The Lingering Question of Hypersexuality in Women

Nov 20, 2013 • Health

sex addiction in women

Hypersexuality, what we commonly refer to as “sexual addiction,” remains a hotly debated topic. A recent study suggests it’s very difficult to tell it apart from high-libido and the jury continues to be out on whether or not it exists. However, therapists and counselors continue to work with people whose relationship choices are cause of serious problems in their lives, and who seem to exhibit a “compulsion to use romance, people and sexuality to feel alive.” These people, some professionals suggest, depend as much on the sexual act itself as they do on the negative consequences that result from it — such as shame, guilt and the process of working to reconnect with betrayed partners.

A recent piece in the Atlantic questions the emphasis placed on men in the study of hypersexuality, noting that cultural constructs have thwarted science’s ability to understand the impact of the problem on women. Its author, Tori Rodriguez, says that while plenty of material exists about low-sex drive among women (hyposexuality), very little research has been done into female hypersexuality, reinforcing the idea that “men want it all the time and women never do.” She writes:

Although mental health clinicians began using the Sexual Addiction Screening Tool (SAST) in 1988, researchers didn’t develop a version that satisfactorily assess sex addiction in females until 2010. The double standard also extends to treatment facilities, according to Elizabeth Edge, a certified sex addiction therapist in Atlanta who’s been working with sex addicts since 2003. She says she initially worked only with men who were struggling with sexual compulsivity “because the atmosphere where I worked mirrored society’s belief that women don’t have a problem with sex,” though she does see things starting to shift with the younger generations. For one thing, with the proliferation of porn, clinicians are realizing that more women are “visually wired” (highly responsive to erotic images), which was previously thought to be a characteristic exclusive to men.

[…] “There is a huge cultural stigma with sex addiction in general and specifically as it relates to women,” Edge says. “Men are respected if they have a lot of sex or many sexual partners — this is not the same for women,” so there tends to be more shame around female sex addiction. When women do seek help, they’re often too ashamed to identify their problem as sex addiction, or may not even realize that’s what the problem is, usually calling it “love addiction” or “relationship addiction” instead. While these other types of process addictions often co-occur with sex addiction, those labels are sometimes inaccurate to describe a woman’s actual experience. Edge says that, at least initially, labels aren’t important as long as a woman has recognized that her life has become unmanageable and is ready to get help.

But since therapists are susceptible to the same biases as the rest of society, the potential for female hypersexuality is often outside of their awareness or comfort zone, so they may not recognize sex addiction in female clients or know how to help them.

Header image by Rupert Ganzer.