However, psychiatrists have not been quick to believe that "out-of-control sexual behavior" is a mental health condition because of lack of research on this topic. A 2010 study asked, "Is sex addiction fact or fallacy?"
Sex addiction is also called sexual addiction, sexual dependency, hypersexuality, hypersexual disorder, compulsive sexual behavior, satyriasis (males), nymphomania (females), and sexual compulsivity.
Researchers from UCLA decided to test whether "hypersexual disorder" is in fact a mental health condition.
Research psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, Rory Reid, lead a team of doctors and marriage and family counselors in their search to find substantial criteria to help professionals adequately make hypersexual disorder diagnoses.
The findings, which were published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, will play a role in determining whether hypersexual disorder will be part of the improved fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which has been called the "bible" of psychiatry.
According to Reid, the study is significant because it proposes that hypersexual disorder is a real mental health disease.
"The criteria for hypersexual disorder that have been proposed, and now tested, will allow researchers and clinicians to study, treat and develop prevention strategies for individuals at risk for developing hypersexual behavior."
In order for hypersexual disorder to be deemed an actual mental health disorder, an individual must experience repeated sexual fantasies, behaviors, and urges that last upwards of 6 months, and are not due to factors, such as medication, another medical condition, substance abuse, or manic episodes linked to bipolar disorder.
People who have this condition also must display a pattern of sexual activity as a reaction to their periods of irritated moods, for example, when they feel depressed. These individuals also use sex as a way to deal with stress.
The guidelines used to categorize people with hypersexual disorder was developed by a DSM-5 sexual and gender identity disorders work group, established for the newly revised manual.
The guidelines also say that to be diagnosed with hypersexual disorder, a person must have tried to stop or reduce their sexual activities if they believe they are becoming a problem, and have failed to do so.
"As with many other mental health disorders, there must also be evidence of personal distress caused by the sexual behaviors that interfere with relationships, work or other important aspects of life," said Reid.
To assess the standards for hypersexual disorder, Reid and his team carried out psychological testing and interviews of 207 participants throughout many mental health facilities around the U.S. All of the patients involved were trying to fix their behavior regarding a substance abuse problem, sexual behavior issue, or a different type of psychiatric condition, including anxiety or depression.
When using the suggested criteria among the patients, 88% were accurately categorized as having hypersexual disorder. The guidelines also assisted the researchers in finding negative outcomes 93% of the time. This means that the criteria helped distinguish between those who did not have hypersexual disorder and might need treatment for anxiety, depression or substance abuse, and those who did.
Reid commented: "The results lead us to believe that the proposed criteria tend not to identify patients who don't have problems with their sexual behavior. This is a significant finding, since many had expressed concerns that the proposal would falsely classify individuals."
He also mentioned that the new criteria was much more precise in recognizing hypersexual disorder among patients than other psychiatric testing methods.
"So an individual meeting the criteria for hypersexual disorder can experience significant challenges and consequences in their life. Our study showed increased hypersexual behavior was related to greater emotional disturbance, impulsivity and an inability to manage stress," Reid added.
Another important outcome of the study was that individuals who met the standards for hypersexual disorder experienced many more consequences due to their sexual behaviors, when compared with those who were suffering from substance abuse and a different medical issue.
Other findings revealed:
- 17% of the 207 patients involved in the study lost their jobs at least one time
- 28% developed a sexually transmitted disease
- 39% lost a relationship
- 78% had a disruption in their healthy sexual activity
Reid continued: "This appears to be a disorder that emerges in adolescence and young adulthood, which has ramifications for early intervention and prevention strategies."
Different kinds of sexual behaviors were also looked at among the patients with hypersexual disorder. The researchers found that masturbation, ample amounts of pornography viewing, which resulted in sex with another adult, and cybersex were all common among these individuals.
Hypersexual patients also were found to have had sex with "commercial sex workers", such as prostitutes, had recurring affairs, and sexual partners whom they did not know - around 15 partners during the year before the study.
"It's not that a lot of people don't take sexual risks from time to time or use sex on occasion to cope with stress or just escape, but for these patients, it's a constant pattern that escalates until their desire for sex is controlling every aspect of their lives and they feel powerless in their efforts to change."
Written by Christine Kearney