Sexual addiction and desire: what is the norm and what is not?

Sexual addiction and desire: what is the norm and what is not?

Excessive and heightened sexual desire, in which there is a desire for frequent sexual acts, is called sexual addiction. This condition can be caused by a hormonal surge, or a manifestation of some physiological or mental illness.

Sexual desire: what should be considered normal?

Let’s say at once: if the increased sexual desire does not interfere with everyday life (building a career, relationships, communication with relatives and friends) it can be considered within the norm. Then sex helps a person to get rid of stress, to receive pleasure, positive emotions, a charge of energy to move on in life.

Another thing is if, besides thoughts about sex, the person is not interested in anything, or almost nothing. Then we can talk about a certain kind of addiction.

In this article we will look at what modern medicine thinks about increased sex drive and when it really becomes abnormal and harmful.

How the question has historically been treated

Science has always looked at human sexuality with apprehension. During the Enlightenment, they still tried to treat it with naturalistic interest, but by the 19th century, European scientists began to associate overt expressions of desire with promiscuity or disease.

In those days, it was not very difficult to obtain sex addict status, because even natural needs were treated with suspicion. Some scholars believed that women had “no sexual feelings at all”. Others deplored clitoral stimulation, considering only vaginal sex normal. So women who expressed inappropriate desires could be considered nymphomaniacs.

Masturbation was associated with the development of various diseases, such as ossification of the joints and epilepsy. One of the most intransigent fighters against self-satisfaction was the American physician John Harvey Kellogg. He advocated circumcision and stitches to prevent erections in men and cauterization of the clitoris with carbolic acid in women as methods of eradicating the dangerous disease.

Even today’s breakfasts are associated with a struggle against baser instincts: it was Kellogg who invented cornflakes. For this, we can thank him, but the doctor sincerely believed that eating cornflakes reduces libido (unlike meat, which supposedly puts one in a frivolous mood).

However, with time scientists have come to the conclusion that human sexual needs are evolutionarily conditioned, and therefore are quite natural and do not require draconian measures of suppression. But hormone levels and learned behavioral strategies are individual, so there are still questions about how sexually active one should be.

Does the norm exist?

There is no standard norm of sexual desire as such. Everything can change. It is not easy to say unequivocally what is normal and what is not. After all, even during the life of the same person, the degree of interest in sex varies.

Scientists single out pubertal hypersexuality as a separate area. Teenagers are especially fixated on sex, which makes perfect sense for a changing body overflowing with hormones. People during puberty are characterized by heightened arousal and obsessive thoughts about sex. Typically, with the end of puberty, these manifestations disappear and sex remains an important, but not the main component of motivations and thoughts.

The impact of lifestyle

The phenomenon of adolescent hyper-sexuality is especially characteristic of men, and for women the urge is especially strong after the age of 30. Although, of course, these are averages, and things vary from person to person.

In addition to age, environmental and lifestyle factors can have a significant effect on libido. What can be said for sure that cornflakes are unlikely to prevent you from experiencing desire, which cannot be said about alcohol abuse. The latter factor greatly affects sexual desire.

Sometimes the desire for sex decreases in people taking antidepressants, as well as due to internal hormonal disorders. Also detrimental to the sexual temperament systematically lack of sleep. Regular exercise contributes to increasing desire. So if you want your hormones to work more actively, add moderate physical activity to your schedule.

Everyone have different libidos

It’s hard to say how much sex and masturbation it takes to be considered normal. Often our ideas about what to measure up to are externally imposed. However, in our personal lives, everyone can make their own rules.

Everyone’s temperament is different. Some people need a few times a month or even a year, and some people need a discharge much more often. The main criterion here is the subjective comfort and agreement with the partner or partners.

In addition, there are asexuals who do not need sexual relations at all. But even with them, things can also be very different. Some do not experience attraction and arousal in principle, others simply do not want sex with other people, but practice masturbation.

It is also impossible to set a norm for the number of sexual partners. According to 2005 statistics, the average number of lifetime partners for respondents around the world was 9. At the same time, each person in the United States had on average 10.7 sexual partners, and in, say, Indonesia had on 5.1.

Of course, we are talking about average per capita figures. Some people are celibate, while others have dozens of partners. It is also important to keep in mind that in such surveys people often report incorrect data, trying to impress others with sexual triumphs or, conversely, not wishing to appear promiscuous.

When does sexual activity cause harm?

Only the individual himself can determine what is normal and what is not. At the same time, behavior should not become destructive and lead to obvious bad consequences. There are several signs that allow us to judge that a problem exists and needs attention.

