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6 Conditions That Might Put Your Sex Drive in Overdrive
Some mental and physical conditions can rev up your sex drive to dangerous levels. Know the symptoms and when to get treated, before the consequences become irreversible.
By Beth W. Orenstein
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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An overactive sex drive is a problem that can greatly alter lives and careers. Just ask Tiger Woods, former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Laurie Steelsmith, ND, LAc, of the Steelsmith Natural Health Center in Honolulu, says an overactive sex drive that can lead to hypersexuality goes by many different names — compulsive sexual behavior or sexual addiction, as well as nymphomania in women and satyriasis in males — but the symptoms are the same:
- An intense urge to have sex, yet sexual activity may or may not bring pleasure.
- Sexual urges that are beyond control and that continually put one at risk for sexually transmitted diseases.
- Using sex as a way to escape from feelings of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and stress.
- Continuous risky sexual behavior or behavior that’s not accepted by society, despite the potential consequences to oneself and your family.
Hypersexuality can have serious consequences that go well beyond threatening your sexual health. These include:
- Relationship/interpersonal issues
- Difficulties at work
- Trouble with the law
- A loss of interest in things not sexual
- Low self-esteem and despair
The exact causes of overactive sex drive are unknown, but research shows there may be links between hypersexuality and other mental and physical health problems. Any of the following conditions could possibly lead to an overactive sex drive:
Bipolar disorder.This treatable mental illness is marked by extreme changes in mood — from the highs of mania to the lows of depression. Hypersexuality can be one of the symptoms of the mania phase. Once bipolar disorder is under control, hypersexuality symptoms should be, too.
Dementia.According to a report in the journalAdvances in Psychiatric Treatment,it is quite common for people with dementia to exhibit sexually inappropriate behaviors, such as exposing themselves, using obscenities, masturbating, or propositioning other people. It affects men and women with dementia equally and is more common in people with severe dementia. Medications used to treat hypersexuality in people with dementia have had mixed results. Some therapy may help. Caregivers need to be educated about the disorder and understand that it is a symptom of the greater health issue.
Persistent genital arousal disorder.Women with this condition constantly feel sexually aroused and can’t rid themselves of their intense feelings — not even achieving orgasm helps. The intense feelings of arousal can last for days or weeks. Treatment often involves a combination of antidepressants, hormonal therapy, anaesthetizing gels, and behavioral therapy.
Rabies.A 28-year-old woman went to her doctor at the Sri Gokulam Hospital and Research Institute in Salem, Tamil Nadu, India, complaining of having an overactive sex drive. She died four days later, and an autopsy showed she had rabies. Doctors believe the virus inflamed her brain, which led to the hypersexuality. Seek medical treatment immediately if you are bitten by an animal and don’t know if it was vaccinated against rabies. By the time symptoms of rabies become obvious, it can be too late for successful treatment.
Klüver-Bucy syndrome.This rare neurobehavioral condition, stemming from brain damage, causes a variety of unusual symptoms, including inappropriate sexual behavior as well as putting unusual items in the mouth and not expressing typical responses to anger and fear. There's no cure for the syndrome, and treatment involves therapy and medication.
Sexual addiction.A person with a sexual addiction has an overactive sex drive and is obsessed with sex. It may start innocently as an addiction to masturbation, pornography, or even a relationship, but it then progresses to increasingly dangerous behaviors, such as prostitution and sex in public places.
“Modern science can show quite conclusively that anything that increases dopamine production, which sex does, is potentially addictive,” says Ethlie Ann Vare, a film and TV writer, producer, and author ofLove Addict: Sex, Romance and Other Dangerous Drugs.Dopamine, a brain chemical, helps regulate reward and pleasure, and Vare says that sex can be as addictive as gambling or alcohol.
Vondie Lozano, MFT, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist in the greater Los Angeles area, says that "sex becomes a way to deal with feelings, fears, painful emotions — just like alcoholics use alcohol or addicts use substances.”
The American Psychiatric Association is expected to add hypersexual disorder to its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the manual that mental health professionals use to classify mental disorders, when the latest revision is published next year.
Treatment for sexual addiction includes 12-step programs such as Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. Talk therapy with a therapist specializing in sexual addictions also may be helpful.
Seeking Treatment for Hypersexuality
Sexual health problems may be more common than people realize or want to admit. If you think you have a sexual health problem, find the strength to seek treatment. With treatment, Vare says, you can modify your behavior and develop a new way of relating to people that isn’t sexual in nature.
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