex. Discretion, common sense, and their Higher Power or God can guide them in their selection process.

Once they have obtained a sponsor, they commit themselves to maintaining regular contact with that person. The frequency of contact is determined jointly by the sponsor and sponsee - as they each become familiar with their individual needs and boundaries. Sometimes a person they ask to be their sponsor declines. Although disappointed, they need to remember that this is not a personal rejection. Rather, this person may simply be unavailable to them at this time for any number of reasons. It then requires only that they continue to pray for guidance, "do the footwork" and ask another.

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