People can really be addicted to sex, according to a new study.
While the idea that a person can have a sex addiction has been controversial, findings from the latest study show that sex addiction, or hypersexual disorder, is a real disorder. Hypersexual disorder is currently under consideration for inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States.
However, psychologists need to first agree on how to define the disorder, and it is important for the definition to apply in the real world so that health care professionals can consistently use it when diagnosing patients.
While a person who frequently has sex would not be diagnosed with hypersexual disorder, a person who uses sex to cope with stress and their sexual activities frequently interfere with their ability to function in daily life may meet the criteria for the disorder.
Researchers from the new study found that health care professionals can use the proposed symptoms of hypersexual disorder to separate people into two groups: people affected by the disorder and others who aren't. Furthermore, researchers said that health professionals of different backgrounds like psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, generally agreed about how to interpret the definition.
Researchers stressed that they were not trying to turn common behaviors like having frequent sex or watching pornography into disorder, instead they wanted to help people who feel out of control of their sexual urges and act on them while disregarding the repercussions.
"They might consider the consequences momentarily, but somehow feel their need for sex is more important, and choose sex even in situations where such choices might cause significant problems or harm," such as job loss, relationship problems or financial difficulties, said study researcher Rory Reid, an assistant professor and research psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, according to MyHealthNewsDaily.
Researchers defined hypersexual disorder as "recurrent and intense sexual fantasies, sexual urges, and sexual behavior," that had lasted at least six months. These sexual fantasies, urges and behaviors must case a person distress or interfere with some aspect of the patient's life, such as the patient's job or personal relationships for a patient to be diagnosed with the disorder.
The latest study consisted of interviews from 207 people who had been referred to a mental health clinic without knowing the reasons for their referral. Researchers said that 152 people had been referred for sexual behavior problems, 20 were referred for substance abuse and 35 for another psychiatric condition.
Researchers using the definition for hypersexual disorder diagnosed 134 of the patients referred for sexual problems with the disorder and diagnosed the other 18 with another psychiatric condition or no condition at all. Researchers said that professionals had agreed on who should be diagnosed with hypersexual disorder in 92 percent of cases.
Doctors had asked patients to report behaviors that were most problematic for them, including masturbation, pornography viewing, sex with consenting adults, cybersex, telephone sex and frequenting strip clubs. The majority of patients diagnosed with hypersexual disorder said masturbation and pornography viewing were problematic, and some patients reported losing their jobs because they could not refrain from these behaviors at work.
Patients were likely to report engaging in these behaviors after trying to control them and with disregard for the physical or emotional harm to themselves or others. While some critics argue hypersexual disorder could be used as an excuse to be unfaithful, researchers from the latest study said that the disorder would not free people from the consequences of their behavior.
"Having a disorder didn't help them avoid consequences, such as divorce, but it is advantageous for them when they want to get help and change," Reid said.
The next step is to determine whether people with hypersexual disorder have changes in their brain that are similar to the changes seen in people with addictions and the prevalence of the condition in the general population.
The results of the latest study will be sent to the American Psychiatric Association, the organization responsible for the DSM, for reviewers to determine whether hypersexual disorder will be included in the next edition of the manual expected to be released next summer.