Nymphomania: The Insatiable Need for Sex

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During the Victorian Era of the 19th century, “nymphomania” had a rather clear-cut societal definition: the "nymphomaniac" was a diseased woman, her excessive interest in sex blatantly defying the cultural conventions of "passionlessness" and the

During the Victorian Era of the 19th century, “nymphomania” had a rather clear-cut societal definition: the "nymphomaniac" was a diseased woman, her excessive interest in sex blatantly defying the cultural conventions of "passionlessness" and the so-called "Cult of True Womanhood."

In 1948 the famous sex researcher Dr. Alfred Kinsey provided an element of scientific realism to the subject with the publication of his landmark studies of male and female sexuality (Kinsey Reports), describing a nymphomaniac as “someone who has more sex than you.”  Kinsey basically concluded that terms like “nymphomania,” “over-sexed,” and “hypersexuality,” had no scientific basis, contending that rates of sexual activity naturally vary widely among humans and that there is no readily distinguishable point past which the frequency (or infrequency) of sex becomes pathological (a disease).

But even so, no other human sexual behavior continues to draw more debate among the medical and psychological community than so-called “nymphomania.”

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Evolving views of nymphomania are reflected in the successive editions of the American Psychiatric Association's official guide to mental illness, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. In the first DSM, published in 1951, nymphomania was listed as a "sexual deviation,” but by DSM-III in 1980, it had become a "psychosexual disorder”--a description that left many therapists to form their own opinion, defining criteria, and treatment.  By 1987, nymphomania was no longer listed (nor its male counterpart, Don Juanism) in the DSM-III-R (revised third edition), replaced with "distress about a pattern of repeated sexual conquests or other forms of nonparaphilic [nondeviant] sexual addiction."  And by 1994 (in the DSM-IV), even the term sexual addiction was abandoned--perhaps because societal norms reasoned that if both men and women can be “sex addicts,” and if many male victims of the condition (such as renown womanizer Bill Clinton) are successful, admired, and largely unrepentant, it seems stupid to characterize as an illness what many consider an accomplishment.

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Nymphomania,” most commonly referred to today by the medical community as hypersexuality, is defined as a mental disorder marked by compulsive sexual behavior. These compulsions are described as unwanted actions or rituals a person engages in repeatedly without getting pleasure from them or being able to control them--often characterized as acting out compulsions by engaging in risky, promiscuous sexual behavior.  And while the debate continues as to whether or not nymphomania qualifies as a legitimate mental illness, a prevailing consensus suggests that compulsive sexual behavior is a real and serious illness that can have significant--even devastating--effects on an individual’s life.

Technically speaking, the term “nymphomaniac” refers to a woman, but that definition has been expanded in recent decades to include anyone who engages in risky, compulsive sexual behavior. While nymphomania has been known to manifest in any adult (post-puberty), statistics show that it may be more prevalent in women and in homosexual men. In addition to compulsive sexual behavior, nymphomania may involve problems with reasoning, unwanted repetitive thoughts (obsession or obsessive-compulsive patterns of thought), and feelings of guilt, shame, or inadequacy.

While even supporters of the “sexual addiction is a legitimate disease” perspective do not support a specific underlying cause, it is widely accepted that nymphomania is a mental and emotional condition that like other such conditions is complicated, and may be linked to environmental factors, heredity, life events, or even chemical imbalances of the brain.

Treatment today for nymphomania (compulsive sexual behavior/sex addiction/hypersexuality) typically involves psychotherapy and medication, generally utilizing antidepressants, anti-anxiety, or antipsychotic medications similar to medications prescribed for other compulsive disorders.  And while the primary symptom of nymphomania is compulsive sexual behavior, it may be accompanied by other symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder or other mental illnesses or personality disorders.

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Individuals who classify themselves as nymphomaniacs or as sex addicts, report that a number of other symptoms frequently accompany their sexual urges including:

> Difficulty concentrating

> Feelings of shame or inadequacy (not necessarily sexual inadequacy)

> Guilt

> Repeated, uncontrollable behaviors (compulsion)

> Repeated, unwanted thoughts (obsession)

In some cases, compulsive disorders or mental illness that accompany nymphomania can be life-threatening including:

> Desire to inflict pain on oneself or others

> The display of threatening, irrational, or suicidal behavior

> Inability to care for yourself

Studies also show that a number of factors seem to correlate (not cause) or accompany the onset of nymphomania including:

> Age under 30

> Family history of mental illness

> Female in sex

> Homosexual orientation

> Personal history of mental illness

> Recent traumatic life event

> Stress

But as many therapists point out, nymphomania/sex addiction/hypersexuality may not be a disease at all, but simply a need to engage in “above what is considered normal” sex activity, and may be of no true concern unless it leads to self-destructive or life-threatening behavior.

References:

The Kinsey Reports

The Essentials of Abnormal Psychology, Durand and Barlow

http://www.bettermedicine.com/article/nymphomania

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/compulsive-sexual-behavior/DS00144

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