When many people hear the term “sex addiction”, it elicits comments such as, “yeah right” or “they’re just a pervert” and “they just like to sleep around”. But according to a recent study involving 207 patients in several mental health clinics around the country, sex addiction is a legitimate mental disorder.

A team from the University of California, Los Angeles has devised a set of criteria to define ‘hypersexual disorder’ as a new mental health condition. The findings, which were published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, will play a role in determining whether hypersexual disorder will be part of the improved fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which has been called the “bible” of psychiatry.

Research psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, Rory Reid, lead a team of doctors and marriage and family counselors in their search to find substantial criteria to help professionals adequately make hypersexual disorder diagnoses.

Professor Rory Reid said, “The criteria for hypersexual disorder that have been proposed, and now tested, will allow researchers and clinicians to study, treat and develop prevention strategies for individuals at risk for developing hypersexual behavior. As with many other mental health disorders, there must also be evidence of personal distress caused by the sexual behaviors that interfere with relationships, work or other important aspects of life.”

Of the 207 patients they examined, 17 per cent had lost a job at least once, 39 per cent had a relationship end, 28 per cent contracted a sexually transmitted infection and 78 per cent had interference with healthy sex.

Reid said, “So an individual meeting the criteria for hypersexual disorder can experience significant challenges and consequences in their life. Our study showed increased hypersexual behaviour was related to greater emotional disturbance, impulsivity and an inability to manage stress.”

He said that hypersexual patients reported excessive masturbation, use of pornography, cyber sex, sex with prostitutes, affairs and multiple anonymous partners. They averaged 15 partners in the previous 12 months.

“It’s not that a lot of people don’t take sexual risks from time to time or use sex on occasion to cope with stress or just escape, but for these patients, it’s a constant pattern that escalates until their desire for sex is controlling every aspect of their lives and they feel powerless in their efforts to change,” he added.

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