Hypersexuality: A complete guide to nymphomania and satyriasis
A complete guide to hypersexuality and sex addiction in men (satyriasis), women (nymphomania) and children. Discover what is hypersexuality disorder, symptoms, causes and consequences. Useful information to help identify when there is a problem and advice when diagnosed a sex addiction.
Is sex a problem for you or for someone you know? Do you obsess about sex and do not know how to stop? Do you feel too much sexual desire, have recurring fantasies you can’t control? Do you think you might have a sex addiction? Continue reading and discover all the information you need.
What is Hypersexuality or sex addiction?
Hypersexuality or sex addiction is a disorder characterized by compulsive sexual thoughts and behaviors. Like other addictions or compulsions, the person needs to increase the behavior (frequency or intensity) to achieve the same pleasure or satisfaction. If the behavior doesn’t take place, the person feels a deep discomfort. The disorder reaches a point where the compulsive behavior is no longer beneficial or pleasurable, but still takes over the person’s life, who continues to search for the stimuli.
However, there is still no consensus as to whether hypersexuality is similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder or other types of addiction.
This study found that 54% of hypersexual patients report that their sexual behavior began to be problematic before age 18. Another 30% started between the ages of 18 and 25. The concluded it is a problem that can start at an early age. Regardless of what you may think, you are not more likely to be addicted to sex than to any other behavior that can provide pleasure.
As in other addictions, people with hypersexuality can engage in sexual activities for the pleasure it provides them, however, they can also do it as an escape from negative emotions. Emotions that they don’t know how to handle, such as anxiety, stress, sadness or loneliness.
“Conservative estimates say 1 in 20 people suffer from hypersexuality”- Paula Hall
In the following video, Paula Hall gives you an insight into sex addiction. Keep reading if you want to know more.
Hypersexuality or sex addiction: a controversial term
There is considerable controversy with the term “hypersexuality or sex addiction.” Some experts think that there is only an addiction when it comes to substances we can ingest. And the so-called “substanceless addictions” or “behavioral addictions” are more of an inability to control impulses. Therefore, the term hypersexuality would be the most correct in this case.
Also, this is a controversial subject, since in some cases it can be difficult to establish the difference between a high sexual desire and a hypersexual disorder.
When can the frequency of sex be considered a problem? When is it too much? This will depend on the person. Sexuality expression is very peculiar and can take many forms, and as long as the expression does not endanger our physical or psychological integrity or that of other people, it is perfectly acceptable.
The basic characteristic of hypersexuality is the embarrassment, the feelings of guilt or the anguish. These feelings are what we treat in therapy since the person usually feels like a “deviant”, “pervert” or “morally reprehensible” for their behavior.
Another problem is that the word addiction has become a common, overused word, therefore, reducing its importance and to some extent its meaning.
In addition, because sex seems to remain a taboo subject even in research, there are not many studies on the subject. Consequently, there is a lack of consensus on symptomatology, terminology, and types of hypersexuality.
Sex addiction is also used as an excuse to justify infidelity which takes away from the seriousness of the disorder. The truth is that hypersexuality or addiction to sex does exist. It is important to distinguish between a real hypersexuality to other cognitive, psychological, sexual or couple problems.
In 2010, the American Psychiatric Association released a draft of preliminary criteria for diagnosing “sex addiction” which they would later call hypersexual disorder. Diagnosis can only be made to adults 18 and up. The symptoms are as follows:
- Over a period of at least 6 months, a person experiences recurring sexual fantasies, sexual desire and sexual behavior associated with the following criteria:
- Excessive time spent on fantasies, desires, and planning sexual behaviors.
- Repetitive execution of those fantasies, desires, and behaviors in response to negative moods (anxiety, depression, boredom, irritability).
- Repetitive execution of those fantasies, desires, and behaviors in response to stressful life events.
- Repeated but unsuccessful efforts to control or reduce these fantasies, desires, and behaviors.
- Continued sexual conduct without regard to physical or emotional risk to oneself or others.
- The person experiences significant embarrassment or social, work or family interference, due to the frequency or intensity of sexual fantasies, desires, and behaviors.
- These fantasies, desires, and behaviors are not due to drugs or manic episodes.
It is important to identify whether masturbation, pornography, cybersex, telephone sex, strip clubs, or others are common behaviors. The excessiveness will be calculated by the therapist, along with the other criteria, hence the difficulty of the diagnosis.
Like other psychological disorders, there is never a single cause, hypersexuality is also multifactor. Here are some possible causes or risk factors that may influence the development of hypersexual disorder or sex addiction.
