Though officially recognized by the World Health Organization as a mental health condition, sex addiction is still pretty misunderstood. Part of this is that many people don't realize there's an entirely separate condition called sex and love addiction that affects people differently.
As a former sex and love addict, Charlene deGuzman, a writer and actor based in Los Angeles, knows this distinction well. While sex addiction utilizes sex as the "substance" used to numb out certain feelings, sex and love addiction is more about the love and relationships part. In fact, deGuzman says that as a sex and love addict, she used sex as a tool to get the validation she craved.
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“Sex and love addiction is a lot of not being able to leave a relationship, constantly breaking up and getting back together with someone [and] pursuing unavailable people who don’t like you back or are addicts,” she tells SheKnows.
Like sex addiction, sex and love addiction has its own 12-step program, which deGuzman went through. Sex addiction is incorrectly assumed to be something predominantly affecting men, but she says that's a misconception, and in her experience, meetings for sex and love addiction have included people across genders.
According to deGuzman, sex and love addicts confuse love with things like feelings of sexual attraction and validation.
“If I can get him to hook up with me one night, that means I am lovable and validated in that fleeting moment,” she explains. “It comes from this very desperate need for validation and attention, and it comes from not ever learning how to love ourselves — not ever either getting that taught to us or shown to us as we were growing up. That same longing that we probably had for a parent shows up in the longing for this unavailable person in a relationship.”
And this validation doesn't necessarily have to come in the form of actually having sex with another person. DeGuzman says it can come from everything from a sexy selfie posted on Instagram to sexting with someone to contacting people on dating apps to flirting with others out in public, which she describes as external ways to get a hit of validation.
One of the biggest challenges when talking about sex and love addiction, deGuzman says, is that people truly don't understand it. When she first went into recovery and started to talk to other sex and love addicts, she noticed that some of the behaviors that are part of sex and love addiction are frequently attributed to something else, like being in love or sex positivity or even feminism. But instead of taking control of their sexuality, people dealing with sex and love addiction are controlled by their need for validation through sex.
“I can only speak from my own experience, but it becomes a problem when you’re destroying your life because of it," deGuzman says. "In my situation, I didn’t get serious about recovery until I had gotten sober for a while — which in my program meant no contact with my ex — then actually leaving my ex, then going back to him four months later and him ghosting me like he always does and me actually wanting to kill myself because it felt more horrible than it ever felt before. It made me feel so broken and unlovable and crazy that I couldn’t be in a healthy relationship.”
Between getting her first boyfriend at age 12 and starting recovery for sex and love addiction at age 30, deGuzman says she made sure she was never without some sort of sexual or romantic partner.
Part of recovery for sex and love addiction is getting reacquainted with or finding new hobbies and activities. For deGuzman, this meant writing. Back in 2013, actor and producer Mark Duplass started following deGuzman on Twitter, so she sent him a direct message telling him she was a fan of his. He wrote back, asking if she was working on anything, but at the time, she wasn't. But a year later, she had a script for a TV pilot based on her own experiences with sex and love addiction. She sent a copy to Duplass at the end of 2014, and a day later, he got in touch saying he wanted to make her pilot into a movie.
Now, after four years of writing, filming and raising money for the film's production on Kickstarter, their film — Unlovable — will be opening in select theaters on Nov. 1 and will be available through video on demand and digital HD on Nov. 2. Duplass cowrote the final script and is one of the executive producers of the film along with his brother, Jay Duplass.
And even though many people aren't familiar with sex and love addiction, deGuzman's story and performance in the movie are so relatable, you can't help but see yourself in her character, Joy, and her struggles with life, love and validation.
“I just really hope that people can relate — whether you’re an addict or not, that you’ll be able to relate to it because it’s that same feeling — that want of love," she says. "I hope people feel less alone. I hope people talk about this more. I hope people who need the help will go get the help. I just want to bring hope.”