Sex Addiction May Affect 10 Percent of Men

Even though sex addiction — often referred to as hypersexuality — isn’t included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a national survey of more than 2,000 adults revealed that, on average, 8 percent reported symptoms of compulsive sexual behavior disorder — a persistent pattern of failure in controlling intense sexual urges that leads to distress and/or impairment in functioning.

The study, conducted by psychiatrist Janna Dickenson and her colleagues at the University of Minnesota, was the first of its kind assessing the number of Americans struggling to control their sexual desires. Using data from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, researchers sought to identify the prevalence among American men and women of compulsive sexual behavior disorder.

The field of psychiatry has been trying to define sex addiction for some time. While an entry for sex addiction has been turned down by the DSM each time due to conflicting points of view, experts have now agreed on the term “compulsive sexual behavior disorder” or CSBD. Dickenson defines CSBD as “a persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual urges, which results in repetitive sexual behavior that causes marked distress or social impairment.” She continues, “Such distress and impairment include neglecting social activities or personal health, repeatedly attempting to control sexual behavior unsuccessfully, and continuing to engage in sexual behavior despite adverse consequences or even when the individual derives minimal pleasure from his or her sexual activities.”

Questions included in the survey asked participants if they’d had trouble controlling sexual urges, how often they’d made pledges to change their behavior, how often sexual thoughts or behaviors interfered with relationships, and how often they felt unable to control their sexual behavior.

The authors found that up to 10 percent of men and 7 percent of women suffer with significant stress and dysfunction in their sex lives — meaning it is more common that depression, which affects 5 percent of people. The researchers believe that the high prevalence of hypersexuality has major public health relevance that warrants attention from health care professionals. What is particularly interesting is that it affects people irrelevant of gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, or income differences. The study shows that sex addiction is more common than we might have once thought, with previous studies saying as little as 1 percent suffered with sex addiction, and that there is less disparity among gender.

Previously, women were thought to be more reserved in their sexual behavior but the study shoes the gender gap is closing. Dickenson says, “Feminine ideology that marks women as the ‘sexual gatekeepers,’ who are expected to keep sexual urges in check and, thus, would be less likely to develop compulsive sexual behavior,” writes Dickenson.

The authors recommend that health care professionals be “alert to the high number of people who are distressed about their sexual behavior, carefully assess the nature of the problem, and find appropriate treatments” for minority groups as well as both men and women.

Dickenson said that the study’s findings were definitely controversial. “From Tiger Woods to Harvey Weinstein, news articles have conjectured that ‘sex addiction’ is a growing and heretofore unrecognized ‘epidemic,’ while the scientific community debates whether such a problem even exists,” she said.

Authors say the increased access to sexual imagery and casual sex through the Internet, apps, and social media could possibly explain the results. The study shows that there are fewer gender differences in their study than had been previously thought. The study also found that the number of women having difficulty in controlling sexual behaviors had increased, and the authors recommend further investigation on this topic.

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