Opinion
4 min

Lesbian Love Addiction and why it doesn’t exist

New book promotes old stereotypes about lesbian sex and relationships

What’s wrong with Lauren D Costine’s new book on Lesbian Love Addiction? First of all, it’s based on a theory of sex addiction that’s already been discredited. Credit: Leuko_cyte/iStock/Thinkstock

A new book on the scientifically unproven “condition” of lesbian love addiction is poised to teach women all the wrong lessons about healthy sex and realistic relationships.

Lauren D Costine’s book promotes the very stereotypes and misinformation about sex addiction that sex-positive academics and therapists have battled for years.

The book is premised on the theory that lesbians are addicted to love if they serially leave one lover in search of another each time the spark fades.

Here’s the problem with that theory: there is no scientific proof of sex (or love) addiction.

Academics and accredited sex therapists have been clear on this. The American Psychiatric Association purposefully excluded sexual addiction from its most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the authority for psychiatric diagnosis.

This doesn’t deter Costine, who instead cites as experts sources that are not science-based, such as social workers and nurses with no background in sexual science. They are experts only in their own self-regulated fields.

The book begins with a forward by Robert Weiss, founder of the Sexual Recovery Institute (presumably formed to treat those who must recover from sex), who defends his practice here.

Weiss says “traumatic early-life experiences” drive some people to “abuse love, using the search for experience of it to avoid being alone, or worse, as a self-centered source of stability and self-completion. These are people we consider to be love and sex addicts.”

These addicts repeatedly seek the emotional intensity of limerence, or new relationship energy, Weiss says. (Limerence is a term coined in 1979 by Dr Dorothy Tennov, though Weiss does not credit her research. Instead he acknowledges Costine’s minting of the term “urge to merge” as though it’s a new and unique concept. It isn’t.)

Weiss doesn’t reserve sex addiction just for lesbians. Gay men are equally vulnerable — and culpable, he says. In his 2005 book for gay men, he refers to “the fact that gay men were dying on a daily basis due to the undiagnosed and unrecognized problem of sexual addiction.” These dear men did not die of sexual addiction; they died of AIDS, caused by the HIV virus.

(Lauren D Costine’s book promotes the very stereotypes and misinformation about sex addiction that sex-positive academics and therapists have battled for years./Rowman and Littlefield Publishers)

Blaming Costine for Weiss’ words in her book’s forward may be unfair, but holding her accountable for her own flawed logic is certainly warranted.

Costine relies on the controversial research of Louann Brizendine to decide that female brains — and lesbian brains in particular — differ from male brains. She also thinks lesbians are “some of the most traumatized people in the world” due to the “double trauma because we are women and lesbians both.”

Her theory is simplistic and masks genuine issues lesbian girls face as they’re raised in a patriarchal, straight society.

It also assumes one monolithic lesbian experience, rather than acknowledging that, like everyone else, lesbians vary greatly depending on individual resiliency, personality, influences and opportunities.

What is true is that, unlike our brothers, we are not taught to initiate social interaction or face rejection. Even dating is intimidating with no training or encouragement in how to approach someone to whom we are attracted. As a result, once the chemically-induced sexual fervour of new relationship energy wanes, lesbian lovers are often left waiting hopefully for the other to initiate sex, while neither is confident in how to do so.

Trained to be receptive — or, worse yet, to fear and avoid sex altogether because “nice girls don’t . . .” — both women often fear rejection out of proportion to its significance. This eventually leads to what sociologist Pepper Schwartz has called “lesbian bed death,” which can be resolved with sociosexual skills, not addiction therapy.

(What’s the best way to resuscitate lesbian bed death? Learning to talk openly about sex and desire? Or treating lesbians for sex addiction as Lauren D Costine, above, suggests?/drlaurencostine.com)

In contrast to Costine’s sex addiction approach, sex therapists explain to their clients that every new couple enjoys a euphoric bonding period — and then they clarify the temporary nature of this early stage and teach their clients better communication and relationship-building skills to deepen the bond rather than search for something new when the initial glow fades.

Mired in her addiction theory, Costine can only propose sobriety as her solution.

The key to her treatment plan? The love-addicted lesbian must terminate all contact with her faded lover, to protect from being reinfected with her addiction. No dating anyone else either — and no fantasizing. Certainly no porn watching — and forget about solo sex because “masturbation becomes an addiction.”

Regularly attending Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meetings is also recommended, along with increased exercise and communing with nature. All of this is critical for recovery, Costine says, because “you will not come close to attaining authentic love until you break that pattern [of addiction].”

How does Costine define authentic love? When “you won’t lose your sense of self in a relationship ever again.”

Realistically, maintaining one’s sense of self during an intimate relationship is an ongoing process, not a guaranteed static condition. Couples don’t stay together because everything goes well; they last because they develop skills to negotiate obstacles. Expecting idealistic rewards is foolish — and disappointing.

As one former sex-addiction therapist recently acknowledged, the addiction model, with its attendant sobriety solution, ignores such clinical skills as self-soothing, interpersonal communication regarding how to argue and negotiate, straightforward dating information, understanding how relationships progress and evolve and even basics like self-esteem building — all critical to navigating new and long-term relationships alike.

The real treatment plan lies in learning to talk to each other openly about sex, about what we want and don’t want, and what might work best for us as individuals in a mutually caring relationship.

The danger of blaming addiction is in not learning to take personal responsibility for making good choices — and in having an excuse for making bad ones.

Costine’s philosophy disempowers women, perpetuates unrealistic myths of romantic love and leaves little room for the multitude of sexual dynamics of lesbian relationships.

Her book? Take a pass.