- Chemical imbalances. Compulsive and impulsive behaviors may be associated with imbalances in certain brain chemicals or neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, play a role in mood regulation and pleasant experiences. That is why some sex addicts benefit from pharmacological treatments with antidepressants and mood stabilizers.
- This study suggests that dysfunctions in the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain may have to do with the inability to inhibit sexual behavior. This brain area is associated with decision-making ability and behavioral flexibility. Therefore, its injury or malfunction would make it difficult for us to inhibit sexual activity. This can be observed in patients with frontal lobe dementia whose sexual behavior is uncontrollable. However, because the study was done in rats, we are not sure whether it would also be applicable to humans.
Like all findings related to the brain and behavior, we do not know for sure whether these are the cause or consequence of hypersexuality.
- Genetic vulnerability. Our genes can make us more or less vulnerable to certain pathologies including hypersexuality. Some people will be more prone to addictive or compulsive behavior than others.
- Childhood Abuse. A high percentage of people with hypersexuality were sexually abused during their childhood.
- Dysfunctional family. A family history of substance abuse and addiction is common in sex addicts. This may involve some genetic component but most of it might also be learned. Dysfunctional family dynamics such as not being emotionally available, neglect or a very rigid parental style may contribute to the development of the disorder.
- Having another addiction or other psychological problems, such as depression, can make us more vulnerable to hypersexuality.
Feminine Hypersexuality- Nymphomania
The word nymphomania, like satyriasis, is currently out of date in the clinical setting. And although it is usually used to refer to sex addiction in general, it originally referred to women with this condition.
The term nymphomania is composed of the Greek word nymphos or nymphs. Nymphs are mythological beings associated with nature, but also with seduction and persecution of young people with sexual intentions.
The first study of Nymphomania, written by M. D. T. Bienville in the 18th century, stated that eating a lot, including chocolate, having impure thoughts, reading novels and masturbating over-stimulated women’s delicate nerves and contributed to the development of nymphomania.
Subsequently, some gynecologists sought to definitively “cure” hypersexuality in women by surgically removing their reproductive organs.
In Victorian times, it was expected that women have no sexual desire. Which led to many, due to the repression to which they were subjected, to have certain impulses and fantasies that they considered worrisome.
Women who had a higher sexual desire were usually diagnosed as nymphomaniacs. Even if this desire is comparable to that of a “normal” male.
Nymphomania diagnosis was usually given to women who displayed lascivious looks or even attacking men sexually. Of course, a woman who masturbated was considered nymphomaniac. For years, these women were either prostitutes or confined to psychiatric hospitals. We now know that a woman’s sexual desire can be equal with that of a man and it is perfectly natural.
Masculine Hypersexuality- Satyriasis
Hypersexuality in men was traditionally called satyriasis, as the male equivalent to nymphomania. The satyr comes from Greek mythology and was represented as a figure half man and half ram with a festive character and a great sexual appetite, sometimes even violent.
Doctors of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries believed that satyriasis was much less serious than nymphomania with less serious consequences. Unlike hypersexual women, men with satyriasis could have a normal life if they learned to control themselves.
Although castration was sometimes used to treat this disorder, it wasn’t common. Satyriasis was diagnosed much less frequently than nymphomania because it was simply not conceivable that a man could have “too much sex.”
Hypersexuality in Children
As mentioned above, the hypersexual disorder can only be diagnosed in adults. Prior to puberty, it is extremely rare for sex addiction to appear as described previously. However, in childhood, there may be certain sexual behaviors that could be considered hypersexuality in children, if they are too advanced for their age.
If a child exhibits sexual or seductive behaviors, it’s important to keep a close eye on them, since it can be a sign of sexual abuse. The sexual behaviors considered odd for their age are the following:
- Seductive behavior.
- Sexual conduct and knowledge inappropriate for the child’s age.
- Exaggerated interest in adult sexual behavior.
- Sexual aggression of other minors.
However, like adults, children begin to explore their sexuality very early on. They touch, rub genitals and experiment with other children. There are children more “sexual” than others, but this is not synonymous with a problem.
Parents should talk about it at home and help them to distinguish the appropriate boundaries. It is important not to scold or punish them for it because that can lead to shame, guilt, which in turn can lead to an unsatisfactory sexual life as an adult.
Another issue is childhood hypersexualization, especially in girls. It is safe to say that we live in a male predominantly oriented society, where women are often considered as sexual objects, made to be admired, maintain perfect bodies and be the best possible lovers. The terrible thing is that in some cases, young girls are being educated to follow these patterns.
