Hooked On Love: Developing An Addiction To Sex As our series on addiction continues, we focus on sex and love dependencies. There's still a lot of skepticism surrounding whether or not people can be addicted to love. But Farai Chideya gets insight from two authors who specialize in the topic.
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Hooked On Love: Developing An Addiction To Sex

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Hooked On Love: Developing An Addiction To Sex

Hooked On Love: Developing An Addiction To Sex

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is News and Notes, I'm Farai Chideya. In the 1980s, the hit group Wham said, and I am dating myself here. Sex is natural, sex is fun, sex is best when it's one on one. All right, I got to apologize for that flashback. But it leads us to a serious issue, sex and love addiction.

There's still a lot of skepticism surrounding whether or not people can be addicted to sex, or addicted to love. But we've got a couple of folks with us who can help explain. Rachel Resnick wrote "Love Junkie", a memoir documenting her own struggle with love addiction.

And Kelly McDaniel is a counselor specializing in sex and love addiction. She also wrote the book "Ready to Heal". Kelly and Rachel, how you doing?

Ms. RACHEL RESNICK (Author, "Love Junkie"): Great, so great to be here. Thanks.

Ms. KELLY MCDANIEL (Author, "Ready to Heal"): Good to be here. Thank you.

CHIDEYA: So, you wrote about life as a love addict in your memoir, Rachel. You say love addict's latch onto partners and suck each other dry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: As some people would say, that's just being needy or co-dependent, so, you know, how can you define a love addiction?

Ms. RESNICK: Well, it's a really good question. I know Kelly's going to be able to explain this a bit more, but part of it is if you buy into the whole concept that there is such a thing as addiction.

And then there are two different types as far as I know, which is, you know, you have substance addiction, which is pretty obvious for shooting up in your arm, there's cocaine, meth, et cetera. But there are also process addictions. And it seems to me or nothing of not, an addicted culture.

And what it means, and what I experienced was that you realize you're using love, and you're getting high of it. It's not really about the other person, it's also not really about you living your life.

CHIDEYA: Give me an example of when you felt like your life was out of control, because of how you dealt with love.

Ms. RESNICK: Well, one component of being a love addict, love junkie, seems to be a lot of obsessive and compulsive kinds of behavior. And there was a period of time, a 48-hour period, where I wrote 64 e-mails to a man I was involved with.

But I felt that I didn't have time to do my own writing. So you can also go into this warp zone. You don't even realize what you're doing.

CHIDEYA: Kelly, is - you know, is that a hallmark for you of love addiction? I mean there's so many things that come to mind here. There's the question of whether or not this falls under what you consider addiction. There's a question of whether or not this falls under what you consider love, versus other kinds of appropriate or inappropriate behavior. What do you hear, when you hear Rachel talking about this.

Ms. MCDANIEL: Well, you're asking good questions and Rachel brings up great example of love addiction common dilemma, which is a loss of time, a loss of really reality, while being transformed, almost into a trance-like state, hypnotic effects of what we'll really call arousal. You bring up a point, is this love? Well, no. It isn't. But in our culture, we have certain names that are kind of appropriate for this behavior, and one of them is love, especially for women. It's really shameful for women to look at this as a sex addiction.

Some woman have been calling it, or been more comfortable with the term love addiction. What it's really about is a neuro-chemical brain process that is arousal. And when arousal sets in, a trance-like state sets in that feels so good, takes you out of reality, away from pain, and you can lose much time without even realizing it.

CHIDEYA: Rachel, did you feel like this was an escape mechanism.

Ms. RESNICK: Well, I'm so excited just to be on the show, and also have Kelly here, because in her book "Ready to Heal," which was really enlightening for me, once I felt that I had an addiction, and for me naming it an addiction was kind of like a key to opening a door to perception. I was not able to see or feel that I was getting a chemical rush from certain dangerous, unavailable people. And once I walked into a room of group of people who suffered from similar issue, I then - you know, I couldn't go back. I then, could tell.

When there were people who were going to set this pattern in motion, I think part of what's really important - couple of things, it seems to me that there's trauma that is part of the origin of this kind of addiction - and I know Kelly can speak to that - that actually alters your brain chemistry, if you don't have a certain kind of attachment happening with your parents.

And in all the groups, in all the readings and everything I've done, I certainly have them in my background, boy, have I heard it from other people, so I think that's an interesting thing factor in, because there does seem to be a neuro-chemical aspect to it.

CHIDEYA: So, you were looking to fill in the blanks for things that you felt you didn't get as a child. Give me a specific of what you felt you didn't get.

Ms. RESNICK: Well, I come from kind of a decency in childhood, I don't always think of it that way, because if you think of it, you're like, oy, that's not so much fun, but the truth is if I look clearly, and I had to do that in a memoir, which is a gnarly thing to undertake, I would say everyone think twice before you try and write a memoir.

