People can become engrossed with their romantic pursuits or their desire for sex to such an extent that it interferes with their daily functioning. But are these two preoccupations really the same thing? New research suggests that is not the case. The findings, published in Sexual Health & Compulsivity, indicate that love addiction and sex addiction are two distinct phenomena.
Love addiction is a kind of obsession with one or more people that is “characterized by a maladaptive, pervasive and excessive love interest.” It’s not an official condition yet, and experts are still debating whether it should be recognized as one. One way to understand love addiction is through the Components Model of Addiction, which holds that it is characterized by six discrete dimensions:
- Salience: The person’s love interest is the most important thing in their life, and they think about it all the time.
- Tolerance: They need to spend more and more time with or thinking about the person they love to get the same satisfaction.
- Mood modification: Being with or thinking about the person they love makes them feel better when they’re upset or stressed.
- Relapse: They find it hard to stop spending time with or thinking about the person they love, even if they try to.
- Withdrawal: When they’re not with the person they love, they feel physical or emotional symptoms like frustration, anxiety, and nausea.
- Conflict: Their love interest interferes with other parts of their life, like work, school, or friendships.
The Love Addiction Inventory has been developed to assess the severity of love addiction symptomatology according to these six dimensions.
To better understand the commonalities and differences between love addiction and so-called “sex addiction,” the researchers had participants complete both the Love Addiction Inventory and the Hypersexual Behavior Inventory — a validated measure that assesses three aspects of hypersexuality: difficulty controlling sexual urges, using sex to cope with unpleasant emotional experiences or in response to stress, and negative consequences related to sexual behavior.
“Love addiction is a topic of growing interest, but unfortunately very little empirical research has been conducted on this condition, despite its clinical relevance,” said study author Gioele Salvatori, a clinical psychologist and sexologist affiliated with the Integrated Center of Clinical Sexology “Il Ponte” in Italy.
“My colleagues and I are trying to fill the gap in the literature, by conducting a series of studies aimed at better understanding love addiction and its characteristics. Our goal is to bring evidence-based knowledge on the matter into clinical practice, in order to make it possible to develop more effective approaches to helping those who suffer from this condition.”
The study included 497 individuals who were receiving psychological treatment for love addiction. The researchers found the people in the clinical group by asking psychotherapists who treat love addiction to recommend patients who met certain criteria. They chose only those who had at least three of the six criteria for love addiction. Then, they recruited a control group of 409 individuals who were similar in age and gender to the clinical group. To be in the study, participants had to be in a romantic relationship for at least six months.
The researchers found that those who scored high on the measure love addiction also tended to score high on the measure of hypersexuality. This was true in both the clinical group and the control group. However, despite the positive correlation, the overlap between love addiction and hypersexuality was relatively small, suggesting that they are two distinct conditions.
“In several instances, love addiction has been described as almost indistinct from sex addiction, in spite of the lack of empirical evidence supporting such an overlap between these two conditions,” Salvatori told PsyPost. “There are even therapeutic programs that treat people regardless of which of the two conditions they suffer from. Our study suggests that love addiction and sex addiction have some similarities, but for the most part can be considered as different conditions.”
The study also found that people in the clinical group reported less perceived social support, particularly from family, compared to the control group. However, the relationship between the two addictions and social support was not as strong as the researchers had expected.
“Our study is not without limitations,” Salvatori said. “In particular further research should take into consideration a wider array of variables that could influence the relationship between love and sex addiction, and highlight which factors contribute to their similarities and which to their differences.”
“Our research group is headed by Paolo Antonelli, professor at the University of Florence and author of ‘Dipendenze affettive’ a recent book on the state of the art in love addiction research and clinical practice,” Salvatori added. “If you are interested in the topic, I would also suggest you to check our previous papers, investigating the relationship between love addiction, attachment and emotion dysregulation, and with suicidal ideation.”
The study, “The Relationship Between Love Addiction and Sex Addiction and the Influence of Social Support: An Exploratory Empirical Research“, was authored by Lorenzo Borrello, Paolo Antonelli, Gioele Salvatori, and Davide Dèttore.