From toys to child beauty pageants to children’s fashion resembling more and more the adult life, it’s difficult protecting your child from hypersexualization. A perfect example is how they now sell lingerie for 6-year-old girls or ads where girls pose seductively. Girls grow up worried about their physical appearance, being flattered, and aiming to look perfect.
On the other hand, boys are being taught to seduce girls and be “the man of the house”, all of this before they even reach puberty. This hypersexuality in childhood has negative consequences because although children see it as a game, it can damage their subsequent vision of sexuality. They give a false idea of what is expected from them and what role they should follow when it comes to sex. Their childhood and innocence are being robbed prematurely. This also reinforces traditional gender roles which clearly are not beneficial and sexists. Gender stereotypes are very rigid, and whoever doesn’t follow them can have serious social consequences. Therefore, both parents and society must realize the dangers of sexualizing young children. It is important to let them be children and even though they play as adults we must establish healthy limits to this roleplaying.
Consequences of Hypersexuality or sex addiction
Sex addiction has negative personal and social consequences. Some consequences may be depression, low self-esteem, shame, self-hatred, despair, loneliness, moral conflict, suicidal behavior, etc.
It can even damage intimate relationships, friendships, and families. Hypersexual people are also exposed to a multitude of sexually transmitted diseases. Due to their promiscuity, lack of impulse control and protective measures they are at a higher risk. Damage to the genital area is common due to excessive activity. Finally, legal consequences can also become a problem from sexual abuse, exhibitionism, voyeurism, sexual harassment charges.
How can you identify a hypersexuality problem?
This article may have given you an idea of how hypersexuality manifests itself. However, what a person thinks about their own sexuality is subjective. Since sex is still taboo, there are a lot of people with healthy sexualities that think of themselves as sex addicts. The contrary also happens, where people believe they are living a healthy sexuality but instead are hurting people around them and aspects of their lives have been adversely affected.
On the internet, there are many free sex addiction tests that promise to evaluate if you have a hypersexual disorder. However, these are unable to assess your current situation, your sex education, moral values, etc.
In any case, whenever there is embarrassment regarding sex or sexual behavior, we recommend you see a sexologist or a psychologist, who will help you determine if you really have an addiction or any other problem.
Treatments for hypersexuality combine individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and support groups. In some cases, pharmacological therapy will also be used.
Few people look for help due to shame and most of them end up in court-mandated therapy due to some type of sexual crime. Unlike with substance abuse addiction, the purpose of treatment is not abstinence, but to maintain a healthy and pleasant sexuality.
For the hypersexual person, it is difficult to distinguish a healthy sexuality from a pathological one. So, at the beginning of therapy, a period of abstinence is required for the patient to learn a healthy sexuality, this period lasts from, three to four months. In this way, they learn to identify the events and emotions that trigger sexual behaviors.
These therapies not only treat sex addiction but also associated problems, such as depression, anxiety symptoms, and other emotional problems.
How to beat Hypersexuality?
The best way to overcome hypersexuality is to seek professional help. And for this the following requirements are necessary:
- Be sincere with yourself and others. Recognizing the problem is a fundamental step. People addicted to sex have become accustomed to lying and hiding their problem.
- Commitment to change. In order for therapy to work, it is necessary to commit. It won’t be simple because it requires digging your most personal issues but in the long run, it’s worth it.
- Do not give much importance to your thoughts. In this disorder, many people become obsessed with sex. They give great importance to their sexual thoughts, often feeling embarrassed and even trying to suppress them. This only intensifies them and makes them more frequent. The brain generates thoughts constantly, and many times they are not intentional. We all have bizarre thoughts but we should not give them importance or even identify ourselves with them entirely.
- Reduce your anxiety. Many times we use sex as an escape, distraction and stress relief. This a priori is no problem, but sometimes the desperate search for relief can result in compulsive behaviors, including sexual behaviors. So if you think you may have a hypersexual disorder, in addition to seeking help, try to reduce your anxiety in some way. Some activities that help stress are physical activity, hobbies or sports. They are a great source of release, relaxation, and distraction.
- Do not hold back your feelings. As in other addictions, addiction to sex often develops as a way to deal with complicated emotions and situations. It is a way to escape from stress. It is necessary to learn to identify emotions, to express them correctly and ask for help.
If you or someone you know has symptoms of hypersexuality please visit a psychologist or a sexologist. Hope you enjoyed this useful guide!
This article is originally in Spanish written by Andrea García Cerdán, translated by Alejandra Salazar.
Psicóloga General Sanitaria y sexóloga. Deseosa de mejorar la calidad de vida de las personas mediante la práctica clínica y la comunicación a través de la red.