But one of the things you do, is you have to keep stripping down, stripping down. Peeling back the layers, and it became clear that I didn't want to think that I was so affected by my background. But I came from a background where the - you know, the parents were not able to provide a certain kind of attachment.

My mother had a mental illness, medicated with alcohol. My father wasn't there after age four. And it seems like that kind of set the tone for a severe abandonment and a certain kind of hunger, that in a deep underlying need for whoever my lover is to fill things that no one should have to, and no one's able to after you didn't get it from your parents.

CHIDEYA: You had a lover, who - as a writer, you have certain tools. One is your imagination and your skill. And another one sometimes is a computer. You had a situation that went bad, tell me about that.

Ms. RESNICK: Yeah. I - this was my hitting bottom. And I'm sure most people were so familiar now with this vernacular from addiction, but my hitting bottom, because, man I had years of patterns of destructive bad relationships. But I just thought, you know, this was - I was unlucky in love. I was extra passionate, whatever. I wasn't looking at myself being responsible. But this woke me up when a year after I'd broken up with a man, I came home one night and found my computer vandalized.

He had broken in and poured water in, which short-circuits everything, and to do that who's a writer and also who's making her living from that. And it is almost like your console, it's your - it's a part of your brain. So that woke me up, I thought, you know what, there's something wrong with me.

CHIDEYA: Kelly, how do you process things that don't have to do with - you know, there are a lot of - most people who've been in relationships, and that's most people, you have fights, you have recriminations, you make up all sorts of things like that. But then when you talk about crossing the line into vandalism or stalking, is that a part of a cycle of love addiction, or is that just some totally different.

Ms. MCDANIEL: It can be a part of love addiction, but it does not necessarily have to be. Parts of love addiction can become extremely dangerous, especially for women. Because women tend to in this addictive pattern, ultimately be searching for a way out of loneliness, and a way into connection with another human being.

So rarely do women do this addiction in isolation. You know some woman with other addictions may do them alone, drinking alone, binging alone with food. Usually sex and love addiction involves someone else, and this can potentially become very dangerous.

CHIDEYA: Well, for folks who are just tuning in midway, I just want to remind them what we're talking about. We're talking about sex and love addiction. It's controversial to even say whether or not there's love addiction. But we have some folk with us who are here to give us some information.

We have Rachel Resnick, the author of "Love Junkie", and Kelly McDaniel, a sex and love addiction counselor. Of course, this is NPR's News and Notes, and I'm Farai Chideya. Rachel, did sex come into this as part of the love addiction. Were there sexual tensions or sexual obsessions as well?

Ms. RESNICK: No question, no question. I believe that Kelly's hitting on a lot of fantastic points that for men, because we've seen this tons in the news lately, with David Duchovny checking in to rehab for sex addiction recently.

We have Chuck Palahniuk's film, actually Clark Gregg's the one who adapted his book "Choke" that's coming out September 28th, that's about a sex addict. I mean it's just fastening, it kind of seems to be breaking out, and I know Kelly feels like it's a particularly fertile time for learning about this.

I'm not sure why it's coming up so much. But for women, and in my case, definitely the emotional component was crucial. And I'm sure there's a brew of romance, and what is love, and that that comes into play, but this - she's talking about the chemistry of arousal and the trance like state, there's no question that - that sexual component was braided together. And when I look back, which I was - I had to do in writing this memoir, I certainly was able to pick out that every single person that I became involved with, that was an enormous component of the relationship.

CHIDEYA: Some people who have unhealthy relationships say the sex is better when they're angry at each other.

Ms. MCDANIEL: Mm hmm. Yeah.

CHIDEYA: You say, mm hmm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: Kelly, first what does that mean?

Ms. MCDANIEL: What that means is - and Rachel is touching on this - there's a neurochemical element to this disease. In fact, love and sex addiction in this field is really commonly referred to as a brain disease, because what - what the addict is doing is compensating for low levels of dopamine and serotonin by the hyper arousal that comes from infatuation, from the hunt, from chasing, from flirting, and ultimately from sexual arousal, which is the most powerful neuro-pathway in the brain, other than fear.

But if you mix both of them at the same time, fear and sexual arousal, you create the most powerful neurochemical cocktail the brain can handle. Which is why at times the system, when it's angry or frightened, sexual arousal is much more intense, which is what we see in relationships that do become abusive. We call them trauma-bonded, where the trauma that's happening, which is generally replicating something that happened in childhood, is powerfully addictive for the brain.

CHIDEYA: Did you find yourself in, you know, in a state ever where these two strains of emotion were blended together, Rachel, the fear or anger plus the sexual arousal?

