Sex Addiction: A HealthCentral Explainer
Sex addiction has long been received with a great deal of skepticism. Is it real? With high profile stories such as Tiger Woods, David Duchovny, and many others keeping sexual addiction in the headlines, psychiatrists have been trying to better understand what is behind this behavior. Last week UCLA researchers decided to get to the bottom of just that. Is sex addiction a legitimate condition? What they found is that sex addiction, now technically referred to as hypersexual disorder, is indeed real and they are already establishing a method of diagnosis.
What is Hypersexual Disorder?
Despite an initial reluctance to accept sex addiction as a disorder, psychiatrists have come to define what constitutes sex dependency. A team of doctors, marriage and family counselors, and lead research psychologist Rory Reid joined forces to test whether “hypersexual disorder” was in fact a mental health condition. They found that in order to be a true sex addict, an individual must experience repeated sexual fantasies, exhibit actions, and persistent urges that last up to six months, and are not a result of medication, an underlying medical condition, substance abuse, or bipolar mania.
Additionally, the individual must display a pattern of using sexual activity to deal with mental issues such as depression or stress. A sex addict must also have attempted to reduce their sexual activities upon recognition of the problem. Sex addiction can also be referred to as: sexual dependency, compulsive sexual behavior, satyriasis (males), nymphomania (females), sexual compulsivity, and hypersexuality.
How did they reach this conclusion?
The research team analyzed 207 patients seeking help for uncontrollable sexual behavior, substance abuse, or any other mental health condition, from several mental health clinics around the country. After a series of psychological testing and interviews, the researchers found that their proposed criteria for hypersexual disorder accurately classified 88 percent of hypersexual patients as having the disorder. The criteria were also accurate in detecting negative results 93 percent of the time. In other words, the criteria appear to be accurate at distinguishing between patients who are actually hypersexual and those who aren’t – those with anxiety, depression, or substance abuse.
What else did they find?
Another key research element was that patients who met the criteria for hypersexual disorder experienced drastically greater consequences for their sexual activities compared with those with a different diagnosis. Of the 207 patients examined, 17 percent had lost a job at least once, 39 percent had a relationship terminated, 28 percent contracted an STD, and 78 percent had a disruption with healthy sex.
Additionally, they found that sex addiction emerges early in adolescence and young adulthood. Fifty-four percent of the hypersexual patients felt their behavior became problematic before age 18 and another 30 percent noticed it starting to be a problem during their college years from 18-25.
What constitutes as hypersexual behavior?
The study identified that there were several types of sexual behavior reported by the hypersexual patients including compulsive masturbation, excessive use of pornography, sexual intercourse, and cybersex. The study also revealed that hypersexual patients often had sex with prostitutes, repeated affairs, or had multiple unidentified partners – amounting to an average of 15 sex partners in the previous year.
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How can this be treated?
The study criteria for diagnosing sex addiction is very new and still needs to be evaluated for whether or not it will be included in the forthcoming revised fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Because of the apparent early onset of this condition, early intervention and prevention strategies would be an important consideration. Despite not being ‘official’, current sex addiction treatment methods combine psychotherapy, family therapy, group therapy, couples therapy, medication, and support groups.
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