- Do you spend excessive time obsessing about sex or engaged in sexual activity?
- Do you feel your sexual drive and activity are getting out of control?
- Do you have sex with people with whom you normally would not associate?
- Have people you trust expressed concern about your sexual activity?
(from Sexual Compulsives Anonymous)
Hypersexuality is one of the things that can ruin a bipolar person's marriage or committed relationship. In these days where sexually transmitted diseases can kill, unrestrained hypersexuality can also be deadly. Not every person who has bipolar disorder experiences this, but for those who do, it may be a serious problem. Finding the right combination of bipolar medications to control mania is an essential step toward keeping hypersexuality from becoming destructive.
However, for some people, the hypersexuality of mania goes even farther and becomes an addiction. Sexual addictions are very real. Jennifer P. Schneider, MD, PhD states that "addiction to sexual activities can be just as destructive as addiction to chemical substances."1 Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., the researcher who first identified sexual addiction as a condition, has estimated that about 8 percent of men and 3 percent of women from the population in the US are sexually addicted. This constitutes over 15 million people in this country alone.2
Unquestionably, sex is an intricate and important part of life. Pick up a book or magazine, turn on the television or radio, log onto the internet, listen to the conversation of friends or lovers, and you will undoubtedly find sexual content. Think of a few adjectives, and at least one of them has probably been used to describe sex - hot, mad, wild, fun, domineering, beautiful, complicated, intense, unrestrained ... see? But since the means of sexual expression vary widely from culture to culture, men to women, individual to individual, an obvious question arises: just what comprises a sexual addiction?
According to The Counseling Affiliates, an addiction is at work when sex becomes shameful, secret or abusive.3 The Mayo Clinic defines sexual addiction as a loss of control and utilizes the word compulsive. "Compulsive sexual behavior refers to spending inordinate amounts of time in sexual-related activity, to the point that one neglects important social, occupational or recreational activities in favor of sexual behavior."4 The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health further illustrates this addiction by outlining several key components: "Compulsivity, that is, loss of the ability to choose freely whether to stop or to continue; Continuation of the behavior despite adverse consequences, such as loss of health, job, marriage, or freedom; Obsession with the activity."5
Specific Behaviors of Sexual Addiction
The above are the broad patterns of behavior of sexual addiction. There are also a number of specific behaviors which are common to those who struggle with this addiction. These behaviors include: compulsive masturbation, compulsive sex with prostitutes, anonymous sex with multiple partners (one night stands), multiple affairs outside a committed relationship, frequent patronizing of sexually-oriented establishments, habitual exhibitionism, habitual voyeurism, inappropriate sexual touching, sexual abuse of children, and rape.6 In addition to these, fantasy sex, prostitution, pedophilia, masochism, fetishes, sex with animals and cross-dressing may also be behaviors of the sexual addict.7
It is important to note here that any one of these behaviors in and of itself does not constitute an addiction (though it may constitute deviant or illegal behavior, which is beyond the scope of this article). It is a combination of these behaviors along with the compulsivity previously discussed that comprises a sexual addiction.