Ms. RESNICK: Absolutely. A heady cocktail for damaged people. There is one partner I had, I don't know if I could use that term, but a lover I had who gets actually two chapters in this book because it was such - it was another kind of bottom, sometimes you'll hit several bottoms. And it was a way of entering into this incredibly sordid, also very experimental, really pushing boundaries, and by the way, I'm not anti-sex. I love sex, I think it's great. But it's - this is - and it's hard to tweeze this all apart, but for me it was just one pattern of another destructive relationships. But in this case I felt like through this other person who was a straight-up sex addict, as far as I'm concerned, I entered into that zone and it's a very drugged kind of feeling to be constantly aware that the world is just available on that level.

CHIDEYA: I want to move on to something that we just touched on, which was celebrities - some of them going in rehab for sex addiction, David Duchovny, who's got this show, perhaps ironically called "Californication," a great show, but going in for sex addiction. But other celebrities have talked about their addiction to pornography, and here's gospel singer Kirk Franklin talking about his addiction to porn.

Mr. KIRK FRANKLIN (Gospel Singer): There's always that boy who's got the big brother, who's got the magazines up on his bed, and that's how it starts. And the first time I ever saw one, I was maybe like about eight or nine when I saw my first magazine and from there, I was addicted.

CHIDEYA: Kelly, what's the difference between what we're calling love addiction, sex addiction, and then, pornography addiction?

Ms. MCDANIEL: Great question. And what a wonderful quote you used, because what we find when we're working with people who do come - come to the terms of having this addiction is it did start as young as eight or nine years old, sometimes 11 or 12, sometimes three or four, where a child has come into contact with some - a sexually explicit material that the brain is not yet appropriately developmentally ready to handle. Which is the problem we're having with the Internet, where kids are being exposed to sexual material way before their brain is ready for that. It's beyond finding your brother's pornography. Although, that was generally what it would take. There's really no difference in the body between porn addition, sex addiction, love addiction. The body doesn't really care about the difference in the brain, love, sex gets merged. It's because it's the same hormones.

Culturally however, we have a lot of shame attached to these different forms of addiction. So people have different access to them. Now, that the internet brings pornography into every home we're finding more and more women are finding that they're having trouble with their own compulsivity around looking at porn. Whereas before, they might not have actually had the courage to walk out into an adult bookstore or find a magazine, was not quite as easy as it might have been for boys.

CHIDEYA: As we draw this to a close, Rachel, what helped you? And what does this help mean for someone like you, who considers yourself a love addict? What does this recovery mean for someone like you?

Ms. RESNICK: Well, there are a couple of points here I just wanted to mention, that this idea of trauma-bonding. When there is a chemical release, if you have a certain kind of traumatized brain as I understand it, it's bringing you up to a normal level. So whereas a healthy person experiencing that first blush of love might be feeling great, but for someone who's a love addict, who has that kind of background, if it's a brain disease and we can buy that, you know, it's really just getting you to a kind of - to a normal operating level. But, what we're all seeking, or certainly what I was endlessly seeking, was some kind of true intimacy and connection, and that's not the route to achieve it. So that was one of the biggest problems, besides which you spend so much time. So go - for me going into a 12 step meeting where other people gather who have the same kind of issues was - changed everything because it was - as we're talking about the brain, that perception changed, and also you're bonding with other people.

CHIDEYA: And Kelly, very quickly, what do you think recovery means in a situation like this?

Ms. MCDANIEL: Well, Rachel's correct. 12 steps support is critical, but the reason for that is this is an addiction, and a person has got to enter a withdrawal period, as you would from any other addiction, which means a period of non-romantic activity. This does not however mean go into isolation. Woman do not get healthy in isolation, and you cannot recover from an addiction to romance, and to love without other people, but you need people that are non-romantic. Preferably same gender, preferably who can help you through this process because they're in it themselves. You also, need a therapist who understands trauma, who understands this addiction and will not further to shame that you're already feeling as you go through withdrawal. Withdrawal from this disorder is one of the more painful experiences that addicts will go through.

Ms. RESNICK: Well, I had two and a half years of inadvertent abstinence, yeah.

CHIDEYA: Well, I want to thank you both for sharing your stories. Appreciate it.

Ms. RESNICK: Thank you so much for having me.

Ms. MCDANIEL: Thanks for having us.

CHIDEYA: That was Rachel Resnick, the author of "Love Junkie" a memoir about her addiction to love, and Kelly McDaniel, a sex and love addiction specialist. She also wrote the book "Ready to Heal." And coming up next on News & Notes, we have got out text segment with Mario Armstrong. We'll look at companies and websites that lead you be an instant entrepreneur. Plus Justin Bua is known for his paintings of break dancers and DJs. Now, he's one of a ground swell of artists doing images of Senator Barack Obama. Is that helping his candidate's cause?

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