1 What is Hypersexuality? | Manual

What is Hypersexuality?

What is Hypersexuality?
Medically approved by
Dr Earim Chaudry
Last updated
28th August 2020

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What is hypersexuality? Also known as compulsive sexual behaviour disorder, hypersexuality disorder, or sexual addiction, hypersexuality is a controversial medical condition. It involves experiencing sexual fantasies and urges to an uncontrollable, abnormal, or dysfunctional degree.
People with the condition may engage much more frequently in masturbation, cybersex, or pornography and may pay for sex or have multiple sexual partners. However, these behaviours in themselves do not constitute hypersexuality. 
Rather, it is when these behaviours become difficult to control or disruptive to you or others that you should seek medical advice. Whilst scientists don’t yet know precisely what causes the condition, it can affect your life adversely.

You may have heard of hypersexuality – or sexual addiction, as it is more conventionally known. However, few people treat it with the seriousness that it deserves. As with many conditions that we’re only just beginning to understand, hypersexuality is often the subject of prejudice, which doesn’t help those who are suffering from it. 

So, what is hypersexuality? In this article, we’re going to talk you through everything we know about hypersexuality – from the symptoms to look out for if you think you have it to its possible causes and treatments. Let’s take a look.   

What is Hypersexuality?

Hypersexuality, or hypersexuality disorder, is a condition in which people experience sexual urges or fantasies to a degree that is problematic, or that disrupts or affects their lives adversely. Whilst often referred to as sexual addiction or compulsive sexual behaviour disorder (CSBD), the potential differences between these terms have not yet been precisely defined.

Importantly, doctors and researchers agree on what hypersexuality is not. It is not just having a high sex drive, enjoying sex a lot, or frequently experiencing arousal. Rather, it is a compulsive condition in which your wider life – your work, your relationships, your social obligations – suffers due to your inability to control your sexual urges.

Why is Hypersexuality Controversial?

Hypersexuality – or CSBD – is controversial precisely because it isn’t simply a strong desire for sex. This distinction – between CSBD and a strong sex drive – has made the condition’s classification and definition quite difficult. As a result, it was not recognised as an actual medical condition until quite recently.

For example, the American Psychiatric Association had, in 2013, rejected the inclusion of “hypersexuality disorder” in its list of psychiatric disorders. Among the reasons cited was that a too lax definition of the condition could suggest that some sexual behaviours are symptoms of a disease.

However, in 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) added CSBD to their database of diseases and medical conditions. Again, though, they made sure to define it in such a way as to avoid any judgment on people’s individual desires and preferences. 

As such, the WHO defined the condition as “a persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive sexual behaviour … [that] causes marked distress or significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other important areas of functioning”.

Again, CSBD or hypersexuality is specifically not just a strong sex drive. It’s about a “persistent pattern of failure to control” that sex drive. In this way, hypersexuality may resemble an addiction physiologically, although this too is a matter of debate.

What are the Symptoms of Hypersexuality?

Whilst they are often listed as symptoms of hypersexuality or CSBD, it’s agreed that specific sexual practices such as frequent pornography use, excessive masturbation, or having multiple sexual partners are not sufficient to define the condition. These are normal and common activities that do not constitute a pathology.

Instead, hypersexuality is more about your attitude to and trigger for sexual behaviours, rather than the frequency or nature of those behaviours themselves. Your emotional response to these behaviours also plays a role.

Symptoms of hypersexuality therefore include the following:

  • Sexual fantasies that are recurrent and intense, that disrupt other activities, and that feel like they are out of your control
  • Sexual behaviour that is the response to depression or anxiety, or that is an escape from stressful events
  • Sexual behaviour that is accompanied by both feelings of guilt, shame, or remorse
  • Unsuccessful attempts to control sexual behaviours or fantasies
  • Sexual behaviour that is pursued despite knowing that it may cause harm to you or to others

What Causes Hypersexuality?

The causes of hypersexuality are not yet known for certain. However, it is a psychological condition and, as such, it is believed to be the result of the chemical structure of your brain.

For example, a number of studies have shown that there may be a link between compulsive sexual behaviour and high levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. These neurotransmitters help to regulate mood, but, if they are imbalanced, you might find it difficult to control your behaviour. Research suggesting that hypersexuality can result from dopamine treatment for Parkinson’s disease has helped to strengthen this case.

There have been other studies suggesting that psychiatric conditions including dementia and epilepsy may be linked to hypersexuality, whilst links have been drawn between drug abuse and CSBD too. 

There is also evidence that you are much more likely to develop hypersexuality if you are already suffering from depression or bipolar disorder. However, the precise relationship between CSBD and these psychiatric disorders is yet to be established fully.

Can You Treat Hypersexuality?

If you feel like you are experiencing any of the symptoms of hypersexuality, CSBD, or sexual addiction, it is important that you talk to a medical professional as soon as possible. These conditions can be treated.

Doctors may prescribe you medication typically used for the treatment of depression. Anti-androgens, drugs that lower your testosterone and, consequently, your levels of arousal, have been used to treat hypersexuality too. 

Alternatively, you may be referred to counselling or psychotherapy, in which you will work on ways to manage the feelings associated with the condition.

Key Takeaways

So, what is hypersexuality? Often referred to as sexual addiction and compulsive sexual behaviour disorder, hypersexuality is a condition in which urges toward sexual behaviour become disruptive, problematic, or harmful. Crucially, it is not merely a strong desire for sex or a preference for atypical sexual practices. Rather, it is a compulsive psychological condition that can bring real difficulties.

Hypersexuality can nonetheless be treated. If you feel as though you can’t control your sexual impulses, or if you feel as though you are experiencing any of hypersexuality’s other symptoms, do speak to your doctor.

References

  1. Rory C Reid and Martin Kafka (2014). Controversies About Hypersexual Disorder and the DSM-5: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/267215211_Controversies_About_Hypersexual_Disorder_and_the_DSM-5

  2. Compulsive sexual behaviour disorder – https://icd.who.int/browse11/l-m/en#/http://id.who.int/icd/entity/1630268048

  3. Wiley Online Library – Should compulsive sexual behavior be considered an addiction?https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/add.13297

  4. Dopamine agonist: pathological gambling and hypersexuality – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19536937/

  5. Marios Politis 1, Clare Loane, Kit Wu, Sean S O’Sullivan, Zoe Woodhead, Lorenzo Kiferle, Andrew D Lawrence, Andrew J Lees, Paola Piccini(2013). Neural response to visual sexual cues in dopamine treatment-linked hypersexuality in Parkinson’s disease: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23378222/

  6. Sinem Zeynep Metin, Mine Ozmen,  Cigdem Özkara,  Emre Ozmen (2013). Hypersexuality in a patient with epilepsy during treatment of levetiracetam Show footnotes: https://www.seizure-journal.com/article/S1059-1311(12)00291-9/fulltext

  7. Alexander Muacevic and John R Adler (2015). Hypersexuality Addiction and Withdrawal: Phenomenology, Neurogenetics and Epigenetics: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4524748/

  8. Irina Kopeykina, Hae-Joon Kim, Tasnia Khatun, Jennifer Boland, Sophia Haeri, Lisa J Cohen, Igor I Galynker (2016). Hypersexuality and couple relationships in bipolar disorder: A review:  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26851616/

  9. Kelsey Schultz, Joshua N Hook, Don E Davis, J Kim Penberthy, Rory C Reid (2014). Nonparaphilic hypersexual behavior and depressive symptoms: a meta-analytic review of the literature: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24168778/

  10. The management of hypersexuality in men – https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/tre.540

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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