Hypersexual Desire

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History of Hypersexual Desire

In the past, females with frequent sexual urges were diagnosed as having nymphomania, whereas males were diagnosed as having satyriasis. The words “nymphomania” and “satyriasis” are no longer considered scientifically accurate and have since been replaced with the more neutral term “hypersexual desire.”

Hypersexual desire goes by many names. Sex addiction, nymphomania, hypersexuality and compulsive sexual behavior are different terms to describe the same set of symptoms. Any natural drive can become a compulsion or obsession when taken to extremes. For sufferers of the condition, the effects can be devastating to relationships and might cost some people their marriages, jobs, and families. While doctors are unsure of the underlying causes of most cases of hypersexual desire, they have noted cases in which the condition has had a physiological explanation, such as a brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, or side effects of various medications. In any case of hypersexual desire, it is important to eliminate the possibility of a physiological cause first before treating any potential psychological causes.1 A high sex drive is distinctly different from hypersexual desire, since hypersexual desire is defined by excessive sexual thoughts and high-risk behavior, neither of which characterize someone who simply has a large sexual appetite. People with sex addiction may not even experience much pleasure from the act of having sex−instead they indulge in sexual thoughts and actions to alleviate negative sensations rather than to experience pleasurable ones.1


The symptoms of hypersexual desire become clinically significant when they have occurred for more than six months and have caused the individual distress. If a person exhibits four of the following five criteria for half a year or longer and experiences distress about intrusive thoughts and actions, hypersexual desire is a possible diagnosis.1

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• Sexual fantasies, erotic urges, and plans to engage in sex occupy an excessive amount of the person’s time. People with hypersexual desire may complain that it is difficult to concentrate on anything beyond the fantasies and sexual thoughts.

• Thoughts of sex and sexual acts take place as direct responses to negative stimuli. People with hypersexual desire turn to sex to alleviate boredom, depression, and/or excitability, rather than achieving closeness with a partner or enjoying the actual act of sex. Fantasizing and engaging in sexual activity supersede other (potentially healthier) ways of coping with stress.1

• The individual’s repeated attempts to keep sexual fantasies and behaviors under control have failed. The thoughts and actions have become intrusive.

• Sexual behaviors occur in inappropriate ways or with inappropriate partners. In extreme cases, these behaviors can cause the individual to become a danger to others.

• People with hypersexual desire no longer heed potential risks to themselves or to others in their pursuit of a sexual high. High-risk sexual practices may escalate for some individuals.

These symptoms may involve multiple physically present partners, cybersex (sex over the internet), telephone sex, compulsive masturbation or a combination of these behaviors. The distinguishing characteristic of the disorder is the intrusiveness of sexual thoughts and actions; the sufferer may not want to engage in the behavior but feels compelled to do it. Once a doctor has ruled out a physiological cause for the behavior, work can begin on other potential causes. Hypersexual desire may occur in people with bipolar disorder during a manic period. It can also indicate an underlying psychological need for greater intimacy and nonsexual contact with others. Only a qualified professional can provide a diagnosis or initiate treatment.1

The Grey Area

The primary issue with the concept of hypersexual desire is that there is currently no legitimate medical test to diagnose it. Also, the threshold for what constitutes hypersexual desire is constantly subject to debate. Sex drives differ among individuals: what some might consider a “normal” sex drive may be considered excessive by others. The only thing that creates a problem is when one partner in the relationship wants to be more sexually active than the other partner (desire discrepancy).

If You Want Sex and Your Partner Does Not

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If you have a higher sex drive than your partner, the best thing for you to do would be to masturbate more often. You must respect your partner’s decision not to have sex. Sex is not an obligation in any union. When individuals feel pressured to have sex, they may develop negative feelings towards their sexuality.

If Your Partner Wants Sex and You Do Not

It is best for you to communicate with your partner and acknowledge that you believe that masturbation is an acceptable way to release sexual tension. Viewing pornography is an acceptable means of releasing tension. However, if you are uncomfortable with or do not condone the viewing of pornography, you must communicate with your partner and take all steps necessary to work things out (check out this article on effective communication). Effective communication is about finding a balance that both partners are comfortable with.

Sex Addiction and Substance Abuse

A variety of medical pills.

An individual diagnosed as having a sex addiction is increasingly likely to develop a substance-abuse problem as well. Oftentimes, sex addicts attempt to self-medicate the anxieties, guilt and stress they feel as a result of their addiction with drugs and alcohol. This behavior can lead to drug or alcohol addiction very quickly. These simultaneous disorders are known as a dual diagnosis and require specialized treatment for recovery.1

*Note: This article is placed under Male Difficulty simply because hypersexual desire is more often associated with males. Women can also experience hypersexual tendencies.


1. LeVay, Simon, Janice I. Baldwin, and John D. Baldwin. Discovering Human Sexuality. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2009. Print.

Last Updated 12 May 2014.