1. The person tries to stop, but can’t

Here the principle “no complaints, no diagnosis” works to a large extent.

If a person’s own body does not cause him discomfort and does not prevent him from building mutually satisfying relationships with other people, he will have no reason to go to a doctor. But several attempts to control one’s sexual behavior that end in failure are a wake-up call. It can signal that external help is really needed.

2. The obsessive-compulsive behavior emerges

The person has obsessive thoughts and desires, which he tries to cope with through specific actions (compulsions), often exhausting, unpleasant or humiliating. These help for a while, but then they start all over again.

Some people with obsessive-compulsive disorder feel the need to wash their hands dozens of times a day, while others touch stationary objects or perform other rituals to drown out their anxiety. For people with sexual compulsion, sex plays a calming role, and its quality and overall pleasurable sensations are not at the top of the list.

3. Lack of an adequate sexual response cycle

Not all sex necessarily culminates in an orgasm, but the standard human sexual response cycle includes a pathway from arousal to discharge.

People with sexual disorders may experience a compulsive urge that exceeds their capacity. That is, desire persists even in the absence of physical arousal, and sexual activity does not lead to orgasm. Nevertheless, the person insistently keeps trying (this, by the way, is fraught with genital trauma).

4. There is a threat to health and safety

Sexual activity should not lead to distress. This is what they call a negative type of stress that disrupts the immune system and other body systems.

If sex becomes so important that it interferes with a person’s ability to take care of himself or makes him forget about protection and possible negative consequences, it’s a sign something has gone wrong.

5. Other people’s rights are violated

No matter what we want, the free will and health of others should never be threatened. Therefore, a person who commits sexual harassment or violence against the will of others can definitely be considered dangerous for others and be isolated from society.

If you find one or more of these signs, you should see a specialist: a psychotherapist or a sexologist. There are also support groups for sex addicts.

So is it a disease or not?

The World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD) does not have a diagnosis of “sexual addiction”. Nevertheless, the ICD-10 edition contains a diagnosis of “excessive sexual desire” in paragraph F52.7. It includes nymphomania and satyriasis, which refers to an unhealthy, pathological form of sexual desire in women and men, respectively.

However, these terms are rarely used in modern sexological practice. It is an obsessive, painful craving that leads to potentially traumatic actions.

In 2019, a new revision of the handbook, ICD-11, prepared an item called “compulsive sexual behavior disorder”. It refers to a person’s inability to control his or her cravings. In this case, the craving for sex leads to recurring episodes that are detrimental to social, work and family life.

Porn addiction (as compulsive sexual activity with porn materials) is singled out separately (though not mentioned in the ICD). It becomes a problem when it takes up so much space in life that it calls into question physical, mental, and social well-being. Negative symptoms of excessive interest in porn are depression, social isolation, loss of career, and major money expenditures.

To be considered an independent problem, hypersexuality does not have to be a consequence of other mental disorders and addictions. Hyper sexual arousal is typical, for example, for bipolar disorder in the hypomania or mania phase, as well as for substance abuse.

What doubts exist?

Some doctors doubt that sexual addiction should really be considered a medical diagnosis. Why?

Almost all classic addictions (e.g., alcohol and drugs) involve a withdrawal syndrome. This means that withdrawal from an object of craving is followed by a hangover or withdrawal. At the same time, people who claim to be sex addicts definitely suffer from abstaining from compulsive sex (the same support groups are aimed precisely at preventing breakdowns).

The authors of the latest edition of the ICD suggest that we do not yet have enough scientific research to draw an unequivocal conclusion and equate sexual addiction with the rest.

In addition, medicalizing the problem can raise ethical objections and legal questions. After all, if sexual addiction is a disease, that means that harassment and violence can be symptoms of it. And that means that the person who commits them should not be judged, but treated, because he or she has no control over himself or herself and cannot be held accountable for his or her actions.

For example, in 2017, actor Kevin Spacey went to an elite clinic where producer Harvey Weinstein was also treated for sexual addiction.

This approach raises a number of ethical questions and opens the door to abuse. Can we say for certain whether a person commits harassment because an irresistible impulse pushed him to do so, or simply because he had the power and opportunity to harass with impunity? Of course, lawyers will insist on the former.

What’s the bottom line?

There is no straightforward answer to the question of what is sexual addiction and what are its norms today. Not every person who needs a lot of physical intimacy is a sex addict. Even on the contrary, physicians believe that often engage in sex with an attractive partner is perfectly normal. But regularly and against one’s own will, seeking erotic adventures, much less violating someone else’s rights, is already problematic behavior.


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