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I’ve heard from many students, friends, and readers over the years who think they have a sex drive that is “too high.” So what counts as wanting “too much” sex anyway? And when does a high sex drive become a problem? These are surprisingly tricky questions to answer!
Let’s start with the question about what it means to even have a “high” sex drive in the first place. This is one that nobody—even trained psychologists—can seem to agree on. What seems high to one person might seem low to another and vice versa. Your sex drive also naturally ebbs and flows over time and can change with age, which poses further difficulty in making broad claims about what it means for sexual desire to be high versus low.
So what does it mean to be “hypersexual”?
The inherent subjectivity in defining a high sex drive, in general, makes it difficult to come up with a clinical definition of “hypersexuality,” the term often used to describe a high sex drive that is causing problems for an individual. Hypersexuality is not an actual diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), and it is a controversial term in the psychological community. There’s very little consensus about what it actually means.
Some have defined it in terms of the number of orgasms per week. For example, I’ve seen it defined as having 7+ orgasms a week or one orgasm per day on average. However, in a study that assessed orgasm frequency, up to 26 percent of men and 10 percent of women reported having 7 or more orgasms per week. A totally arbitrary criterion like this, therefore, puts a huge number of people into the “problem” category and unnecessarily pathologizes a lot of folks with high but healthy sex drives.
Defining hypersexuality in terms of the number of orgasms is also problematic from the standpoint that not everyone regularly or consistently has orgasms.
To get around these problems, hypersexuality is more commonly defined in terms of feelings of psychological distress (e.g., Are you bothered by your sex drive? Is it causing impairment or problems in your daily life?). However, this approach has its own issues because some people with totally normal sex drives are distressed about them.
For example, this often happens when people with high sex drives are shamed for wanting “too much” sex. In other words, we’re often dealing with a perception problem here—their sex drive itself isn’t the problem; it’s the way they’ve been led to feel about it. Case in point: When someone with a high sex drive is partnered with someone with low libido, they may be shamed by their partner for wanting “too much” sex when, in reality, both partners may have normal levels of desire and are dealing with a sexual desire discrepancy (i.e., a relationship issue).
Hypersexuality may be the symptom, not the cause
Also, hypersexuality is often blamed and treated as the problem in clinical settings when, in reality, it’s often the symptom rather than the cause . For example, some mood disorders can prompt a sudden increase in sexual interest and behavior, such as when sex becomes a coping mechanism for depression (sidebar: the link between depression and sex is complex, with research finding that depression is linked to both increased and decreased sexual behavior). Likewise, someone in a manic state may experience a sudden burst of sexual activity and desire. In cases like this, it’s the underlying mental health issue that needs to be treated.
In and of itself, desiring sex frequently is not necessarily a problem, just as desiring sex infrequently is not necessarily a problem either. When someone feels distressed about high levels of sexual desire, it’s important to look at where the distress is coming from because their sex drive may not be the real problem.
What to do if you feel distressed about your sex drive
Odds are, your sex drive is normal. Some people want sex a lot, some people want it a little—and some people don’t want it at all. All of these things can be normal and healthy.
However, if you feel as though your sex drive is “out of control” or are otherwise distressed about it, talk to a licensed, certified therapist to identify whether a problem actually exists. They can help you to better understand your sexuality and the most appropriate course of treatment in a shame-free environment. Visit Psychology Today’s Therapist Directory to find a therapist near you.